Whether it's the taste of smoked ribs and fire burgers or the smell of sweet hickory wood, barbecuing has always drawn more than its fair share of wannabes and bona fide experts.
Blending the art of cooking and science, barbecue experts use spices, grills, smokers and other tools of the trade to create mouth-watering meals.
Barbecuing is a method of cooking not to be confused with grilling. It's cooking at low temperatures for long periods of time using indirect heat. This is different from grilling, which uses direct heat and is done over the direct heat of a fire.
Although barbecuing is an outdoor activity, one doesn't have to wait for warm weather to fire up the grills. Barbara Barnes, who lives in an area where winter temperatures can dip to -30 C or colder, barbecues year-round.
A home economist and supervisor of the Blue Flame Kitchen, she even manages to barbecue while sailing using a tiny barbecue two-thirds the size of a shoebox.
There's some debate on the actual history of barbecuing. Some believe it began with the caveman and his discovery of fire.
Rumor has it that the French may have fired up the first "barbe-a-queue" which means cooking from the beard to the tail. Still, others believe it's a New World phenomenon originating in the Caribbean.
Whenever it began, one thing is for sure. "It's the best reason in the world to get people together for a rollicking good time," say the writers of The Hardcore BBQ Book and Kit.
"Barbecuing is the trendiest word in food these days," says C. Chuck Hale, also known as Smokey. "On any given week, more people are cooking and eating in backyards than watched the Super Bowl."
There are no physical requirements to becoming an expert barbecuer. If you're thinking about starting a catering service, stamina will help. "It's strenuous" work to keep clients happy says Simon Casseres, owner of The Catering Group.
Catering is one of the simplest, quickest ways to get into the barbecue industry, says Hale. The grill or grills will be your greatest investment but you can start with a small to medium grill.
Other job options for the expert barbecuer include working in or opening your own restaurant. According to Hale, "There are thousands of barbecue restaurants with more opening every day."
Disney World has two full-time executive chefs running its barbecue restaurant. You can even get into the barbecue equipment or the supply side of the business, promoting and selling barbecues.
To get started in barbecuing, you'll need training in culinary management, cooking or even food chemistry. "The support of family and friends and a client base helps," says Casseres, who started his catering business 12 years ago.
Barnes suggests you "target some area you're interested in working in -- research the area and go to an institute to get some training."
Experts agree you have to love the profession in order to be successful. "Be prepared to work many hours and many different days like Christmas and New Year's Day. If you're not willing to sacrifice, don't get into it," warns Casseres.
Hale believes "accurate information is the most essential ingredient. One must first learn how to barbecue and decide if [you] really like the activity."
He suggests barbecuing for a few charity events where you donate your time, but somebody else picks up the material costs. If you enjoy the experience, have business cards and brochures ready to pass out to customers and organizers at the next event.
Then, "get a grill, dig a hole in the ground or whatever, and start cooking."
Getting started in barbecuing doesn't have to drain your bank account. Equipment and tools for the beginner barbecuer include a long flipper, long tongs, oven mitts, meat thermometer, a good cookbook, and, of course, a barbecue.
Buy something portable that will fit on the balcony of your residence or apartment in case you move away for college or university.
A beginner barbecuer can spend between $150 and $200 on tools and equipment, depending on the quality they're looking for. But experts agree you should buy the best you can afford.
It's important to check the regulations where you live, as some places may not allow propane barbecues. If you're buying a used barbecue, make sure it meets all regulations.
"Invest in some sort of barbecue that is sturdy," says Barnes. "You're not always going to be able to buy one like your parents have." Not for your first one anyway. She recommends a Weber or Sterling.
The Great American Barbecue Instruction Book,
The Book of Grilling and Barbecuing,
Barbecue'n on the Internet
A comprehensive site for beginners
The Smoke Ring
Barbecue information and links to many sites
The BBQ Pit
Meet Larry Gerber, the Barbecue Man