Barbecue (BBQ), US traditions with German roots

Have you ever thought about the origins of traditional “all-American” barbecue foods? You’ll likely be surprised to know that many foods Americans associate with tailgates, picnics and barbecues actually originated in Germany. Here are the most prominent examples:


While the history of the hamburger is somewhat shrouded in mystery and there are several popular version circulating, a popular version traces North America’s favorite fast food back to Germany. The story goes that Otto Kuasw, a cook in Hamburg (hence the name), created a sandwich in 1891 with a thin, fried patty of mild beef sausage. He topped it with a fried egg and placed it all between two slices of buttered bread. This sandwich became popular among the soldiers who visited the port city. And when the soldiers traveled to the New York ports, they told the restaurant owners about their favorite “Deutsches Beefsteak” sandwich. This eventually came to be known as the hamburger.

Hot Dog

Next up another American favorite: the hot dog. The German forefather to the American hot dog, the Frankfurter, looks back on a long history. It was created in 1487, five years before Christopher Columbus set sail to discover the new world. The name of this mild, finely ground sausage link is attributed to yet another German city, Frankfurt, where it first gained popularity. In the 1860s, German immigrants began selling “franks” with rolls and sauerkraut from pushcarts in New York City. And in 1871, Charles Feltman, a German-American butcher, opened the first Coney Island hot dog stand, putting the links in a long bun. Since that time, hot dogs have become standard fare at summer barbecues and baseball parks across the country.

Pickled Sides

With their refreshing taste and crunchy texture pickles complement grilled meats. Germany is one of the leading producers of high quality pickles, with a wide variety of pickled vegetables, from the ubiquitous super-food sauerkraut and gherkins of all sizes to lesser known products like pickled red beets and celery root. Baby gherkins, also well-known by their French designation cornichons, are very popular with German consumers, as are several varieties of mixed pickles, brightly colored medleys of different pickled vegetables. The majority of German pickling companies are small to medium size businesses which are still mostly family owned and have been producing pickles according to well-kept proprietary recipes with secret combinations of herbs and spices.


When it comes to condiments, mustard is arguably Germany’s favorite BBQ companion. German consumers can pick from a wide variety of mustards, ranging from sweet to extremely hot varieties, from creamy finely ground to whole grain mustards. Many mustards are unique to a certain region or even city or town. For those who like to add even more spice, horseradish is the way to go. It is frequently used in Germany to give sauces, dips and marinades that extra kick.

As far as ketchup goes, Germans have developed a special affinity with curry-flavored (Curryketchup) and a variety flavored with a complex blend of spices (Gewürzketchup). Curryketchup is usually enjoyed on top of a grilled sausage. The dish, called Currywurst, is a combination which started out as an experiment by and quickly gained popularity, first in Berlin only to catch on as a nationally beloved fast food dish.

Side Dishes

Light and flavorful salads are the most popular side dishes served with grilled foods. An all time favorite is, of course, German potato salad which forgoes mayonnaise in favor of a fresh oil-and-vinegar dressing. Other popular salads include scrumptious noodle salads and different versions of cole slaw (Krautsalat).


When it comes to drinks, Germans like to mix it up. In the non-alcoholic category, the extremely popular juice and sparkling water combinations known as “Schorle” (fruit spritzers) are available in every restaurant, café or bar and are even sold premixed. An important note on Germany’s sparkling water is that it is not merely purified drinking water with added carbonation but usually comes from mineral springs all across Germany’s famous mountain ranges. Consequently, these waters are high in essential minerals such as calcium, potassium and magnesium which are especially important for re-hydration during the hot summer months.

Not much needs to be said about Germany’s famed beers, so here are just a few fun facts: nearly 5,000 different types of beer are produced in approximately 1,200 German breweries. The diversity of different types of German beer is staggering. Distinct brewing methods and the ratio of the different ingredients result in an impressive palette of beers which differ not only in color but more importantly in flavor. Many breweries have successfully found their way into the North American market and their products can be found at your local supermarkets or liquor stores.

Grilled foods also can be perfectly paired with German wines, such as Riesling, the most well-known German grape variety.

Recipes for a German BBQ