Barbecue vs. barbeque

In today’s English, barbecue is the usual spelling of the word with several senses related to the cooking of food over open fire. It’s the spelling that tends to appear in edited writing, and it’s the one that dictionaries note first, for what that’s worth (and some don’t note any other spellings). Barbeque is a secondary spelling that appears especially often in the names of restaurants and products. It has steadily gained ground over the last few decades, but it is still far less common than barbecue overall.

The word has been spelled several ways since coming to English from the Spanish barbacoa in the 18th century (its earlier origins are fuzzy, though the conventional wisdom is that the Spanish adapted it from a term used among Caribbean natives).1 In the OED’s historical examples there are barbecu, barbacue, barbicu, and babracot,2 and today there are several abbreviated forms, including bar-b-q and just BBQ. Despite the many forms, barbecue gained clear ascendancy in the late 19th century, and it has gone unchallenged ever since.3


Their court commenced on the next Monday, as the barbacue was on a Saturday, and the candidates for governor and for Congress, as well as my competitor and myself, all attended. [A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, Davy Crockett (1834)]

When the Guiana Indians have killed a tapir and roasted its flesh on a babracot, they take good care to destroy the fireplace. [The Supernatural, John H. King (1892)]

The Whig barbecue came off first, and no man ate more and carried off more ham and barbecue, in his basket, than did Jonas. [Whitaker’s reminiscences, R.H. Whitaker (1904)]

A barbecue party can be formal if you like, but everyone is happiest when dirtiest, and blue jeans are a perfect costume for sitting on earth or stones. [The ABC of Barbecue, (1954)]

Today, Brooks, 51, has two barbeque restaurants at Intercontinental Airport and one at Hobby Airport, and he has a mobile food court at the George R. Brown Convention Center. [Black Enterprise (1996)]

Also present will be face painting, readings, dance and a bar-b-q with hot dogs, hamburgers, sno-cones, and beverages. [Verde Independent (2013)]


1.  Jake Adam York, “The Marrow of the Bone of Contention: A Barbecue Journal,” via storySouth. 
2. Barbecue in the OED
3. Google ngram graphing several forms, 1800-1900 

16 thoughts on “Barbecue vs. barbeque”

  1. Somehow, “barbeque” seems to look nicer to me. I think that’s because it uses q, which is an underused letter in the English alphabet.

  2. I never really investigated it, but I have always inferred (and this article somewhat confirms) that the etymological path was something like “barbecue” => “bar-b-q” => “BBQ” => “barbeque.” What’s next, “barbequeue”?

    • No.

      A barbequeue is a queue formed at a barbecue (noun) in order to obtain some barbecued (verb) meat from the barbecue (noun). Alternative “to barbequeue” is form a such a queue.

          • It would actually be both an adjective and a past participle as can be clearly seen in other languages. It is a verb as it describes the state of the meat but is a past particle by saying the meat has been barbecued. French roots bring the barbeque because it literally means from “beard to tail”. Think along the lines of a spit through an animal roasting over a fire.

          • This would be closer to true if the spelling were barbequeue, with ‘barbe’ being ‘beard’ and ‘queue’ being ‘tail’. So literally, it’d be beardtail.

  3. In the southern US, the food that you cook in the smoker, usually pork but in some places (Texas), often beef) is called “barbeque”. A “barbecue” is the thing that contains the charcoal briquettes… any North Carolinian knows this. :-)

    • It would seem that the term is invested with a lot of regional pride in certain areas of the country but none in others. In Los Angeles, anything from a beat-up, thrift-store Weber kettle to a $10,000 fully installed gas grill is a barbecue. Smokers are smokers. The food, again this is my experience, is appelated by the word “barbecued” and then the name of the protein, as in “barbecued chicken.” The event to which one invites people is a “barbecue.”


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