Tuesday, November 4, 2008

BBQ 101: What is Texas Barbecue?

There's barbecue, and then there's Texas barbecue. So, what's the difference? What's the big deal?

Wikipedia weighs in:

In much of the world outside of the American South, barbecue has a close association with Texas. Texas barbecue is often assumed to be primarily beef. This assumption, along with the inclusive term "Texas Barbecue" is an oversimplification. Texas has four main regional styles of barbecue, all with different flavors, different cooking methods, different ingredients, and different cultural origins.

East Texas barbecue is an extension of traditional southern barbecue, similar to that found in Tennessee and Arkansas. It is primarily pork-based, with cuts such as pork shoulder and pork ribs, indirectly slow smoked over primarily hickory wood. The sauce is tomato-based, sweet, and thick. This is also the most common urban barbecue in Texas, spread by African-Americans when they settled in big cities like Houston and Dallas.

Central Texas was settled by German and Czech settlers in the mid 1800s, and they brought with them European-style meat markets, which would smoke leftover cuts of pork and beef, often with high heat, using primarily native oak and pecan. The European settlers did not think of this meat as barbecue, but the Anglo farm workers who bought it started calling it such, and the name stuck. Traditionally this barbecue is served without sauce, and with no sides other than saltine crackers, pickles, and onions. This style is found in the Barbecue Belt southeast of Austin, with Lockhart as its capital.

The border between the South Texas Plains and Northern Mexico has always been blurry, and this area of Texas, as well as its barbecue style, are mostly influenced by Mexican tastes. The area was the birthplace of the Texas ranching tradition, and the Mexican farmhands were often partially paid for their work in less desirable cuts of meat, such as the diaphragm, from which fajitas are made, and the cow's head. It is the cow's head which defines South Texas barbecue, called barbacoa. They would wrap the head in wet maguey leaves and bury it in a pit with hot coals for several hours, and then pull off the meat for barbacoa tacos. The tongue is also used to make lengua tacos. Today, barbacoa is mostly cooked in an oven in a bain-marie.

The last style of Texas Barbecue also originated from Texas ranching traditions, but was developed in the western third of the state by Anglo ranchers. This style of "Cowboy" barbecue, cooked over an open pit using direct heat from mesquite, is the style most closely associated with Texas barbecue in popular imagination. The meat is primarily beef, shoulder clods and brisket being favorite cuts, but mutton and goat are also often found in this barbecue style.

Want to learn more? Watch Barbecue: A Texas Love Story:

From LA to England, people are talking about the little film that came out of the big state of Texas. Barbecue: A Texas Love Story is a humorous and entertaining quest across the Lone Star State to find out what makes Texans, well...Texans.

From church to political success, every aspect of life ties back to barbecue... we promise. Barbecue sets the foundation for the state with its own culture, the same one that's been ready to secede at a moment's notice for its entire existence. Just watch the film, and you'll be a believer.

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