Barbecue or Barbeque – What’s the Difference?

If you eat meat, you have probably had delicious slow-cooked pork drenched in tangy, spicy sauce. This wonderful invention is called barbecue, and it descends from the traditional food ways of several cultures that found their way to the American South.

In his book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, Michael Pollan visits the South to learn about barbecue and to try his hand at the process.

Most barbecue aficionados are traditionalists, insisting that proper barbecue requires strict adherence to a uniform set of procedures and ingredients.

But what about the word itself? How do you spell barbecue? Must writers adhere to barbecue, or could we use barbeque or another version of the word, instead?

What is the Difference Between Barbecue and Barbeque?

In this article, I will compare barbecue vs. barbeque. I will use each of these words in at least one example sentence, so you can see them in context.

Plus, I will show you a useful mnemonic device that you can use to help yourself remember whether barbecue or barbeque is correct.

When to Use Barbecue

Definition of barbeque definition and definition of barbecue definition What does barbecue mean? Barbecue can be a noun or a verb.

As a noun, barbecue means a particular method of cooking, whereby one suspends meat over burning coals on a wooden framework.

The word can also refer to a gathering around food cooked this way. Barbecue is derived from the Spanish barbacoa, a word for the wooden structure itself.

Here are a few examples,

  • There’s a barbecue at Craig’s house this weekend; do you want to go?
  • In the American South, there are many regional variations on barbecue.
  • The FDA tried to regulate southern barbecue, but it largely failed.
  • Melissa Cookston recalls the smell of barbecue mingling with her grandfather’s morning coffee as she sat and talked with him at his favorite lunch spot in the Mississippi Delta. –The Wall Street Journal

As a verb, barbecue means to cook according to this method.

Check out the example below,

  • “I’m going to barbecue a pig tomorrow,” said Jenn. “I could use your help.”

When to Use Barbeque

Define barbeque and define barbecue What does barbeque mean? Barbeque is a variant of the same word. It is not used as frequently as barbecue. Other variations include bar-b-cue, bar-b-que, and BBQ. Below is a graph that charts the use of barbeque vs. barbecue since 1800.

barbecue versus barbeque

As you can see, barbecue is by far the most widely used variant of this word. In his book Garner’s Modern English Usage, Bryan Garner estimates barbecue is used three times more frequently than all other forms of the word combined.

Other variations, like bar-b-cue and BBQ, are common to see in advertising or the names of restaurants, but they are comparatively rare in edited prose.

  • I stopped for a decent plate of pulled pork ($9.99) at the BBQ Pit on University Avenue before continuing on to ChuckAlek Biergarten, a spot in North Park with a great outdoor area. –The New York Times

As you can see in this New York Times example, BBQ is in the name of the restaurant. In this sense, it is acting as a proper noun.

Spelling of Barbecue: Trick to Remember the Difference

Barbecue is the only standard version of this word, probably because it is closest to the original Spanish barbacoa. It is also the most widely-used variant among English writers.

Since barbecue and barbacoa each contain the letter C, you can use the spelling similarity as a reminder that barbecue is the correct spelling of this word.


Is it barbecue or barbeque? Barbecue, barbeque, bar-b-cue, bar-b-que, and BBQ are all Anglicized variants of the Spanish word barbacoa. As nouns and verbs, they refer to a process of slow-cooking pork or other meats.

  • Barbecue is the standard spelling in English.
  • Barbecue occurs at a rate many times that of its variants.

Since it is closest to the spelling of the original Spanish, you should have little trouble remember that it is standard. If you have trouble choosing barbeque or barbecue, think of the “C” in barbecue as standing for correct.