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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Texas Barbecue Myths – Part 2 of 2


This is part 2 of the post Texas Barbecue Myths. For Texas Barbecue Myths – Part 1Click Here.
Myth #5 – Texas-style Barbecue must be Cooked Low and Slow
If you do an Internet search on Texas-style barbecue brisket recipes, you’d think that Texans have nothing to do all day and night but tend a barbecue smoker. Numerous recipes tell the reader that the “proper” way to barbecue a brisket is to do so at low-and-slow temperatures for upwards of 12 to 18 hours. The truth of the matter is, some of the most famous barbecue restaurants in Texas take no more than 5 hours to barbecue a brisket. In fact, some very famous restaurants there “barbecue” their briskets with temperatures as high as 600 degrees. Aaron Franklin of Franklin’s Barbecue in Austin has given several temperatures for barbecuing brisket over the years but all of them are in the 275- to 326-degree range.
The glorious barbecue smoker at Smitty's Barbecue
that greets you when you come through the back door.
If you think about it, it is kind of ridiculous to take 12 hours to cook a 10-pound cut of beef especially when you consider the fact that an entire hog or side of beef can be perfectly barbecued in 8 hours. If you are cooking 25 briskets, perhaps the extra time is needed. If you are cooking one at a time like we do at home, perhaps we should rethink what “low and slow” actually means in terms of cooking barbecue. Some of the greats in Texas certainly have.
Myth #6 – Brisket is the Hardest Cut to Barbecue
People who believe that brisket is the toughest cut of meat to barbecue have never tried to barbecue venison, beef round (a Virginia thing), beef shoulder (also a Virginia thing) or a whole hog (also a Virginia thing). The famous Texas barbecue cook Walter Jetton didn’t believe that brisket was the hardest meat to barbecue. In fact, he used to recommend the cut to people without experience cooking barbecue because, according to Jetton, “it’s a self-basting cut.” (from Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook)
Brisket being served at Kreuz Market.
In my opinion, one of the reasons people fail so often when barbecuing brisket is the plethora of ridiculous instructions found on the Internet. When someone instructs you to barbecue a 10 pound brisket for 12 hours at 200 degrees, it should raise a big, red flag. That sounds more like a beef jerky recipe to me than a barbecue recipe. It’s not the cut of meat that makes it so difficult, it’s all of the bad barbecue cooking methods floating around.
Not only is brisket not the hardest meat to barbecue, it’s also not the tastiest. Though a well barbecued brisket is delicious (think John Lewis Barbecue in Charleston), so is well barbecued pork, chicken, round roast and chuck. I think that many Texas barbecue restaurant owners, deep down inside, know that. That’s why so many are now resorting to cooking prime grade brisket. At least one famous Texas barbecue restaurant, Killen’s Barbecue in Houston, cooks Wagyu brisket that they sell for $30.00 per pound while claiming that they make no profit from it at all. If you have to resort to the highest price grade of meat for barbecue (where the tradition is to turn low quality cuts into a delicacy) to make the barbecue delicious, perhaps that cut of meat isn’t so great tasting to begin with.
Myth #7 – Texas Barbecue is the Best Barbecue in the World
How many times have you read a review of barbecue in Texas and it included some kind of outrageous statement such as, “Texas barbecue is the best in the world!” When I read things like that I think one of two things: either the writer is actually a salesperson masquerading as a writer or the person writing the review hasn’t eaten much barbecue in their life. The truth is, you can find very tasty and exceptional barbecue in Texas. However, you can find very tasty and exceptional barbecue in Kansas City, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky and a slew of other places. To claim that Texas barbecue is the best in the world is a far-fetched fantasy. To be correct, I’d say that some Texas barbecue is among the best in the world. But, I’d say the same about South Carolina and Virginia. That’s a fact-based statement that recognizes the succulent barbecue in those states while leaving room for other places like Texas to also have delicious barbecue. It’s truth, not salesmanship or myth.
The Truth About Texas Barbecue. What’s Really Unique about It?
The truth about Texas barbecue is that there are very few things about it that are unique. Like some Californians, some Texans cook “barbecue” by burying it in holes after wrapping it in burlap. Like Californians, some Texans also claim to be able to barbecue steaks (west Texas barbecue). Texans barbecue brisket much like people in Kansas City barbecue it. The barbecue sauces in Texas aren’t much different from the sauces you find all around the South. Serving barbecue with only a vinegary hot sauce on the side as they do at Kreuz isn’t confined to Texas. It’s done in North Carolina, too and is probably more of a “North Carolina thing” than a “Texas thing.” Rubs made with only salt and pepper are old hat in Virginia. King’s Barbecue in Petersburg has been in business for 70 years. They serve delicious Virginia-style barbecued beef (not briskets) that they season with a rub made with only salt and pepper. Texans cook their barbecue using white oak (called post oak in Texas and in Virginia for as long as I can remember) just like many southerners. There is even a district in my county in Virginia named Post Oak. My Mother's family is from an area named White Oak.

It’s also a centuries old tradition in the South to eat barbecue with your fingers. That’s not just a “Texas thing” and was a “Virginia thing” and a “North Carolina thing” for well over 200 years before it ever became a “Texas thing.” Barbecue served on butcher paper has also been done outside of Texas for a long time. Barbecue restaurants and stands in Kansas City have been serving barbecue on or wrapped in butcher paper at least as far back as the late 19th century when the Father of Kansas City barbecue Henry Perry opened his barbecue stand.
Texas lacks its own barbecue stew. Virginia has Brunswick stew. South Carolina has barbecue hash. Texas lacks a defining barbecue sauce flavor profile. Eastern North Carolina has its undiluted vinegar with salt and peppers. Virginia has its spiced sauces of the central region and the tangy sauces with a hint of mustard in the southside. Texas lacks a true brisket burnt ends tradition like that found in Kansas City. When I visit Texas, I miss barbecue sandwiches with coleslaw on them. The lack of these things is not necessarily a bad thing; it’s a Texas thing.
One of the most unique things about Texas barbecue is a popular magazine that devotes reams of paper, gallons of ink and uncountable numbers of electrons producing lavish and glowing praise on barbecue found in the state or at least in one part of Texas. Texas is a huge state but it only has four barbecue styles found in four regions: Eastern Texas with its southern-style barbecue, Central Texas with its butcher shop-style barbecue, South Texas with its Mexican-style barbacoa, and the cowboy ‘que of West Texas. However, all of the styles of barbecue found in Texas are mostly ignored by the “press” except central Texas-style barbecue. One wonders why there is a noticeable lack of pride in the other styles. I have some ideas about it but they are for another post.
Pork "steaks" at Snow's Barbecue.
Some in Texas like to cut pork butts into three sections before barbecuing them. They call them “pork steaks” (Snow’s in Lexington does this). When I tried them, though tasty, they weren’t exactly pull tender. Though the sauce served at The Salt Lick is tangy reflecting its Alabama roots, many Texas-style barbecue sauces lack a pronounced tanginess. In North Carolina, some there use what’s pretty much undiluted vinegar. In Virginia, we like to tame the vinegar just a little with “spicy condiments” such as Worcestershire, mustard or tomato sauce. Many Texas-style barbecue sauce makers tame the vinegar so much it’s hard to tell it’s there. Perhaps, it isn’t.
Another unique feature that you can find in some Texas barbecue restaurants is the barbecue pit with an open fire at the end. The first time I walked through the backdoor at Smitty’s Barbecue in Lockhart, I was amazed, thrilled and mildly shocked to see an open fire at my feet situated at the end of a barbecue pit with no fence, walls or other safety barrier to prevent someone from stumbling into it. I don’t know of any other state that would allow such a thing due to safety regulations. Even so, to me, the pits at Smitty’s barbecue are nothing less than national treasures and shrines to barbecue history. That’s a true Texas barbecue thing.
I’m all for enjoying Texas-style barbecue. When it’s done right, it is delicious. However, I refuse to close my eyes and blindly accept the Texas barbecue myths that are so blatantly spread nowadays by slick writers and over-enthusiastic TV hosts. As they say, "Everything is bigger in Texas" and that includes their barbecue myths.
Texas Barbecue Myths – Part 1Click here.

Texas Barbecue Myths – Part 1 of 2


This is part 1 of the 2 part post Texas Barbecue Myths.

For Texas Barbecue Myths – Part 2Click Here.
I often hear people say something like, “I like my brisket Texas-style seasoned only with salt and pepper, cooked low and slow and served without sauce because my barbecue has nothing to hide.” Though the message is conveyed with relatively few words, it’s an encyclopedia of innuendo, backhanded insults and, frankly, ignorance of barbecue as it exists in Texas. Such a statement goes to show just how far today’s shallow, barbecue themed TV shows and drive-by magazine articles have dumbed down people’s knowledge of barbecue.
Though there is more information about barbecue available nowadays than ever in the history of the world, thanks to the Internet, TV, magazines, books and newspapers, some of the popularized portions of that “knowledge” are nothing more than half-truths and downright falsehoods. The worst part is the fact that too many writers with amplified outlets lazily take turns regurgitating faulty information and echoing each other’s errors ad nauseam. Sadly, the old adage, “A lie travels around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes” is still true; so is the old adage, “If you repeatedly tell a lie, people will come to believe it.” All of the false information about barbecue available today is a witness to the truth of those old sayings.

So, what’s the truth about Texas barbecue? Is barbecue only seasoned with salt and pepper uniquely Texan? Is sauced barbecue shunned in Texas? Is barbecue supposed to be wrapped in butcher paper? Is brisket really a difficult cut of meat to barbecue? Doesn’t everyone “who knows what they are doing” barbecue a brisket for 12 to 18 hours? What about barbecued sausage? Let’s turn off the echo chamber of monkey-see-monkey-do writers and examine the facts.
Myth #1 - Texas-Style Barbecue is Seasoned Only with Salt and Black Pepper
Black's Barbecue Rub.
I know of only one place in Texas that MIGHT season its barbecue with only salt and black pepper. The majority use additional ingredients including sugar. Kreuz (pronounced Krītes) Market in Lockhart uses salt, pepper and cayenne. The same is true of the rub at the Salt Lick in Driftwood. Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart uses additional ingredients in their rub including what looks like red pepper flakes (much like a Virginia-style rub).

However, beyond the rub, Texans add other things to season their barbecue through the use of mops, spritzes and bastes. The people at Snow’s barbecue in Lexington season their barbecue with salt and pepper; some claim that they have also spotted some red pepper flakes. They add other seasonings to the barbecue when they baste it. Snow’s pit masters mop their barbecue as it cooks with a liquid that includes seasonings such as Worcestershire sauce, citrus juice, onions, oil and vinegar. There is much fanfare over Aaron Franklin’s claim that he only seasons his briskets with salt and pepper. But then, he spritzes the briskets as they cook with an amber colored liquid that is yet to be revealed. Unless
The pot of mop in the background
with Tootsie Tomanetz at Snow's
Barbecue.
there is some secret liquid salt and pepper in Texas, something more is being used to season the barbecue. John Lewis grew up in El Paso and honed his Texas barbecue cooking skills at Franklin Barbecue in Austin for 2 ½ years. He flat out stated, “I’ve never cooked a brisket in my life whether it be at La Barbecue, at Franklin Barbecue or on the competition circuit with just salt and pepper.” Mopping and spritzing adds seasonings and flavor to the barbecue and the use of a seasoning liquid during the cooking process invalidates the claim that “only salt and black pepper” is used to season the barbecue cooked “Texas-style.”
Myth #2 - Texas Barbecue Doesn’t Need Sauce
The famous sign that greets
customers at Kreuz Market.
Apparently, everyone, except Texans, knows that Texas-style barbecue shouldn’t be served with sauce. Writing about barbecue in Texas in 1937, a reporter for a Dallas newspaper wrote, "Good
Sauce for sale at Black's Barbecue.
barbecue requires much sauce." He went on to describe the Texas-style barbecue sauce that was made with vinegar, hot water, melted butter, sometimes rendered beef suet, salt, black pepper, red pepper, tomato ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, onions and thickened with flour. The writer concluded, "It is useless to ask a Texan for a barbecue sauce recipe in small amounts." That hasn’t changed to this day. If you’ve ever been to Texas and eaten at a barbecue restaurant there, you know that Texans love their barbecue sauces. The stuff is on display at barbecue restaurants there like precious jewels. In fact, I know of NO barbecue restaurant in Texas that doesn’t serve sauce with its barbecue. That’s right, there is NO restaurant in Texas that doesn’t serve sauce with its barbecue; NONE.
Barbecue Sauce for sale at
Iron Works BBQ in Austin.
Apparently, we have Kreuz Market to thank for the Texas no-barbecue-sauce myth. Kreuz Market has a sign hanging in the restaurant with the words “NO BARBECUE SAUCE (NOTHING TO HIDE).” That sign has a lot to do with the myth that Texas barbecue isn’t eaten with sauce on it. Even so, Kreuz Market does serve sauce with its barbecue. I’ve had their barbecue topped with it. The way they skirt the issue is by calling the sauce in the bottles on their tables hot sauce. However, the sauce is meant to be put on their barbecue which makes it a barbecue sauce regardless of what they choose to call it. Further, the families behind Smitty’s and Kreuz Market (both in Lockhart) opened a restaurant near Austin. Squeeze bottles full of barbecue sauce are prominent features on the tables. At the famed “Cathedral of Smoke,” Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas, they serve a sauce that’s made with such ingredients as tomato ketchup, high
Barbecue served at Kreuz Market with
sauce bottle in upper right corner.
fructose corn syrup, MSG, sugar and molasses. Interestingly, black pepper and salt are the last two items listed in the ingredients indicating that the quantity of those two is the smallest. Two interesting omissions are jalapeno and cumin. Aren’t they unique Texas ingredients? John Mueller, protégé of the famous Louie Mueller, has been known to dress his pork ribs using a sweet sauce made with Italian dressing and Karo syrup. That’s real Texas barbecue; or is it Italian barbecue being cooked in Texas? When I was served barbecue at The Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas, it came with barbecue sauce drizzled over it.
Barbecue slathered with sauce served by
The Salt Lick in Driftwood, TX.
Regarding the “nothing to hide” remark about barbecue sauce, apparently, according to people who hold to that philosophy, every barbecue restaurant in Texas has something to hide. However, in truth, serving barbecue sauce on the side is a long-held tradition in the United States that goes back to at least the earliest years of the 19th century.
Barbecue served with sauce on the side rather than on the barbecue is not merely a “Texas thing.” Many places in the United States serve barbecue with sauce on the side and have done so for a long time.

Actually, barbecue sauce isn’t a bad thing. Barbecue sauce can complement the flavor of barbecue in several ways. It can intensify the flavor of the meat, introduce a counterpoint flavor (vinegar countering the richness of the meat, for example), and, as every competition barbecue cook knows, sauce can enhance barbecue’s appearance.
Barbecue Sauce served at Smitty's
Barbecue in Lockhart.
Some variations of southern barbecue have sauce mixed into the meat, other styles call for it to be served on the side. I’m all for it and so are Texans. If you want to cook “real” Texas-style barbecue, fill up that sauce bottle and serve it with the barbecue. Otherwise, your “Texas” brisket is a poser. In Virginia, many old-time barbecue restaurants not only serve delicious barbecue with the sauce on the side, they don’t even put a barbecue rub on the meat before barbecuing it. That makes it a “Virginia thing,” doesn’t it? So, let’s put this Texas no-sauce myth to bed for good.
Myth #3 – Texas-style Barbecued Sausage
The smoke roaster at Snow's Barbecue.
Texas-style horizontal barbecue smokers may cook what we call today good barbecue, but they are relatively new devices that only started showing up in Texas around the 1950s. Cooking meat in them is more of a roast-smoking technique than a traditional southern barbecuing technique. The Texas horizontal cookers are a major contributor of the origin of the custom of calling a smoke roaster a barbecue smoker. As a result, central Texas-style barbecue is not a traditional southern-style of barbecue.

"Barbecued" sausage at Franklin
Barbecue in Austin.
Traditional southern barbecue isn’t cooked with indirect heat or in a “smokehouse.” Traditional southern barbecue is cooked while being suspended directly over a pit filled with hot coals (not flames). A smokehouse is used to smoke Virginia ham and bacon. Smoked meat in Virginia is a very different thing than barbecued meat. That’s why old school barbecue joints in Virginia and North Carolina advertise their “pit cooked” barbecue rather than their “smoked barbecue.”
Like backyard “barbecuers,” Texans claim to be able to barbecue sausages. We can’t do that in Virginia. Neither can North Carolinians. We can smoke roast them, braise them or grill them, but not barbecue them. Hot dogs are sausages and they can’t be barbecued any more than Texas hot links can be barbecued. Texans smoke roast their sausages and some there use temperatures above 400 degrees Fahrenheit to do so and they call those sausages “barbecue” just like some New Yorkers call their grilled hot dogs “barbecue.“
Myth #4 – Texas-style Barbecued Brisket Must be Wrapped in Butcher Paper


Barbecue at Snow's Barbecue
wrapped in foil.
Someone please tell Tootsie Tomanetz that Texas-style brisket must be wrapped in butcher paper while barbecuing it. Ms. Tomanetz is the pit master at Snow’s Barbecue in Lexington. She is an expert who has cooked barbecue in Texas for 50 years. Snow’s barbecue was named the best barbecue in Texas back in 2008 and still today routinely shows up in top-5 and top-10 lists of Texas barbecue restaurants. Ms. Tomanetz wraps her award-winning brisket in aluminum foil while it cooks. The people at Black’s Barbecue do the same thing. There is a reason why
aluminum foil is known as “the Texas crutch” and butcher paper isn’t. Both are crutches but foil is the crutch of choice in Texas just as it is everywhere else in the country. 
For Texas Barbecue Myths – Part 2Click Here.