Ikan Bakar
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From Barbacoa to Yakitori: 25 Barbecue Styles From Around the World

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Ikan Bakar
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Global Grilling

Burgers, ribs, skewers, and sausages are some of the hallmarks of America’s barbecue culture— but the tradition is by no means unique to summertime revelers in the States. Barbecue or some version of it can be found in virtually every inhabited corner of the Earth. In some places, it looks just like an American cookout. Other cultures follow traditions that date back thousands of years. In all cases, however, the end result is delicious.

Related: 15 Fantastic Regional Rib Recipes

Tahitian Hima’a
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Tahitian Hima’a

Hima’a is not a dish or a recipe, but a traditional style of cooking on the French Polynesian island of Tahiti. The hima’a is a large underground oven, and it’s by no means unique to Tahiti — all South Pacific Island cultures practice some form of earthen-oven barbecue. It’s used for huge traditional feasts and family dinners alike, and what goes in is usually cooked in baskets woven from banana leaves. Meals might include breadfruit, yams, fish, suckling pigs, and shellfish.

Chilean Asado
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Chilean Asado

Like the English term barbecue, the Spanish asado deals both with the social event of barbecuing and the technique of roasting meat on metal grates over flames. In Chile, the grill is called a parrilla and the mountains of meat heaped onto it tend to be spicier than what you’d expect to encounter at the average American barbecue, but beyond that, Chilean asado would be familiar to most. Ribeye steaks are common, as are longaniza or chorizo sausage on rolls.

Related: 23 Traditional Hispanic Foods Most Americans Don’t Know About (but Should)

Argentine Asado
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Argentine Asado

The tradition of asado is much more than just a backyard barbecue to the people of Argentina. It’s a cultural hallmark that’s on par with football as a national obsession that borders on a religion. Just as in Chile, asado in Argentina could refer to the event, like the word “cookout,” or to the meat itself, or to the means of cooking that meat. No matter the context, the key word is “meat.” The grill master, called an asador, ignites charcoal — usually made from native wood — in a huge open pit, or less frequently a grill called a parrilla. Then, the asador strategically places blood sausage, chitterlings (made from small intestines), chorizo, and frequently an entire dismembered cow to grill and smoke the meat to perfection as revelers gorge all day and night.

Khorkhog meal served in a restaurant in Ulaanbaatar
Wikimedia Commons

Mongolian Khorkhog

The key to authentic khorkhog is the use of hot stones. Generations of nomadic Mongolians have cooked khorkhog, which consists of large chunks of potatoes, carrots, onions, and meat. That meat can be either goat or mutton, but since mutton is more of a daily staple and goat is more of a delicacy, it’s usually goat since khorkhog is traditionally reserved for special occasions.

Curious to know how nomadic Mongolians played a role in the creation of the modern burger? Check out The Surprising History of the Humble Hamburger

German Sausages
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German Barbecue

Just like the English language many Americans speak, much of America’s barbecue culture also comes from Germany. Most people probably associate German barbecue with enormous and juicy sausages like bratwurst — and they would be right. The list of German sausages is as long as the famous meat tubes themselves. But hamburgers come from Hamburg, frankfurters are from Frankfurt and we inherited pickles and sauerkraut from Germany. Likewise with mustard, brisket, and potato salad. Oh, and by the way, beer.

Related: 18 Summer Beers to Cool You off on a Hot Day

Australian Barbecue
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Australian Barbecue

Ask 10 Americans to name three things about Australia and you’ll probably get some combination of “Crocodile Dundee,” the expression “g’day, mate,” and shrimp on the barbie. Just like in the U.S., most Australians own some sort of grill, and just like here, shrimp and other shellfish frequently find their way onto it — but Australian barbecue hardly stops there. In fact, many of the ingredients that go into traditional Aussie barbecue culture can be traced to the continent-country’s proximity to Asia, as well as to its immigrant culture. You’re also much more likely to find emu and kangaroo meat at an Australian barbecue than you ever would be in the States.

Filipino Lechón
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Filipino Lechón

Slow-roasted suckling pigs are by no means unique to the Philippines. You can find a whole pig turning slowly on a spit with a piece of fruit stuffed in its mouth in Cuba, Puerto Rico, or a firehouse fundraiser in any city in America. In the Philippines, however, lechón, is a foundational pillar of the country’s barbecue culture. Before the pig is fixed on a bamboo spit, it’s usually stuffed with chives, onions, garlic, tamarind, and lemongrass. A staple of weddings, holidays, and the most important festivals, the most prized cut of lechón in the Philippines is the crispy, fatty skin.

Brazilian Churrasco
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Brazilian Churrasco

The Portuguese word churrasco represents the Brazilian tradition of grilling beef on long skewers, although other meats are sometimes substituted. Brazilians often serve churrasco with chimichurri, a simple but powerful smoke-balancing sauce made from garlic, herbs, vinegar, and oil. Churrasco can be made at home, at gatherings, or at festivals, just like barbecue anywhere else, but you can also order it at a churrascaria, or steakhouse.

South African Braai
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South African Braai

The tradition of braai can be traced to South Africa’s Dutch colonial settlers, whose descendents are known as the Afrikaner people. Now, however, it’s a part of barbecue culture for many ethnic groups and regional neighbors like Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Namibia. The word braaivleis means “roasted meat,” and braai can refer to the social occasion (cookout) or it can be used as a noun (a barbecue grill) or a verb (to barbecue or to grill). In coastal regions, you’re likely to find fish or crayfish — called kreef in Afrikaans—on the braai. Inland, you might enjoy homemade sausages called boerewors and kebabs called sosaties.

YAKITORI
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Japanese Yakitori

In Japan, restaurants tend to focus on a speciality, which is a contrast to the something-for-everyone menus you find in American eateries. The same holds true for barbecue. Places that serve the classic traditional dish of grilled skewered chicken known as yakitori tend to do only that. Although the dish is almost always flavored with either salt and white pepper or a sweet soy sauce glaze similar to what Americans know as teriyaki sauce, there are dozens of variations based on different parts of the chicken.

Alpine Pierrade
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Alpine Pierrade

The countries that are home to the Alps, Europe’s largest and tallest mountain chain, are called the Alpine countries — and they have a unique style of barbecue all their own. In France, Switzerland, and other Alpine countries, pierrade, or pierre chaude is a favorite ski food. Frozen bodies fresh off the Alps clamor for the warming dish, which consists of fresh local red meat seared to tender, juicy perfection. The trick is to slice the meat thin and place it over hot stones until it’s browned on the outside and tender on the inside.

korean bbq
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Korean Gogigui

Known Stateside simply as Korean barbecue, gogigui translates literally into “meat” and “roasting.” A hallmark of Korean cuisine that has gained global popularity, gogigui can involve all kinds of roasted meat, including pork, chicken, beef, and seafood. In many restaurants the dishes are grilled right at your table — and sometimes, charcoal grills are built into the tables themselves.

Barbacoa tacos
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Mexican Barbacoa

Traditionally, Mexican barbacoa involves the steaming of meat — usually beef, goat, and/or sheep — in underground ovens. The trick is to use steam to cook the meat until it’s incredibly tender. Today, however, slow cookers can achieve a similar effect. Barbacoa is an Indigenous Caribbean word taken by the Spanish, who spread it to places like Mexico before it became “barbecue” in the English language. Mexican barbacoa, however, isn’t really barbecue in the true sense of the word—steaming and baking, not grilling, are the keys to the cuisine.

Related: 21 Delicious and Inexpensive Mexican Dishes

Barbecued chuan lamb sticks
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Chinese Chuan'r

Xinjiang is an autonomous region in northwest China that is home to the Uyghur people, Chinese Muslims who are one of the country’s many distinct ethnic groups. One of their trademark dishes is chuan’r, which is skewered lamb roasted in sesame oil, salt and pepper, red pepper, and cumin. Uyghyr people began selling this delicacy on the streets out of pushcarts beyond the Xinjiang region and eventually all over China. Today, it’s a favorite food in every part of China from street vendors to high-end restaurants.

Shaokao (street stall barbecue) outside Chengdu University in Sichuan, China
Shaokao (street stall barbecue) outside Chengdu University in Sichuan, China by Felix Andrews (CC BY-SA)

Chinese Shao Kao

Shao kao is a staple of the Chinese Spring Festival, when millions of citizens travel far across the country to see their families after months of working as migrant laborers away from home. The streets fill with revelers and the smell of shao kao, a traditional Chinese barbecue consisting of skewered meat and vegetables covered with cumin and Chinese five-spice seasoning. The kebabs are cooked on long, narrow, open charcoal grills on streets and in alleys across the country throughout the annual migration ritual.

TANDOORI
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Indian Tandoori

A tandoor is a traditional cylindrical oven that’s been in use in India for centuries. The food that comes out of it is called tandoori. Although a modern tandoor might use electricity or gas, the traditional fuel is wood or charcoal. It burns at a very high heat and exposes the food inside to open flames and hot air, resulting in both radiant and convection cooking. Many in India are strict vegetarians, but depending on the culture and style, tandoori might include chicken or other meat, vegetables of all kinds, and traditional flatbread.

Ikan Bakar
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Indonesian and Malaysian Ikan Bakar

In both the Indonesian and Malay languages, ikan bakar translates to “burned fish.” The traditional barbecue dish comes in many variations and styles with different sauces and sides, but the general concept is always the same. A large, whole fish like red snapper is placed on a charcoal grill, roasted to a crisp, topped with a chili sauce called sambal and served on a banana leaf. For newbies, even the smoke coming off the hot and spicy dish is too intense to tolerate, but for locals the chilis and other hot peppers that are central to ikan bakar are familiar favorites.

Samoan Umu
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Samoan Umu

Samoans and other Pacific Islanders have been cooking in open-pit grills called umus for thousands of years — and the tradition continues to this day. An umu is an earthen, above-ground oven filled with red hot lava rocks. Virtually anything can be cooked in an umu, but the hallmark of the technique is coconut cream, which is slathered liberally on whatever goes into the volcanic oven, giving a tropical flavor to whatever comes out.

Kalua Pork
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Hawaiian Kalua Pork

In nearby Hawaii, barbecue is roasted on earthen ovens filled with lava rocks, just like in Samoa — only there it’s called an imu. Once the two- to four-foot pit is excavated, it’s filled with kindling and lava rocks, ignited, and left to heat up for hours. Once it reaches a high, even temperature, it’s time to make traditional kalua pork. Layers of tropical leaves are placed on the imu to generate thick steam. Then, a whole pig is placed on the steaming vegetation, followed by another layer of banana or coconut leaves placed on top. Finally, it’s covered with the excavated dirt to keep the heat and steam in, where it smolders for at least eight hours. What comes out is an impossibly tender, fall-off-the-bone pork dish that Hawaiians have enjoyed for generations.

New Zealand Hangi
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New Zealand Hangi

The indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand are called the Māori, and they’ve cooked in earthen ovens called hangi for centuries. Traditionally, hangi cooking focused on fish and sweet potatoes, but the barbecue culture there has evolved to include cabbage, pumpkin, lamb, and pork. Like the Hawaiian imu, hot stones are covered with leaves to generate steam and the food is wrapped in flax leaves, although aluminum foil or cloth sacks are sometimes used today. Here, too, the smoldering stones are covered with dirt to trap in the heat and impart a smoky, earthy flavor on anything that comes out.

Turkish Mangal
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Turkish Mangal

The long and storied culture of Turkish barbecue is centered around mangal, a tradition similar to American cookouts where families or much larger groups gather to grill massive amounts of meat all day long. The celebration lasts well into the night and involves side dishes and salads, traditional drinks like tea, yogurt-based ayran, and a turnip juice called salgam. The star of the show, however, is the chicken, beef, fish, and lamb that’s slow roasted by a dedicated grill master — always a male family member — for hours until the meat is tender. The entire affair is very similar to a South African braai.

Jerk Chicken
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Jamaican Jerk

Spicy barbecued jerk is common across the Caribbean, but Jamaica is the heart of West Indies jerk culture — it is, after all, the country’s national dish. Although different meats can be used, pork is the traditional fare. Smoky, spicy, and fragrant, jerk barbecue is made possible by Scotch bonnet chiles, island thyme, and allspice. All of those seasonings cover boned hog meat that’s been butterflied to maximize the amount of surface area exposed to the heat.

Related: 12 Cheap Rubs and Marinades for Summer Barbecues

PUERTO RICAN LECHÓN
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Puerto Rican Lechón

Lechón has long been a staple at large gatherings in Puerto Rico — not to mention Cuba and many other neighboring islands. It takes a lot of space and a lot of time, but the end result is the island’s most popular holiday feast and a tradition of cooking that’s a source of fierce national pride. A whole suckling pig is slowly spit-roasted for hours over a low-heat charcoal or wood flame. When the cooking finally finishes, the crispy skin seals in the fatty juices inside and the soft, tender meat is doled out in huge chunks.

Related: 12 Things You Didn’t Know About Puerto Rican Food Culture

Russian Shashlik
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Russian Shashlik

The tradition of shashlik is the heart of barbecue culture in Russia and many of the former Soviet republics — it’s believed that it came to Moscow from Central Asia. The short kebabs traditionally consisted of lamb, but pork, beef, and other variations are common today. The key is a marinade that the meat soaks in for an extended time. The marinade consists of a garlicky mix of spices based in apple cider vinegar.

Kabab koobideh bbq persian food
Kabab koobideh bbq persian food by Amin (CC BY-SA)

Iranian Kabab Koobideh

The ancient Persian tradition of barbecuing minced meat kebabs continues on today in Iran. It’s called koobideh, and it’s made with ground lamb, ground beef, or a combination of the two, blended with spices and grated onions. Koobideh is a familiar sight across the country from high-end restaurants to carts on the street.