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The History of Barbecue Ribs

BBQ ribs on a wooden cutting board with a large knife and BBQ sauce on a countertop in Springfield, IL

The act of smoking meat for long periods of time while accompanied by a variety of spices is not a new invention, in fact, barbecue has been around since its creation by the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean centuries ago. However, BBQ ribs as we know them today are a fairly new 20th-century innovation. Now, there are more versions of barbeque ribs than ever; in Memphis, you can enjoy a perfectly seasoned dry rub slab of ribs, in Chicago, enjoy mouthwatering rid tips in every BBQ joint in the city, and of course, Texas is known for their juicy pork ribs. Interested in how it all got started? Keep reading below!

19th Century BBQ

In the 19th century, standard barbeque consisted of large crowds of individuals gathering in celebration or for major political events. The food, however, at these events was not the typical hamburger, pulled pork, and hotdog options that many American households have. Families and friends gathering in the 19th century would choose from a feast of lamb, goat, shote, pork, and chicken, minus the traditional sides and sauces we are used to in the 20th and 21st centuries. In the late 1800s, barbecues were known more for their large gatherings than food, which quickly changes in the early 1900s when the meatpacking industry took over the country.

Glazed BBQ ribs on a wooden cutting board next to a small black skillet of BBQ sauce at a restaurant in Springfield, IL.Meat Packing Allowed More Access

You may be wondering, “how does the history of BBQ ribs have anything to do with the early days of the meatpacking industry?” Everything, actually! Cattle and swine of all ages and sizes were mass manufactured and taken in by the meatpacking industry to supply American households with quality, refrigerated meats that ended the necessity for personal animal farms and hunting. Not only did the invention of refrigeration make meat storage possible, but other food preservation methods such as pickling were also becoming increasingly popular.

Eventually, as the industry grew, corporations realized that there was a profit in every part of the animal, not just select areas for pork chops or ground beef. This is when fresh cuts of ribs became more frequently available to the public, creating the start of BBQ ribs that would become a staple for American barbecues in the 20th and 21 centuries.

Large rack of BBQ ribs being held by a pair of metal silver tongs on a family grill for a BBQ in Springfield, IL.The Golden Age of Ribs

By the 1930s, BBQ ribs were a common option on menus all across the country ranging from a variety of locations including food stands, nightclubs, and cafes. After World War II, ribs were being served in high-end restaurants as a savory and delicious entrée that was unlike any other meat prepared before. Not long after the introduction of ribs were they being mass packaged by meatpacking plants and distributed into households for a fairly affordable price, thus creating the opportunity for BBQ ribs to become a staple at every summer barbecue in America.

Visit Loukinens on 4th in Springfield, IL to try our delicious style of BBQ ribs – you won’t be disappointed!

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