June 7, 2016
A Guide to Texas Barbecue
The best part of my job is that I am able to talk with, learn from, and befriend chefs from all types of backgrounds and kitchens. I’m able to learn about what drives their operations and what makes them stand apart from one another. The beauty of working as a Minor’s chef is that we have ingredients which can be used in creating all cuisine types. Here in Texas, we are fortunate to have great food and great chefs from all over the world. However, one standout cooking method that Texas is famous for is Texas barbecue.
So what is Texas barbecue? Well, it depends on who you ask. Because Texas is such a big state, traditional barbecue can differ from East Texas, West Texas, Central Texas and South Texas. Texas is also becoming well known for a “new school” approach to barbecue that doesn’t necessarily follow “authentic traditional” barbecue. Aaron Franklin of Franklin barbecue in Austin, Texas, for example, has been tweaking his barbecue recipes without being held to traditional family recipes. Yet, he’s been named the #1 place for Texas barbecue by Texas Monthly.
So what are the differences between the state’s regions— and who has the best? Depends on who you ask. Texas has a population of over 27 million people— and with that, about 27 million different opinions on what makes good barbecue. It’s been said that the three things you don’t discuss in Texas are: politics, religion and barbecue.
The truth is, there is no simple answer, but the one thing all good barbecue connoisseurs and pit masters alike have in common is passion for barbecue. It only takes one second talking with a pit master or barbecue restaurant owner to see the pride they put into every piece of meat that goes into the smoker. They talk about the ‘bark’ on their perfectly cooked briskets the same way some talk about their grandkids. Their love for barbecue is truly impressive.
Central Texas barbecue is generally the most well-known style. When barbecue connoisseurs think about Texas barbecue, they think of towns such as Lockhart, Taylor and Luling, which were founded by German and Czech settlers in the 19th century. Along with them, they brought European-style meat markets. After selling all the high-end cuts of meat, they would then smoke the less desirable cuts of meat that were leftover. This was the birth of Texas barbecue.
The emphasis in Central Texas barbecue is on the flavor of the meat. The sauces are often bland and only secondary to the meat, if used at all. A simple salt and pepper rub is all that is needed. The meat is then smoked with indirect heat using native pecan or oak wood.
East Texas barbecue is the second most common style of barbecue found in Texas. The main difference here is that the meat is cooked slower and longer over hickory wood to the point that it falls apart or off the bone. The meat in the East is often chopped instead of sliced. Marinating with a sweet, tomato-based sauce is also common in the East.
In West Texas, they use mesquite wood and usually cook their meat over direct heat. This can give the meat a tougher texture, and it can taste more bitter than meat that is cooked longer and slower with indirect heat. It’s getting harder and harder to find traditional Western-style Texas barbecue, as influences from Central Texas, Arkansas, Alabama and even the Carolinas are becoming more popular in this region.
In South Texas, the use of a thick, molasses-style sauce is popular. Barbecuing with a thick sauce helps maintain the moisture in the meat. Another type of barbecue, known as barbacoa, is also found in South Texas. South Texas has deep ranching traditions, and back in the day less desirable cuts of meat were part of the local farmhands’ pay. These cuts of meat were cooked using a different style than anywhere else in Texas. Nowadays, the term ‘barbacoa’ is used loosely and means any slow-cooked meat or slow-cooked meats with Mexican influences. Traditionally, barbacoa meant wrapping a cow’s head in wet maguey or banana leaves and burying it in a pit with hot coals for several hours. Once cooked, the meat from the head would be pulled off the bone to make barbacoa tacos. The tongue would be used for lengua tacos. If you ever get the chance to see this, don’t miss out. It’s really something to experience.
As you can see, there are a lot of different styles and techniques when it comes to Texas barbecue. At the end of the day, it is all about preference. However, there is one thing all Texans can agree on when it comes to Texas barbecue—only use Texas-raised beef— more specifically, the brisket. So if you ever find yourself in the Lone Star State, make sure you treat yourself to some barbecued brisket. You won’t regret it.
Below are a few recipes I like to use. Use them as a starting point or make them your own. Either way, enjoy!
- Red Chili Adobo Pork Marinade
- Beef Injection and Marinade
- Simple Chicken Brine