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The roads of the Southern United States are lined with a succession of grinning pigs, advertising the availability of barbecue in countless restaurants. The origins of barbecue in the South, however, are traceable to a period long before the smiling pig became a fixture on Southern roadsides. The etymology of the term is vague, but the most plausible theory states that the word “barbecue” is a derivative of the West Indian term “barbacoa,” which denotes a method of slow-cooking meat over hot coals. Bon Appetit magazine blithely informs its readers that the word comes from an extinct tribe in Guyana who enjoyed “cheerfully spit roasting captured enemies.” The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word back to Haiti, and others claim (somewhat implausibly) that “barbecue” actually comes from the French phrase “barbe a queue”, meaning “from head to tail.” Proponents of this theory point to the whole-hog cooking method espoused by some barbecue chefs. Tar Heel magazine posits that the word “barbecue” comes from a nineteenth century advertisement for a combination whiskey bar, beer hall, pool establishment and purveyor of roast pig, known as the BAR-BEER-CUE-PIG (Bass 313). The most convincing explanation is that the method of roasting meat over powdery coals was picked up from indigenous peoples in the colonial period, and that “barbacoa” became “barbecue” in the lexicon of early settlers.

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