The birthplace of American barbecue

Mocama Timucua smoking meat and fish over an open flame in the 1560s. Image by Theodor de Bry in 1591; claimed to be based on a lost painting by Fort Caroline colonist Jacques le Moyne. (Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida)

While regional styles of American barbecue have evolved over time, barbecue is a local cooking method and style of food that predates Jacksonville by centuries. The origins of American barbecue can be traced to the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, which stretches along the Eastern coastline from North Florida to North Carolina.

Its roots are a combination of Native American, Spanish and African culinary heritage. Indigenous people living in Florida, such as the Timucua, were known to slow cook their meat on grills over open fire translated by the Spanish as barbacoa. Learning how to barbecue hogs from Caribbean natives, the Spanish are said to have introduced the hog to Florida and the South around 1521.

Prior to their arrival, West and Central Africans had already mastered cooking wild game over open pits, and eating the smoked meat with sauces made from limes, lemons and hot peppers. According to Zora Neale Hurston, the enslaved then took these techniques, combining them, leading to the various styles of American barbecue and sauces that we know and love today.

A Thanksgiving before the Pilgrims arrived in America

(Fort Caroline)

In June 1564, decades before the Pilgrims came to Massachusetts, the Mocama Timucua in present-day Jacksonville joined the French Huguenot colonists of the newly established Fort Caroline for a huge feast of Thanksgiving. The meal likely consisted of the meager French provisions plus Timucua staples like corn, cornbread, squashes, seafood, venison, gator, and birds - perhaps even a wild turkey or two. The French “sang a psalm of Thanksgiving unto God” for their safe arrival, according to the French commander, René Goulaine de Laudonnière. It was one of the first Thanksgiving feasts ever celebrated between Native Americans and Europeans in the continental United States.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP and Bill Delaney. Contact Ennis at