Stories of the grill

Sunday, May 29, 2011

"The story of barbecue is the story of America. Settlers arrive on great unspoiled continent. Discover wondrous riches. Set them on fire and eat them." -Vince Stanton
For many Americans the grilling season will kick-off with a Memorial Day cookout on Monday. For some reason a lot of people think that barbecuing is an art created in the New World and passed on to Europeans and settlers after the voyages of discovery.

A few moments of thought should reveal that to be a rather dodgy notion. While the New World contributed peppers for the sauce, cooking over an open fire obviously predates the discovery of America and the invention of suburban backyard grills.

In fact, at an archeological site in the Czech Republic called Pavlov VI, the remains of a fire pit used to cook mammoths was found. As reported in the MSNBC article Mammoths roasted in prehistoric barbecue pit:
While contemporaneous populations near this region seemed to prefer reindeer meat, the Gravettian residents of this living complex, described in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity, appeared to seek out more super-sized fare.

"It seems that, in contrast to other Upper Paleolithic societies in Moravia, these people depended heavily on mammoths," project leader Jiri Svoboda told Discovery News.

Svoboda, a professor at the University of Brno and director of its Institute of Archaeology, and colleagues recently excavated Pavlov VI, where they found the remains of a female mammoth and one mammoth calf near a 4-foot-wide roasting pit. Arctic fox, wolverine, bear and hare remains were also found, along with a few horse and reindeer bones.

The meats were cooked luau-style underground. Svoboda said, "We found the heating stones still within the pit and around."

Boiling pits existed near the middle roaster. He thinks "the whole situation — central roasting pit and the circle of boiling pits — was sheltered by a teepee or yurt-like structure."

It's unclear if seafood was added to create a surf-and-turf meal, but multiple decorated shells were unearthed. Many showed signs of cut marks, along with red and black coloration. The scientists additionally found numerous stone tools, such as spatulas, blades and saws, which they suggest were good for carving mammoths.

Let's face it, in terms of manliness, clobbering a mammoth over the head and dragging it to your fire pit beats the hell out of standing in front of your Coleman wearing a "Kiss the Chef" apron. Regardless, in spite of now wallowing in shame because you're cooking burgers instead of mammoth ribs, I hope you all enjoy your barbecues tomorrow.