The joy of exploration of the dozens of cuisines now in this country, the pleasure at discovering something new. My only prayer is that we do not end up like the confused cuisine of the USA ... Please!!
Two different sides of the planet are amongst the most enthusiastic alfresco (outdoor) cooks of meats, poultry and fish (and occasionally vegetable) using items that can assist, add flavour both during and after and also work to tenderise meats. The America's both North and South and Asia. I don't want to get into an argument here... let me be the first to acknowledge that the countries of the Mediterranean on all shores also have some excellence in this area. Many western countries, Australia included, often fall a little behind in this area. Have you been to a BBQ in tropical climes lately? It may be important to differentiate between Barbecue and cooking over charcoal as is normal in many Mediterranean and Middle East countries.
There are two ways to consider sauce/marinades/rubs, one is to add flavour, the second is to help with tenderising. The America's have a way with meats, think the Asado of Argentina and Brazil, think the BBQ's of the South of the USA and the way that this form of cooking, very foreign to us since we seldom use smoking in cooking, has such a hold all the way through the USA. On a personal note I confess to not being a great lover of smoked meats, light smoking, so long as it is NOT by some damn awful machine or a liquid smoke, can be good. Cooking entirely in smoke, with the possible exception of foods like fish, I simply find too aggressive.
USA.. There are two very specific styles of meat BBQ cooking, one that uses a smoker, the other not. The essential difference is that for cooked, non smoked foods, the food is always marinaded before cooking, basted with the marinade as it cooks, basted again when cooking is complete. This will result often in meats that look very glazed, tender and with a sweet finish. (This is an interesting thing, because of the amount of sugar in the marinade, a higher quantity of salt is added, in the end perhaps not great for health) The smoke cooked meats are not usually subjected to so much marinade, but are instead cooked for much longer times until a very tender stage is reached and then reglazed with the original marinade. (Note: there are numerous types of smokers ranging from cold to hot) The longer cooked larger pieces of meat and poultry are most often found using the dry rub method. Rubs are occasionally treated as state secrets and handed down from father to son with the recipe never revealed. There are some popular rubs that are usually named after the cities or areas in the USA where they originated.
It is fair to say that some other countries have a tradition of smoking foods, Japan being one. Smoking was also used extensively in the old world as a means to preserve foods and is still found in less advanced societies used for that purpose.
Rubs are not something that we have used a lot in Australia,
we have only started using marinades of any kind in the past 10 to 15 years, prior to that when meats were cooked outdoors, they were traditionally cooked until they resembled charcoal and were often considered inedible (Charcoal is bitter and yet I must confess that if I am offered a piece of BBQ'd steak, then I want it crispy charcoaled on the outside and bloody inside. Lamb chops that are cooked on a hot bbq where the tails get all crispy are delicious). The next step was the introduction of indoor alfresco style grills mostly based on gas and volcanic rock and these encouraged the use of basic marinades, mind you its fair to say that Volcanic Rock did become unattractive after a few cooks, I can't remember if it was possible to wash them. I remember for example a boned leg of lamb that was 'marinaded' in plum sauce and then cooked slowly over an indoor bar grill. As I recall it was delicious, but not what we now think of as barbecue.
It was the advent of the migration of people from the Mediterranean and Asia that awakened our interest and showed us the pleasures of foods cooked with care using even simple marinades like a good olive oil with herbs and perhaps garlic. At much the same time, Cajun foods took many peoples interest in the restaurant area and the first of the American influences began. Cajun cooking was all about the use of a dry rub, which was often then mixed with pounded onion. It is only in the last couple of years that people have begun to explore the world of rubs and realised that the spices, garlic, sugar, salt, pepper found in so many rubs and often teamed with a drop or two of lemon juice, can be so enticing.
Asians have long known that meats that have been bathed and allowed to both absorb flavour and tenderise (Pawpaw or Papaya and Kiwi Fruit, one is said to be able to tenderise up to 3 kilo of meat... are great tenderises of meats, as is Nashi pears, used a lot in the cooking of BBQ meats in Korea) and have developed the techniques according to the regions and countries, with occasional boundary hopping that sees for example Chinese techniques in Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Singaporean foods. It is historically interesting that the influence of countries like Japan and Korea have not much ventured beyond the boundaries of their own lands. One of the most delicious of these is Char Siu Sauce, a method for cooking pork that produces meat that is both tender (it is often belly pork or one of the fillets) and delicious.
It is regarded as a barbecue or roasted food because of the way it is cooked in the extremely hot Chinese style oven which produces heat similar to a tandoor oven of India, the difference is that the foods being cooked in the Chinese ovens are suspended with hooks and usually do not touch the sides of the oven, in India and Middle East, foods cooked in the Tandoor are often cooked on the sides of the oven (breads for example) and the meats and similar are cooked on long metal skewers that are allowed to stand on the base of the oven. This style of cooking uses enormous heat, the result is the food is cooked fast, retains moisture and becomes deeply coloured. It is possible to replicate this in domestic ovens, but time must be allowed for the ovens to heat up.
One of my favourite all time lunch orders in Asian restaurants both here and in Asia is a mixed plate of pork, Char Siu and Barbecued pork belly with crispy skin. (ok ok... and a plate of stir fried vegetables) The Crispy Skin Pork is rubbed with dry spices and cooked at the same extremely high temperature resulting in richly tasting pork with great crackle. When you get this with Char Siu pork, its somehow delights the senses. Mind you it is also wise to order a plate of stir fried vegetables to counter the excess of meat.
Vietnamese have a rich tradition of foods that are first marinaded or basted. Then subjected to cooking. It is not common for meats to be cooked over an open flame, nor is an oven a common cooking method (except in the North where Chinese influences are stronger) but an oven like method is created by lidding the wok and trapping the heat. Thai food is the same, in that cuisine much emphasis is placed on the proper balance of sweet, salt, sour along with ingredients to lift taste. Malaysian foods are a strong mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian influences, in the north where peninsular Malaysia meets Thailand, the influence is Muslim Thai. Grilling on open flame is much loved amongst the Malays and my all time favourite is the way they cook fish. Most Asians are content with small fires which do not require much fuel.
The point is that Asia does have a vibrant tradition of using marinades and spice rubs to enhance and tenderise!
In the Mediterranean the simple truth is that it has been done for thousands of years and is much loved as the primary way of enjoying meats, poultry and fish, It is also fact that the use of marinades has been part of the cuisine for all that time. Simple things like lemon juice, great olive oil, wild herbs have all been used to work their magic. Its very strange that we have developed away from that form of cooking in Australia, preferring the cooking range or stove as the common way. I suspect that in many cases this has also become the reality in most Mediterranean countries where the constraints of time and living, simply do not allow for the lighting of wood or charcoal fires. The cooking of meats done in the old way is some thing that has been relegated to special occasions.
When Elizabeth David researched her first book on foods from the Mediterranean, in Italy she could only find one spice blend, this was made from Juniper Berries, Nutmeg, Pepper and was used mostly on grilled or roasted meats from the Northern parts where the pines produced the berries. Prior to that, reaching back into the deeper history of countries of the Mediterranean, meats were often cooked with a lot of things like pepper (from India and North Africa) and the extensive use of fermented fish was common. This was often accompanied by sour wines (the precursor of vinegar) and the result was a very pungent mix. Honey featured widely in these marinades. Resulting in a very strongly flavoured protein. This sort of food was the province of the rich, most average people's diet was very heavily based on grains. and pulses. Very little of this style of cooking remains today as the basic tastes were simply way beyond what we now accept as good taste. However that said, there are echo’s and these can be found in the extensive use of fermented fish (read anchovy and Balacan) in things like fish sauce and stir fries from South East Asia.
Spain has given us Adobo and with the Spanish conquests in the new world, this recipe (name) has followed. It is now found in many countries and seems as much loved today as it was years back. It is essentially a spice blend along with vinegar that is added to meats before cooking. There is a note here, the word Adobo was also given to a dish that is native to the Philippines and in fact has nothing to do with this spice mix. The Filipino dish is meat stewed in (coconut) vinegar with spices, similar and since Spain 'conquered' the Philippines, there is a similarity. The Spanish love pork and so the majority of meat cooked alfresco in Spain is just that. It is important in both the Spanish and Filipino dishes, that you understand that preservation of meat was of great importance before the days of refrigeration. In the case of the Filipino dish, it was the combination of acid from the vinegar and salt from the soy, that did the job. In the Spanish case it was the addition of salt to the vinegar that prevented bacteria forming. Two other points, vinegar when cooked loses some acid (see the French Bistro dish Chicken cooked in red wine vinegar. And in the cooking process stock is added to modify the vinegar.
Spanish Adobo Recipe https://www.yummy.ph/recipe/spanish-adobo-recipe
Filipino Adobo Recipe
The Middle Eastern countries are experts on cooking meats, poultry and fish on the BBQ, wars have been started and fought over techniques. The Lebanese could argue with the Moroccans and even the Libyans when it comes to this form of cooking, but in the end, it has to be said that most of the countries of the region have great foods to enjoy with this method of cooking, many use the spice blends of their region as flavour base. Baharat is an example. There are many spice blends of the region, most if not all can be used to add taste to meats with the simple addition of some oil and an acid, usually lemon juice. Think the kebab found all through the region.