Texas BBQ Religion (Part 1)

Posted by Phil on January 28th, 2010 | Cooking

Explaining the Passion

It all starts with a guy staring at a plate of gray, dry, catering-style brisket. “We’ve lost it, along the way, somewhere”.

This gut-feeling, in contrast with any lucky experience with one of the last great places to find truly legitimate smoked BBQ (either someone’s home cooked, a BBQ cook-off sample, or only a handful of restaurants), can start a trueblood Texan on a journey to honor the craft and his state in the process.

The Good Old Pit

Someone has to carry on a tradition of un-compromised quality and devotion to perfection, in whatever sport, craft, or hobby.  Or, at least, the ones who do will keep that small wavering flame going for the ones who cared then, now, and will care in the future.

It started for me on a fishing trip to the Gulf from Austin.  Like most all my life-changing experiences go, it’s a combination of things that pushes me over the edge.  Riding with a caravan of trucks in a trusty four-liter Jeep Cherokee, packed down with fishing and camping gear, sipping coffee with a good buddy and BS-ing about just about anything, we decide to stop for some BBQ at Luling City Market on 183. This combination of my favorite things (cars, fishing, and BS-ing) made a petri-dish for a new wild-hair passion.  I put $20 down for a brown piece of paper, topped with perfected oak smoked meats, topped with vinegar/pepper sauce, to be washed down with a Dr. Pepper (Big Red is the classic drink, yeah, I know).

Sliced Brisket

Since then, BBQing has become one of my wild passions.  By BBQ, here, I mean smoked meat.  That’s what I usually call BBQ.  Everything else I guess I’d call grilling.  I actually love all forms of fire-cooked meats, and will surely cover them in future articles. I’m also limiting to Texas here, from my experience and heritage, but the rest of the U.S. produces excellent BBQ.  For some meats, I’m pretty sure the true experts exist outside of Texas, but I’ll leave that to the masters to duel out.

Texas BBQ (smoked) meats primarily include beef, pork, turkey, and chicken, but you can get into lamb, goat, raccoon, possum, etc.  I’ve only heard stories of some of the latter ones. The “cuts” of meat include briskets, ribs, shoulders, and rump roasts (most call hem “butts”), among others.

Split Wood - the author during an experimental cooking session

What I want to do, about 30 briskets/butts into this process now, is get really good at cooking these meats in particular.  I’ve had 4 successes and 26 failures so far.  I’ve learned a lot, from family, friends, and Google, but I have much more to learn.  Despite being a huge rookie, I do feel like I’ve both discovered and adopted a preference in this craft, and I’ll work at sharing it.  There is a huge tradition here.

Here’s where its at:  Big pits, select firewoods, low indirect heat, big smoke, and a watchful eye.  I don’t want to talk about the alternatives.  Big brick or mortar, thick iron or steel smokers.  This craft can be carried by these methods alone.  Don’t fix it if it aint broke, etc.  Yes, you can cook a wonderful brisket in an electric aluminum can with some grocery store wood chips.  You can also traverse the length of a racetrack in an airplane.

Rubs, spices, sauces, marinating – all of these things really don’t matter all that much.  You get some salt, pepper, sugar, and pepper, mix it together and put in on any way you like in any amount, you’re there.  It can be that simple.

BBQ Weather - Photo by Randy Heisch

A BBQ day is one of a handful of classic days.  It’s wake-up early (or wake back up after a night of cooking), crack a Lone Star, throw on some split-wood and start “crafting”. Is it 225 or 250 we keep it at?  Do you start high and go low or keep it low all day?  Do you switch wood, use chips, or logs?  That’s the fun part, and I’ve yet to see that it matters, really. What’s cool is the fun you get into with good friends and family.

That’s what really matters in any of these things, anyway. ≈


** Look for Part 2 of the Texas BBQ Religion story in the next edition of The Sportsman Dispatch **

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