Cookin' With Leo
(Texas BBQ'n, that is)
Well now, ya' jes gotta' live here to believe it. Took a while to sink in to the Texas enlightenment side of my brain. But, it happened in spite of my opinionated (mis)conceptions of where the best BBQ'd ribs and such goodies as that came from. Way back when I was growin' up in South Saint Louis, I remember headin' up to the north side of town for good BBQ. Just about anywhere in the area you could find all sort of makeshift charcoal pits and their attendees doin' their thing. Ribs, Chicken, Beef Brisket, Beef Steaks, Pork Steaks, Pork Feet, Pig Tails and Snouts were the standard fare, and some spots had such delicacies as Rocky Mountain Oysters, Tongue, and Brains.. If you ain't never tasted brains on rye bread with a big slice or two of white onion and a slathern' a spicy sauce then you ain't been livin' yet. And, for the most part ALL of it was good because each curbside location had to be good to even get a 'look see'. Each BBQ entrepreneur had his/her own braggin' rights about their particular methods, meats, and marinades.
Later on, somebody convinced me that Kansas City BBQ was the in thing, Well, it was good as far as most BBQ goes, and probably a bit more sanitary than the curbside tub and kettle creations I got used to in good ol' StL. But, then the BBQ joints in KC didn't' exist as makeshift curbside settings. It seems that since KC thought it had a sort of reputation for BBQ an' Beef Steak and such, then they had better ballyhoo it. So, they opened up a bunch of fancy high priced restaurants to push their wares on the unsuspecting tourists who came lookin' for such things that they heard about from other unsuspecting tourists who told tall tales to everybody back home about their great expensive experiences. Seems as though a Texan stopped off in KC one time, as the story goes, an' visited one a'them fancy steak joints. So he orders a big expensive KC cut. Pretty soon the waiter brings out this medium rare beauty and sets it in front of that Texan with burstin' pride. The Texan takes one look at it an' says, "Hey podner, ya' know down home on the ranch. I seen some steers what got hurt worse'n this here one did, an' they got well." Sure enough, Texans do like their meat well done, but their BBQ'n methods never leave the meat cooked dry and hard. Let's just say that StL and KC and a lot of places have some good BBQ establishments, but let's talk about Texas BBQ.
Can you recognize a first class Texas BBQ joint? You sure can. They serve only BBQ. Unlike them fancy restaurants that open for the theatre crowd, you can come in at noon. A stockpile of wood is outside and smoke is curling up from a big, tall, metal smokestack. When you walk in the door you will see a sign that says, 'Dr. Pepper, Coors, and Snickers in the cooler'. There are only picnic tables with benches to sit at, and on each table are loaves of bread in their plastic wrappers, gallon jars of Jalapeno peppers, sliced and/or chopped white onions, and a pot of beans. When you look around at the other diners, they are just plain folks in bib overalls, hunched over squares of butcher paper, not talking, but there are mutterings of approval, and belches. Toothpicks are at the cash register. You buy the meat by the pound, and the server carves it to order. You're more than likely in a small town anywhere west and south of the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area, and you're eating West Texas BBQ, you lucky son of a gun.
So, let's just say, 'there's nothing like Texas BBQ'. It is just one of the products of Texas, USA, that you just can't export an so far even the Chinese haven't been able to counterfeit it. Since living here I have eaten the real thing and watched the 'pros' do the real thing. And, then I thought about ways that ya'll could do real Texas BBQ right at home. Believe me it takes some doing. But, once I get that overwhelming, mouth-waterin' urge for some good BBQ, then I just have got to take a whole day to do the real thing. And, don't confuse BBQing with Grilling. You can grill a steak, a piece of chicken, or pork chops in just a few minutes over a hot charcoal pit, but then that ain't no BBQ.
BBQ is smoke, not too much heat, and plenty of time. You can BBQ less than choice cuts, but you can't grill them. It takes lots and lots of time, smoke, and low heat to tenderize a brisket. Let's remember some old Physics lessons here: Water boils at 212 degrees and if you boil the water out of a tough piece of a less than choice piece of meat, like brisket or spareribs, you will have some new sole leather what will withstand Texas sand for a long time before it will wear out, but nothing you can chew on no matter how you lather it with sauce. All ribs are really cheap meat, all bone, and if you grill them over coals all you will do is get the bones around the meat so hot that the meat will dry out and char. Of course there are Texas style ribs too, but the same thing applies. Take a good look at them, just bigger bones between bigger layers of meat. To BBQ ribs and brisket,, we'll smoke the meat for hours away from temperatures that will boil the water away. And what do we use for all that warm smoke? Well, Texas has the best wood in the world for BBQ, it's called mesquite. Don't know if it even grows anywhere else but Texas. I'm lucky, I can go out to the sand dunes and pick up a truckload anytime. But, other wood almost as good, oak and other hard woods, are fine as they burn slow and long and produce lots of smoke.
And, what about the actual BBQ pit? Well, my buddy Charlie and I had a good one he made out of an oil barrel, we cut it in half lengthwise and then hinged the two halves together so we had a lid that could be closed and he put a extra metal fire box at one end with the vent stack at the other. That made it so you could put a fire at one end and put the meat away from the fire at the other end and control the temperature by keeping the lid closed and the vent partially closed. If flames flared we doused them with water which made steam and that with the warm smoke kept the meat tender. All you have to remember is that BBQ is smoke not flame. Keep the flames out with water or cheap beer. Beer turned to steam gives a little flavor too. You can keep the flames down with a case or two of CKA, but for drinking stuff we kept a case or two of Bud or Mick nearby to keep us cool too.
BBQ is not a rush job, as I said earlier, if you are goin' to do it, figure on a whole day or even a weekend. If you are going to do a 10 pound or larger brisket, you better be prepared to spend at least 16 to 18 hours doing it right. Remember, BBQ is time and smoke, warm smoke, not heat and flame.
To prepare the meat, you need to coat it with a dry rub. A basic rub is just equal parts of Salt, Coarse Ground Black Pepper, and Paprika. For ribs you can add some lemon powder, garlic powder, and sugar, but when using sugar remember to watch for flame ups because sugar burns.
Lay your fire at one end of the pit and keep the meat at the other. You can use charcoal to get the fire started, and let that burn down, place a dampened hard wood log or two on the charcoal to create your smoke. Watch for flame ups, you want smoke not fire. If your pit is open then cover the meat with a large, deep oven pan. That will allow the warm smoke to penetrate. A pit with a good tight cover is best. If it has a viewer built in to the cover, all the better, as you can keep an eye out for any flames. Douse them immediately. NO FIRE, JUST SMOKE! And keep an eye on your fire, from time to time, you may need to add a log or two. Make sure they catch and begin to smolder. Be wary of using canned chemical fire starters, that smoke will make your BBQ taste like a West Texas Oil Field smells. Invest in a battery or butane lighter to get fires going.
Now that you got things going, and you are keeping the flames down, and smoked up the neighborhood, and the neighbors are all watching over the back fence waiting for an invite. You can begin to baste the meat from time to time, the idea is to keep it moist, as it cooks it should glisten with moisture. Turn it from time to time to keep both sides moist. And, if you have a rotisserie all the better, let it turn as slow as it will go. However, some rotisseries may have to be set in such a way as to take away the advantage of the cover. If that is the case, go with the cover.
And here is about a quart of baste that will keep in the fridge in between BBQs. Be careful about store bought BBQ sauce as it has tomatoes and sugar in it, and tomatoes and sugar both burn with flames. So if you use it, then do so after the meat is done.
A baste recipe to mop your smoking meat with:
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons dry mustard
1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
½ teaspoon ground bay leaf
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 ½ teaspoons paprika
1 ½ teaspoons Louisiana hot sauce
2/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup cider vinegar
2 3/4 cups beef stock
½ cup Olive oil.
How to do it:
Use a slow blender speed to combine all the ingredients except the Olive Oil, hand mix that in last . Make a meat mop out of a wooden spoon by tying pieces of clean white rag to the spoon end with butcher string. That is cheaper than a dish mop that you can buy in a store and does not need to be cleaned every time you use it. Just toss out the soiled rags when you are finished. Watch your smoking meat and keep it moist with the baste. The juices will drip down on the hot metal parts of your pit and create more smoke and steam. That's what you want but NO FLAMES. As you use the baste you will see it turning darker but that is because some of the meat juices are blending into the sauce. No problem as that will just enhance the flavor.
Keep your Bud and Mick in a cooler at your side. And get a tape or two of Western Swing going on the player to keep you awake. It's going to be a long but delightful day.
And Ya'll Enjoy Your West Texas Barbeque now, Ya'heah!