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Monday, January 25, 2010
Up in Smoke, Texas Barbecue Style
It is Friday evening, I have just gotten home, and I am getting ready to start cooking dinner. I have gathered the primary ingredients and have gotten my younger daughter to pull out the dishes and silverware that we will be needing, when the phone rings.
"Uncle David and Aunt Maryann want to know if we want to join them for dinner at the barbeque place down the street from their house."
How could I say no? I enjoy dining with family, and it seemed like a good idea to get together. And as an added bonus? Barbeque. Who doesn't like the smell of mesquite grilled brisket, or andouille sausage on a pit, or chicken quarters with a crispy skin, still sizzling when placed in front of you? So, without further ado, off to Home of Da Smoke, in Adkins.
When you get there, the pitmaster squints through the smoke and nods in acknowledgement, then peers into the smoke as he opens the giant steel door. From your place in line, you watch him fork and flip the juicy, black beef briskets and sizzling pork loins.
Your heart beats faster as he opens a steel door to reveal a dozen sausage rings hissing and spitting in the thick white cloud.
Slowly, the sweet cloud of oak smoke makes its way to you, carrying with it the aroma of peppery beef, bacon-crisp pork, and juicy garlic sausage. Your mouth starts watering. You swallow hard. Your stomach rears back and lets out a growl. You're in a frenzy by the time you get to the head of the line, where the hot meats are being sliced and weighed. You order twice as much as you can eat. You carry it away on a sheet of butcher paper, with an extra sheet tucked underneath for a plate.
That is the kind of meal I LOVE, but sad to say, it was nowhere close to that kind of visit.
Use to be, way back when, a party of 4 plus 2 kids would not have been able to find a table big enough without having to wait long. The wait for the food was worth it, because it was always served piping hot and tasty. That was then. This is now.
We found our table right away. (From all appearances, because Madi and I were the last ones there, and there were still plenty of tables available.) We hemmed and hawed through the menu, which, strangely, had gone to a generic 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper in a sheet protector. Far from the fancy menu with inserts that it used to be. I ordered the 2 item combo with Ribs and Chicken, David glommed that idea off of me, Kim had double sausage, and Maryann had a brisket sandwich with bbq sauce on the side.
(Now, ask Maryann what she originally wanted. Oh. A hamburger. Sure. Why not? Except for the simple fact that the place was OUT OF BURGERS!!) What kind of barbeque joint worth its salt is out of burgers?
Oh well. When the food arrived, the fries smelled good and were still hot. Shoestrings, with a seasoned salt on them. That was about where the good things stopped. When I reached for the chicken, to start pulling some pieces off of it to share with Madision, it was cold. Not lukewarm, cold.
For those of you who really know me well, you already know that Hot food Hot, and Cold food Cold are very important tenets when it comes to serving food. Especially when dealing with chicken and pork. And I had both on my place.
How does one politely ask a waitress who already does not seem to care too much about you or your visit to warm up the chicken? (Anybody seen the movie "
?") Yeah, and by the way, David needs his cooked through as well.
Turns out that their microwave does a darned good job of heating chicken... because that is all they did. Yup. Fork still stuck in the chicken and all. I guess I should have known that there was something amiss when I watched their cook pull the chicken out of the walk-in cooler and walk it to the back, where they then "cooked" it.
It is really too bad, because I am not a fan of slamming food establishments, but when such blatant mishandling of food that my family is going to eat goes on, sorry, folks, we will not be going back.
Trusted advice for a Barbeque joint means that you will be getting flavorfull, stick-to-your-ribs food. You want your first bite of beef brisket, smoked to an impossible tenderness over three days,and has no seasonings or spices during the smoking process, to assault your senses with unsullied flavor that pairs perfectly with the dark, sweet, house barbecue sauce served in a squeeze bottle.
There are many barbeque joints that I like to go to here in South Texas. First off has to be
, where they advertise themselves as "The WORST bbq in Texas." (That saying drives them to make darned sure they don't succeed in meeting that expectation.) Their barbeque "sause" is available by the bottle, or the gallon, and it goes GREAT with virtually anything. They also use Oak, as opposed to the majority of the joints that use mesquite. They offer brisket, turkey, porkloin, chopped beef, spare ribs, baby back ribs, chicken and sausage, most in 1/2 lots, but also in sandwiches. Then, they toss on a huge stack of white bread plus your choice of sides. (Go with the creamed corn. Have yet to taste better.)
Second barbeque choice here would be... umm... umm... crap... dunno... Strangely, while there are 73 different locations here in San Antonio, barbeque is not one of my favorite types of meals. I REALLY have to be craving it, and that rarely happens. When I do want it, I usually go for chicken, or maybe a sausage po' boy with sauce on the side.
Welcome to Texas barbecue.
I often receive a derisive snort in response to my declaration that I am not a huge fan of Texas Barbeque. Where did I go wrong?
Texans love to eat it. They love to make it. And they love to argue about it. It has taken such a stand in the culinary world to merit its own reality cooking show on The Learning Channel. There are competing theories on the etymology, the definition of the word, and on those characteristics that make it uniquely Texan. Texans don't agree on the kind of wood, the need for sauce, the cut of meat, or which part of the state does it best. And Texabs all have their favorite pit bosses. But regardless of what Texans believe, we can all agree that non-Texans don't understand it.
Traditional barbecue definitions don't make sense here. "Barbecue is always served with a distinctive sauce," say some. Not in Texas—some of our most famous barbecue joints serve no sauce at all. "Barbecue means slow cooking over the low heat of a wood or charcoal fire," say others. Sorry. Some of the best smoked meat in the Lone Star state is cooked at 600° F.
So what is Texas barbecue exactly?
Taking a look at Texas barbecue history may be the easiest way to understand it. The Caddo Indians cooked venison and other game over wood fires in Texas ten thousand years ago. They were followed by the Spanish shepherds, who spit-roasted kid goat and lamb al pastor (shepherd style) on the South Texas plains, starting in the 1600s. Mexican barbacoa, meat sealed in maguey leaves and buried in hot coals, has been seen along the Rio Grande Valley for a couple hundred years.
The Southern version of pit barbecue migrated to Texas in several stages beginning in the early 1800s. Black slaves recount cooking barbecue to celebrate the harvest on Texas cotton plantations before the Civil War. And Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the freeing of the slaves in Texas has been celebrated with barbecue since 1865.
The Southern version of barbecue begat the first big civic barbecues, which fed hundreds and sometimes thousands of people. These began to be held around the state in the early 1800s. Whole sheep, goats, pigs and steers were cut into pieces and cooked over oak or hickory coals while being continuously basted. The standard cooking time was 24 hours. This tradition lives on in such events as the XIT Annual Reunion in Dalhart, Texas, where tens of thousands of people gather year after year to attend the "world's largest free barbecue."
While the ultimate in Southern barbecue was cooking a whole hog, cooking a whole steer was the ultimate in Texas barbecue. Barbecued beef cuts remain the most common in Texas barbecue, although pork, mutton and other meats remain popular.
In the early 1900's, earthen pits of Southern barbecue were abandoned in favor of enclosed smokers modeled after those used by the German butchers in their meat markets.
And so the old meat markets came to be considered the quintessential Texas barbecue joints—despite the fact that the German smoked meats and sausages they originally produced weren’t really barbecue at all.
Southern barbecue is a proud thoroughbred whose bloodlines are easily traced. Texas barbecue is a feisty mutt with a whole lot of crazy relatives. With the crazy relatives comes the confusion, and the diffiulty in becoming one of the many fans of... Barbeque. Maybe I will get there. Maybe...
Until Then, Good Eating, Friends...
Island BBQ Sauce
1 1/2-inch piece ginger, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, stem removed
3 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 1/2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup mango juice
1/4 cup guava juice
1/4 cup passion fruit juice
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a food processor, add the ginger, jalapeno and green onion. Pulse until they are finely chopped. In a medium saucepan, add the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the ginger mixture and saute until tender. Combine the ketchup, mango, guava, pineapple and passion fruit juice, cider vinegar, molasses and dry mustard in a bowl and add to the saucepan. Season with salt and pepper. Let simmer, stirring often for 10 minutes for the flavors to blend.
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