One of my biggest (and admittedly nitpicky) pet peeves is when inherently subjective topics are spoken about using objective language. I'm entirely aware that others find my view pedantic, but to me there is a world of difference between "X is terrible" and "I think X is terrible." I find the distinction to be particularly important in written forums (i.e. on the internet) where the conversational, off-the-cuff tone a writer may intend for a statement is not necessarily the tone every other reader will infer.

In an attempt to make light of my obsession, I propose a new informal fallacy for these sorts of statements, the No True Barbecue Fallacy.

Origin of the Name

The origin of the name is from the incredibly petty and pointless — yet seemingly endless — regional feud in the US with regard to both the meaning of the word "barbecue" and which region has the "best" barbecue.

The barbecue debate is a constant of the internet. Post a picture of your outdoor gathering and call it a "barbecue" and the chances are good someone will show up to "educate" you about how the word can refer ONLY to a specific cooking process. Mention Kansas City barbecue and someone from Texas will mock you because your meat has sauce on it, which is naturally not "real" barbecue. Mention Korean barbecue and provoke the ire of probably the entire Southern US. There's also the ketchup vs. vinegar-based sauce nonsense. This idiocy is so prevalent it is addressed in the first rule of the /r/bbq subreddit.

There is, of course, no true single meaning of "barbecue." I suppose that fact is technically explained by semantic widening, but it shouldn't take a linguist to understand that language is 1) a subjective human construct to begin with, and 2) always evolving. I would argue there is no "true" meaning of any word. The most that can be said for a meaning of a word is it is currently widely (even near-universally) accepted. One person using a word "incorrectly" would be called wrong, but several thousand doing it may lead to an "official" regional shift in the word's meaning — there is no place to draw a hard line. In the case of "barbecue," there are many cultural and regional variations on to what the word generally refers, but none of them can be said to be "correct."

Nor is there a "best" style of barbecue. This shouldn't require much explanation. Sense of taste is entirely subjective. For many/most, their preference is probably based as much (and that's being generous) in where they happened to be raised as it is their sense of taste. An expert taster's preference is still just that; it's an opinion. The opinions of many experts may be compiled to produce a claim of "highest rated" barbecue joint by a particular metric, but there is and will never be an objective overall best, because there cannot be one. A specific metric is always needed to make such a claim.

In short, the name was chosen to mock the ever-present insistence by barbecue fanatics in particular that there is a "best" or "true" paragon of whatever their subjective hobby is. It was also chosen as a nod to a similar informal fallacy called no true Scotsman.

Relation to "No True Scotsman"

No true barbecue bears a similarity to another informal fallacy called no true Scotsman. Scotsman is invoked when a speaker abitrarily shifts the meaning of a word to exclude an explicit counterexample.

An example of Scotsman can be drawn up using the barbecue analogy:

Person A
No barbecue can be properly cooked in fewer than 90 hours.
Person B
Here is a pile of evidence showing that many highly-renowned barbecue restaurants throughout the country cook their meat for an average of 8 hours.
Person A
Well, no *true* barbecue can be cooked that quickly.

In contrast, a statement as simple as "The barbecue in my home state is the best in the world" is an example of no true barbecue. Unlike Scotsman, there does not need to be a counterexample which the speaker attempts to refute. The fallacy comes from making an objective claim about something inherently subjective, in this case food preference. I posit that the lack of a reaction to a counterexample is what distinguishes Scotsman from barbecue.


The fallacy doesn't apply only to barbecue, of course. It is invoked anytime someone states an opinion as though it is fact, or with a presumed authority greater than actually exists.

So, the next time someone tells you you're "doing it wrong" if you put anything in your coffee, or that "everything past the eighth season of The Simpsons sucks," shout "NO TRUE BARBECUE" at them and confidently strut away.