During Eater's Barbecue Week in early June, Chris Fuhrmeister argued (among other things) that most of America has the wrong idea about the definition of "barbecue." According to Fuhrmeister, in the South, especially, people are very particular about the use of "barbecue" as a verb, preferring words like "cookouts" or "grilling" to describe that backyard gathering many folks are preparing for this holiday weekend.
We decided to investigate the regional nature of grilling terminology by creating a survey asking Eater readers what they call grilling events that lack smoked food, and live-mapped the results. After 2,499 entries (and counting), we have a better idea of how much the country agrees. The polls are still open, but here's what we learned so far:
The South: As expected, Southern states are overwhelmingly in favor of calling grilling events without smoking "cookouts" and not barbecue. Zealous Texans had the strongest views on the issue, with most of the counties voting for the term "cookout."
The Midwest: The Midwest had the worst voter turnout for our poll, but like the Northeast, the region seems to be a mixed bag of barbecues and cookouts. The farther east people go, the more opinions swing in favor of "cookout" instead of "barbecue." The reason we divided the map by county was to account for "rogue" cities and areas like Chicago that have a tradition of being culturally out of tune with the rest of the state: With this, Chicago/Cook County is one of the only "barbecue" regions in Illinois.
The Northeast: The Northeast United States seems to be torn between the terms. Most of New York swings toward barbecue.
The West Coast: In the land where sushi, kale, and avocados reign supreme, if there's a grill, it's a barbecue. Most Californians voted for "barbecue" as their word of choice. That trend continues up the coast toward Washington, with a few counties reporting both or neither term.
The Country: So far, most American counties prefer the term "cookout," with 65 percent of voters choosing it. But the country's three largest three cities (New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago) prefer the term "barbecue." Summer has just begun, so there's still a lot of time to think about your answer and add it to the pool.