Harper's Weekly (1906), describing the barbecues in vogue at the time.
According to what area you're in: In the eastern part of the state of North Carolina, the entire pig (split down the middle) is cooked, and the sauce is made with vinegar and pepper. In the western part, only pig shoulders are cooked, and a tomato-based finishing sauce is used. Unlike other food preparation in the South, which is usually dominated by women, barbecue is a male domain.
Before the Civil War, pigs were a food staple in the South because they were a low-maintenance and convenient food source. The pigs could be put out to root in the forest and caught when the food supply became low. These semi-wild pigs were tougher and stringier than modern-day pigs. Pig slaughtering became a time for celebration, ant other families would be invited to share in the eating. Out of these gatherings grew the traditional southern barbecue. Plantation owners regularly held large barbecues for their slaves. According to historians, southerners ate, on average, five pounds of pork for every one pound of beef.
In the 19th century, barbecues were an important feature of church functions and political rallies. Members of both political parties would come to the same gathering, with the leaders of each party competing with one another to supply the largest contribution of food and drink. Folks would gather from afar to reach the appointed place in time for the speeches, band concert, and all-important barbecue. The only accompaniments to the roast pig were thick slices of good bread, cucumbers (fresh and pickled), and whiskey. The saying "going whole hog" came out of these political rallies.
During the 20th century, barbecue joints or pits flourished (a typical joint or pit was a bare concrete floor covered by a corrugated tin roof and walls). Restaurants grew out of a simple barbecue pit where the owner sold barbecue to take away. Many were open only on weekends, since the "pit men" worked on farms during the week. As the century progressed, barbecue joints grew and prospered
This Theodore de Bry engravings below, which was copied from Jacques le Moyne drawings made in the 1500s, show two views of Native American cooking. These two drawings, and many others in a similar vane, were often found in the grammar school and high school history books we used back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Please remember that the Frenchman le Moyne had to redraw most of his work from memory after the Spanish burned Fort Caroline the French fort in the mid 1500s. These drawings may not be perfect but they are, nevertheless, the best depictions we have of early Indian life.
The first drawing below shows Indians cooking with low heat and lots of smoke. Note that the food to be barbequed is deliberately placed high and away from the hottest source of the heat.
This drawing was often referred to as an "Indians smoking meat" by publishers and historians who were unfamiliar with true barbeque. But note that the source of heat in this first drawing is such that the heat source is clearly hotter than in a true "smoking" process. Also, in smoking, the meat being smoked is cut away from the animal. Smoking is such a slow process that whole animals cannot be smoked all at once or the interior would spoil. In barbeque the animal is often cooked whole as we do in "whole hog" barbeque today.
(Also note that Europeans were fascinated by alligators and La Moyne put them in as many of his drawings as he could, even if he did make them look like large lizards.)
There is only a very fine line between "smoking meat" and barbeque and that line is temperature. Smoke houses, which were common on every farm up until the 1940s, used a fair amount of smoke but only a very low heat. In a smoke house, smoke is the thing and the temperature inside of the smoke house is quite low compared to barbeque. Smoking meat takes days and days.
In barbequing temperature plays a larger role. Barbeque requires a temperature of between 210 to 250 degrees over a period of 10 to 20 hours (or more depending on the meat being cooked). In barbeque, cooking time is shorter and temperatures higher than "smoking."