After World War II, many newly affluent Americans had the means and desire to travel. Some visited the Pacific islands and Southeast Asia, while many more flocked to Mexico, California, Hawaii, Florida, and the Caribbean. People developed a taste for casual living and the distinctive local foods and drink. Returning home, they re-created these experiences in their new suburban backyards, with patios, tropical drinks, and the grill, where they cooked meals craved by a postwar meat-mad America.
The outdoor patio grill created a new kind of space for American families. It associated food with recreation and relaxation. It also defined a special role for men in meal preparation: while they “manned” the grill to cook the meat for the main course, women worked primarily in the kitchen to make the side dishes. By the late 1950s, American manufacturers and retailers were promoting new tools, clothes, furniture, and serving ware to go along with grilled meals on the patio.
Travel, Tourism, and Tiki Bars
Americans’ passion for tropical-inspired food and fashion played out in the new backyard grill culture. Pink plastic flamingos stood guard in suburban yards and men exchanged their workday suits for aloha shirts (once considered formal attire in Hawaii) or guayaberas (of Caribbean origin).
They grilled on skewers, and served rum and tequila drinks instead of gin and scotch, inspired by tiki bars. Pupu (appetizer) platters were filled with eggrolls, fried shrimp, beef teriyaki skewers, spare ribs, and chicken wings, copied from restaurant bars and from magazines promoting these foods for cookouts and kitchens alike.
It takes just one summer season to turn a caveman into an outdoor chef in full 1955 regalia. A man takes over with few more tools than a primitive hunter: a fire, a stick or an old fork, some meat. After one bite of a frankfurter he has personally charcoal-charred, he is hooked as a cook. Spurred on by his family, he pores over grill ads as avidly as a gardener studies seed catalogues, voraciously collects barbecue recipes, and splurges on the fanciest cook-out equipment he can find…. From little picnics, elaborate barbecues grow—and grow.
—“America Bit by the Barbecue Bug,” Look magazine, July 12, 1955