This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
It is commonly called roasting oxen or other animals whole; the word itself is French barb-a-que - from head to tail - but in practice so many disappointments occur through the meat coming from the bars burnt to a coal on the outside and too raw to be eaten inside, that those who have had experience take care to roast only quarters or sides. The way it is done is the same in the beginning as the clam bake; a trench is dug in the ground and a wood fire made in it When it has burned about six hours and the pit bottom is covered with a bed of glowing coals and red hot rocks, instead of the covering up in sea weed as at the clam bake, some bars of iron are laid across the pit, making a monster grid-iron. Perhaps the iron can be obtained from the village blacksmith, or some old rails from the railroad, or two or three rails and small iron for cross-bars. Whole sheep and lambs can be roasted very well over such a bed of coals, also small pigs, chickens, possums, turkeys and such small animals, but oxen are better cut in quarters, as in that case it does not take more than an hour or two to cook them sufficiently.
Occasions requiring a resort to the barbecue are constantly arising, either political or otherwise, for anniversaries, camp meetings, celebrations of various descriptions, and it only needs the trench to be dug the longer to give cooking facilities in the meat line to an indefinite extent; the bread is easily baked at a distance and hauled to the spot. But the great trouble experienced generally is to get the provisions divided among the people after the cooking; if this is not well managed two or three persons will drag a quarter of beef from the fire into the dust of the ground, hack off their few slices and leave the rest in such a condition that it is almost if not quite lost Some well intended barbecues for army reunions and monument raisings and the like have become hideous failures through such want of management. There must be a fence around the barbecue fire and another around the benches to eat from, and proper arrangements made for cutting up and passing around the meat after it is cooked, if suffering to the invited multitude and life-long reproach to the providers are to be averted.
Barbecues have taken place in late years where oxen were actually roasted whole and made superior as roasted meat to the product of city kitchens by fastening the entire carcasses on iron spits on frames with band-wheel fixtures, and revolving them horizontally by means of a small portable steam engine over the heated pits of coals until done. In one case recorded when the ox was considered sufficiently done it was moved by means of a crane to a table where six skillful carvers were ready with extra large knives and forks, and cut it up and distributed it in a proper manner.
"Messrs. Cody and Salsbury, of the American Wild West Show, invited a number of their friends recently to an Indian 'rib-roast' breakfast,at which the principal item that figured upon the 'bill of rations' consisted of ribs of beef roasted, served, and partaken of in the primitive Indian style as follows: A hole is dug in the ground, a wood-fire lighted therein, and over this is suspended from a tripod the huge sides of beef; these are kept moving by a squaw or scout for three-quarters" of an hour, at the end of which time the joint is sufficiently done, and resembles a bunch of 'devilled bones.' Each 'brave' squatted upon the ground on a carpet of loose straw was provided with a sharp stake stuck into the earth in front of him, and a goodly portion of the roasted ribs, which, when not engaged in biting the meat off the bone held in his hands, he stuck on to the sharp s'ake, which thus took the place of a plate.
He then licked his fingers clean, and wiped them dry on his hair. The majority of the guests adopted the Indian manner of eating the meat - bar the licking-finger performance, as a substitute for which table-napkins, etc., were provided. The meat was said to be so toothsome, that an eminent English legislator present expressed his opinion thereon to the effect that 'civilization was a well-intentioned mistake.' The rest of the menu was American, viz., grub-steak, salmon, roast-beef, roast-mutton, ham, tongue, stewed chicken, lobster salad, American hominy and milk, corn, potatoes, cocoanut-pie, apple-pie,Wild West pudding, American pop-corn and peanuts, which, with other etceteras, ended this unusual form of entertainment".