It's hard to believe, but this blog spared its readers (if one-second visits count) another paean to 'cue in 2010. However, this blog has featured the best food in Texas on six (count 'em) earlier occasions.
Saturday, June 07, 2008 Don't Call Me Ishmael (Or Late For Dinner); Call Me Blogger al-Hajj?
Tuesday, June 10, 2008 Thanks, Kelso! As If Things Weren't Tough Enough Already In Lexington!
Saturday, June 14, 2008 On June 14, 2008, I Became Blogger al-Hajj
Friday, July 25, 2008 Texas Bar-B-Q Al-Hajj Continued: After Mecca, Try Medina (aka Hamilton, TX)
Thursday, December 18, 2008 Texas' #1 Barbecue Joint Revisited (By The New Yorker?)
Monday, April 27, 2009 My Favorite Butcher Was A Real Cutup!
Now, a dude from Seattle, who knows coffee better than BBQ, offers his take on the best of Texas cuisine. This blogger, who has done field research, was disappointed that the food writer from the Northwest while making mention of Smitty's Market in Lockhart, TX failed to make the crucial distinction between Smitty's and its Lockhart rival: Kreuz Market. Even worse is this so-called BBQ-expert's failure to acknowledge a rival to the north of Lockhart: Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, TX. (See the link to Calvin Trillin's essay mentioned above.) But, enough quibbling. If this is a (fair & balanced) appreciation of smoked meat, so be it.
[x Texas Journey]
The Art Of BBQ
By Eric Lucas | Photos by Wyatt McSpadden
Tag Cloud of the following article
“No forks. Knives only.”
All I did was ask for a fork, at which the server at Kreuz Market in Lockhart sternly explained the protocol accompanying the pound of oak-smoked beef shoulder and three German sausages I’d ordered. Then she hauled out four slices of white bread, wrapped the meat in pink butcher paper, asked if I wanted a pickle (50 cents extra, yes), and directed my friend and me to the dining room, a spare, high-ceilinged hall in a century-old brick building. (Kreuz has since relocated to a new building a quarter-mile north.)
A 14-foot rattlesnake skin hung on the wall. The scent of smoke drifted in from the 80-year-old brick fire pit out back. Rolls of paper towels stood every 4 feet along 20-foot-long tables where customers were savoring, by hand, the aromatic beef for which the restaurant is famed.
My first bite of no-forks beef proved as tender as fresh bread, as savory as aged cheese, as juicy as warm cherry pie. The fatty sausage was so rich that just one was ample. The sharp, musty scent of the oak smoke, both on the meat and in the air, spiced both the taste and the atmosphere. That experience 18 years ago catapulted me into what I now describe as my lifelong barbecue research project.
Barbecue, you see, is not just a cuisine: It is a culinary quasi religion whose adherents can be as fervent as any acolytes. Making it a course of study while traveling is a delightful amateur anthropological exercise. I’ve enjoyed barbecue in a dozen states and a half-dozen countries, and it can be as intriguing as learning local dialects.
Like so many types of faith, barbecue’s subsets and regional variations make the whole enterprise even more colorful. Kreuz Market, where my initial foray took place, is one of several barbecue emporiums for which Lockhart, less than an hour south of Austin, has proclaimed itself Barbecue Capital of the World.
That’s a heady claim, and it’d be fairer to pare it down to Barbecue Capital of Texas, because there are at least five regional barbecue styles in the United States, each with its own “capital” and premier practitioners. Nor is barbecue confined to the United States—cooking meat over fire is a human tradition that dates back tens of thousands of years, and barbecue is common throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, and dozens of other locales.
Each style is distinct—signature dishes, sauces, cooking methods, side dishes. In Texas, for example, where the tradition dates to the early days of the cattle industry and German settlement in the Hill Country, beef brisket is the prime offering, pit-smoked with no sauce. In Kansas City, a sweet tomato sauce flavors pork spareribs while cooking, a practice Texas barbecue cooks would shun.
Each area’s ethnic traditions flavor its style: in Hawaii, many barbecues incorporate Korean influence; in California, the Spanish colonial heritage is the origin of tri-tip, a cut of beef unknown east of Arizona. Adherents of each style aver that each distinction is both worthy and crucial, and practitioners occasionally act as if their cuisine is part of a secret rite—a North Texas barbecue joint owner once refused to tell me what kind of wood he was using in his fire pit.
“My personal definition of barbecue includes all of its magnificent variations—from Caribbean jerk chicken cooked directly over pimiento wood to the pit-roasted pork of the Carolinas,” says grill expert Steven Raichlen, author of Planet Barbecue! (2010). “Nowhere on earth are there more distinct differences in the way smoke and fire are used than in North America.”
What matters most is the keen appreciation that each style engenders for culinary distinctions and local culture. All of the barbecue homelands have famous restaurants patronized by tourists and locals alike. Some are great, some average, but far more rewarding for the adventurous traveler is to find a small, owner-operated barbecue joint or stand in some little town, whose proprietor is practicing his craft as an avocation as much as a business.
I found one such stand in eastern Louisiana, on a back road up toward Arkansas I could likely never find again. The proprietor had engineered an old taco truck into a combination barbecue smoker/food stand, with a sandwich board sign poised nearby on the road. A transistor radio crackled out Charley Pride. The pecan-smoked ribs were divine, and the handmade andouille-style Cajun sausage was the best I’d ever had.
“Been here long?” I asked.
“Well, six years.” A wry grin came over his face. “I used to be an engineer. Oil refineries. This is a lot more fun.”
More fun for him, for locals, and for travelers who keep their eyes open for the one thing that does seem universal in this culinary discipline: the three-letter “BBQ” sign. I consider it both dining directions and an anthropological signpost, from the volcano ridges of Hawaii to the oak-shaded riversides of the South.
The ABCs of BBQ
* Meats: Beef brisket, chicken, German-style sausage
* Sauce: None while cooking; chile or tomato sauces as condiments
* Cooking method: Indirect hot smoke from mesquite, oak, or pecan
* Side dishes: Potato salad, stewed black or pinto beans, cornbread
* Famous places: Smitty’s, Black’s, and Kreuz Market in Lockhart; Luling City Market in Luling; Dickey’s and Sonny Bryan’s in Dallas; Stubb’s in Austin; Salt Lick in Driftwood; Cooper’s in Llano
Kansas City, MO
* Meats: Pork ribs, chicken, turkey, and “burnt ends” of pork or beef
* Sauce: Sweet, peppery tomato sauce applied while cooking
* Cooking method: Gas or wood-fired flame
* Side dishes: Coleslaw, baked beans, oversized french fries
* Famous places: Arthur Bryant’s; Gates; Winslow’s
* Meats: Pork shoulder and ribs, chicken, often whole pig
* Sauce: Vinegary sauce applied while cooking, often contains mustard, brown sugar
* Cooking method: Indirect heat and smoke from hickory, oak, or pecan
* Side dishes: Coleslaw, hush puppies, cornbread
* Famous places: Dreamland Bar-B-Que in Tuscaloosa, AL; Smiley’s and Speedy’s in Lexington,
NC; Brushy Creek in Greenville, SC; Big Dave’s and Sardi’s Den in Clemson, SC;
Payne’s in Memphis, TN
* Meats: Beef tri-tip (a rump cut like flank steak but thicker), chorizo sausage, pork ribs
* Sauce: Chile or tomato sauces as condiments
* Cooking method: Direct flame and hot smoke from red oak
* Side dishes: Coleslaw, stewed pinto beans, corn on the cob
* Famous places: Baby Blue’s in Los Angeles; Buster’s in Calistoga; Smokin’ Moe’s in Chico;
Smokehouse in Berkeley
* Meats: Beef brisket, pulled pork, chicken
* Sauce: None in cooking; teriyaki, pineapple-based, or chile or tomato sauces as condiments
* Cooking method: Indirect hot smoke from wood fire using native tropical hardwoods
* Side dishes: Macaroni salad, poi, kimchi, rice
* Famous places: Fat Daddy’s in Kihei, Maui; Huli Sue’s in Kamuela/Waimea, Big Island; Me’s in Honolulu
* Meats: Jerk chicken, pulled pork, barbacoa (the Spanish term for pit-smoked meat), carne asada (barbecue beef)
* Sauce: Dry rub jerk (chile, salt, and allspice), plus chile sauce as a condiment
* Cooking method: Direct heat from pimiento wood (Caribbean); or charcoal, propane, or oak or mesquite embers (Mexico)
* Side dishes: Stewed red beans, rice, handmade tortillas (Mexico)
* Famous places: Jamaica, Tobago; mountains of Mexico and Yucatán Ω
[Eric Lucas has sampled barbecue in 12 U.S. states, plus Bulgaria, China, Tobago, Belize, Mexico, and Canada. He lives in Seattle and is a freelance business and travel writer. Lucas is a graduate of the University of Washington.
Photographer Wyatt McSpadden’s work appears in Texas BBQ (2009).]
Copyright © 2010 AAA Texas
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