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Moving the BBQ Smoker to Ireland

Dear Friends:

On December 31, my entire family (including Frances, the Basset Hound) will embark on a one-way flight to Europe. After toasting the “Happy New Year” aloft, we will land in Paris, hop a flight to Dublin, rent a van, and drive to Ballyvaughn on the West Coast of Ireland.

Herself

On January 8, 2018, my exceedingly talented wife, Kelly Klaasmeyer, will begin a 4-year PhD program in studio art at the Burren College of Art, which is affiliated with the National University of Ireland at Galway.

For the first 6 months or so, God willing and the creek don’t rise, we will live in Abbey View House, an 18th century stone dwelling in Oughtmama, a stone’s throw from the ruins of three old churches and an abbey from the 10th century.

The Burren in Springtime

The house backs up to a cliff of karst, part of the weird and wonderful geological formation and Irish National Park called The Burren.

Hopefully, the kids will attend school in the nearby fishing village of Kinvara. That’s where we may eventually end up living.

My cell phone number will change, so texts will be unanswered for a while.

Email: robb@robbwalsh.com or walshrobb@gmail.com

Please follow @robbwalsh on Twitter and Instagram.

And /robb.walsh on Facebook.

Forwarding address, should you wish to send Valentines or unmarked Euros:

Robb Walsh
1321 Upland Dr. #8928
Houston, Texas 77043

I’ll be returning to Texas frequently for gigs including my annual talk at BBQ Summer Camp at Texas A&M Meat Science Center. I will also be continuing my affiliation with El Real Tex-Mex Cafe, including some intensive recipe testing this summer.

Otherwise and for the most part, I intend to roam the island and the continent blogging about the emerging European BBQ scene and other good things to eat and drink. (A surprise, I know.)

Blogs:

Philosophical musings and Tex-Mex stuff: Robbwalsh.com

BBQ discoveries: here at ZenBBQ.com

Tips for food tourists in Ireland: IrelandEats.com.

Also, watch for my many upcoming articles in the world’s most prestigious newspapers, magazines and literary quarterlies. (Right?)

Above all: Don’t be a stranger!

Texas Monthly’s Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas

Every four years, Texas Monthly publishes their list of the Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas. I don’t envy my friend Daniel Vaughn, the Texas Monthly barbecue editor, in the period following the big reveal. The announcement is inevitably followed by mean-spirited second guessing and accusations of bribery and bias. (Just read the comments section at the end of the post!)

Here at ZenBBQ, we don’t take rankings, ratings or Top BBQ lists seriously. We are more interested in the history and culture of barbecue and its role in the world’s culinary scene. But we are apt to join in the hullabaloo following the big Texas Monthly list announcement, because, after all, arguing about barbecue is part of the culture too.

The number one barbecue joint in Texas, according to the Texas Monthly list this year is Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, a lovely little joint that serves barbecue for a few hours on Saturday mornings. This is the second time Snow’s has made the top spot on the list.

Food Network at Snow’s

Last October, in a profile of Snow’s lovable pitmaster, Tootsie Tomanetz, Daniel Vaughn, the barbecue editor of Texas Monthly quoted me making disparaging comments about the last time Snow’s was named number one.

Galveston-based food writer Robb Walsh wasn’t as enamored of Snow’s as most. He criticized the pick because of the short hours. “The average barbecue fan has a snow cone’s chance in hell of getting anything to eat there,” he wrote. He later elicited a quote from Kreuz Market’s Rick Schmidt, who scoffed, “Anybody can make great barbecue for a few hours on Saturday morning.”

Note that I never questioned the quality of Tootsie’s brisket or ribs. It’s the idea of leaving my home in Galveston at 3 in the morning and driving 5 hours to get to get to Snow’s by 8 am to take a chance on maybe getting something to eat that makes me think of this number one ranking as cruel and unusual. And I suspect that a whole lot of barbecue fans who attempt to visit Snow’s on Saturday mornings for the next few months will agree as they drive away hungry.

And as for Rick Schmidt’s observation, let’s consider another question. If a barbecue joint that is only open one day a week is eligible, how about a place that is only open one day a year? I am thinking about the annual community barbecues that are held across the state, of course.

BBQ Pits at Kenney Hall

If you have never been to one, check out the Community Barbecue tab on this website. The Fourth of July BBQ in Kenney is amazing and so is the Millheim Father’s Day Barbecue. Are these wonderful historical gatherings being considered in the media’s “Best Barbecue” ratings?

If not, why not?

Mopping and turning the meat at Millheim Father’s Day BBQ

Millheim Harmonie Verein’s Annual Father’s Day Barbecue
Father’s Day, June 18th
Millheim Harmonie Verein’s Dance Hall
3384 FM 949 Road (15 miles east of Cat Springs)
Sealy, Texas
BBQ 11:00 am Beef, Mutton, and Pork.
Cake Wheel, Silent Auction, Music
One of the last of the old-fashioned open pits!
Don’t miss this one!
Information: 979-877-4408

Pitmaster C.H. Shayne Carter at the Kenney 4th of July BBQ

Kenney 4th of July BBQ
Kenney Agricultural Society Hall, Keeney, Texas
(Off 36 north of Bellville)
July 4th
BBQ 11:00 am Beef, Mutton and Pork
Plates, $10 with sides and desserts

(Meats also available by the pound)
Cake Wheel, Silent Auction, Live Music
This barbecue is over 100 years old.
For info: call Keeney Post Office (979) 865-0329

Portrait of Irish BBQ as a Young Art

The Pitt Bros Barbecue Test Lab is a repurposed shipping container in the incredibly hip EATYARD, a gathering spot for food trucks and other street food vendors in Dublin. Pitt Bros BBQ restaurants has two brick and mortar locations plus the food stand at EATYARD, making it the largest barbecue chain in Ireland.


The menu at the BBQ Test Lab featured buttermilk fried chicken and fried chicken with waffles. The only barbecue on the menu was a pulled pork sandwich.

The pulled pork was smoked in the restaurant’s honest-to-god Texas-style smoker, the vendor told me.

I bought a sandwich and gave it the sniff test. The meat had no smoke aroma. And there was no juicy fat either. It tasted like dry roast pork with sweet barbecue sauce poured over top.

What brand of barbecue pit they were using, the man inside the box couldn’t say. European barbecue folks, including the Irish and the Germans, are working on their own designs for barbecue pits. They have come up with lots of innovative rigs–including the new-fangled vertical barbecue barrel that’s becoming popular with home cooks in the U.S.

To give their barbecue a fair test, the guy behind the counter insisted I had to try one of the original Pitt Bros locations. There was one a mile or so away on George Street, he told me.

I went to the Pitt Bros mothership a few days later. After standing in line, I ordered a three meat plate with two sides and was given a number to display at my table so the food runner could find me. The barbecue was served on a cookie sheet lined with paper–the Texas urban barbecue style of presentation has evidently gone international.

The pork ribs were pretty good. The beans and coleslaw were just fine too. And I have to say, the Irish custom of serving pickled red cabbage along with pickles and onions is worth emulating elsewhere. I like sweet and sour red cabbage on a barbecue sandwich better than slaw.

But the brisket was a horrible mess–badly sliced and as dry as mouthful of cardboard. As for the link–Ireland produces some great artisanal sausages, sadly this wasn’t one of them. The link was stuffed with some finely ground meat mixture that had been badly overcooked.

The menu stated that the restaurant had a custom-made American smoker. The manager wouldn’t show me the barbecue pit when I asked to see it. This is a sure sign that the establishment has something to hide. He came to the table when I requested a word with him.  I guessed they were using a pellet smoker and he confirmed my suspicion. It was a Cookshack pellet smoker he said.

The Campaign for Real Barbecue, the organization that certifies barbecue joints that cook with wood in the Southeast part of the USA, includes pellet smokers in the wood-burning category as well as units the burn sawdust. Since they are trying to challenge “barbecue” restaurants that don’t use any woodsmoke at all, the broad definition is understandable.

Pellet smokers have their fans, apparently people are winning barbecue competitions with them. But as far as I know, no credible Texas barbecue joint uses one. Texas barbecue purists are even skeptical of “gassers,” gas and electric powered smokers that use minimal wood, like those from Southern Pride. Pellet smokers are a rung below that. None of this equipment can impart the sort of smoky flavor you get with a barbecue unit that burns hardwood logs.

The interior design of the Pitt Bros BBQ restaurant was very impressive–if you take that sort of thing into account when judging barbecue. Although I have to ask: Is a barbecue joint like Pitt Bros that displays stacked cord wood in the dining room while cooking with sawdust pellets in the kitchen engaging in false and deceptive advertising?

I made the mistake of calling the menu a Texas barbecue assortment. The manager told me that the restaurant wasn’t intended to be a Texas-style barbecue venue. It was supposed to be North Carolina style. Brisket and sausage in North Carolina? I wondered out loud.

Pitt Bros was started by two Irish brothers who visited a barbecue restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina while attending a wedding. They liked the food so much, they went back several times. The menu at Pitt Bros Dublin emulates the Charlotte barbecue joint they were so impressed with, the manager said.

I sat there for a moment slack-jawed as I considered the irony. A barbecue joint in Charlotte that served brisket and sausage? That sounds like Midwood Smokehouse, a Texas-style barbecue joint created by an innovative restaurant entrepreneur named Frank Scibelli.

“Recently, Midwood Smokehouse founder and FS Food Group CEO Frank Scibelli traveled to Texas for “barbecue boot camp.” He met with James Beard Award-winning chef and food writer Robb Walsh in Austin and Houston in search of new menu inspiration.”

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/biz-columns-blogs/whats-in-store/article17281256.html

It’s quite possible that this misrepresentation of North Carolina barbecue in Dublin is partly my fault. So let’s not be too hard on this earnest endeavor. In truth, I’m glad to see any kind of barbecue in Ireland. And at least they aren’t roasting pork in a gas oven, slathering it with sauce and calling it barbecue like so many barbecue joints in North Carolina.

The fledgling Irish barbecue business is on the bunny slopes of the learning curve. At present, there are something like a half dozen barbecue joints in Ireland. Pitt Bros is the most successful. Let’s hope that one of these days they invest in a J&R Oyler smoker, like the one used at Midwood Smokehouse in Charlotte, the incredible Killen’s in Houston, and all the best barbecue joints in Europe.

“European food safety authorities are never going to allow the kind of steel pits or brick pits that we use in Texas,” Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor of Texas Monthly told me after a tour of Europe. “That’s unique to our culture and its never going to translate.” The only barbecue pits European authorities are going to allow for use in a restaurant are brand name metal boxes with UL seals of approval. There are lots of barbecue units on the market, but of the ones that actually burn logs, J&R Oylers are the most popular.

The fact is, European barbecue is on the rise. Barbecue restaurants like The Beast in Paris are turning out honest-to-god barbecue using a J&R Oyler pit, Vaughn told me. Another barbecue joint in Paris called Melt also has an Oyler pit, and is looking to give the Beast a run for their money. Vaughn reports there is also authentic Texas barbecue in Denmark and Sweden.

Make no mistake: European barbecue, Australian barbecue and the barbecue of the rest of the world is the next big thing. In an article titled “Don’t Call it Craft Barbecue” Daniel Vaughn predicted the future:

The new region is the internet where ideas are shared internationally without delay. Online videos broadcast Texas barbecue techniques to Australia or Sweden or France, and the resulting barbecue creates a style of barbecue that crosses the traditional boundaries. It permeates big cities all over the world. We’ll always have our regional barbecue in the American barbecue capitals, but this new style is likely the future of barbecue in the places where smoked meats are just now taking hold.

Its exciting to witness the early days of what may someday become the Irish barbecue boom. The challenge in new and upcoming barbecue markets like Ireland is educating the public. If your customers don’t know the difference between “gasser” barbecue and artisan pit-smoked cue, you are going to have trouble getting them to pay a premium for the real thing.

I hope to be on hand when they fire up the first honest-to-god log burner in Ireland.

 

The Campaign for Real Barbecue

Open pit barbecue in Texas

My longtime friend John Shelton Reed talked me into joining his barbecue group, The Campaign for Real Barbecue. The organization started in North Carolina to combat the sinking standards there. Many barbecue joints have abandoned cooking with wood or coals and are now roasting their pork shoulders in gas or electric ovens. They serve the chopped meat with lots of barbecue sauce and bet the public can’t tell the difference.

The Campaign for Real Barbecue sends its certifiers out to identify the good guys. Barbecue joints that are making real artisan wood smoked barbecue proudly display the group’s decal on their front window.

“Real barbecue” in Texas means burning logs–maybe in an Oyler electric-powered rotisserie, maybe in a steel pit. In Texas, we still have community barbecues that use old-fashioned open pits like the kind you see in old photos of from the Deep South. Meanwhile, cooking with logs or wood coals is pretty rare in North Carolina and the Southeast–the places that do it are well-known and widely famous.

The Campaign for Real Barbecue is about raising public awareness and creating a cadre of educated barbecue fans. The goal is to promote barbecue that is actually made with some variety of wood smoke rather than an oven. And so the campaign uses a very loose definition of wood smoke that includes charcoal, cookers that use a little wood and a lot of gas, pellet cookers, and sawdust cookers.

I put off joining the organization for quite a while. Cooking meat in an oven and passing it off as barbecue isn’t really a problem in Texas. As I told John Shelton Reed, I can’t think of a single barbecue joint in Texas, good, bad or indifferent that doesn’t qualify for The Campaign for Real Barbecue certification.

But my book, Barbecue Crossroads: Notes and Recipes from a Southern Odyssey covers North Carolina and the rest of the South, and the book is about the loss of our barbecue traditions. So if I was going to write about the subject, I felt like I should lend my support to the campaign. The campaign is also endorsed by Calvin Trillin, the dean of American barbecue writing.

Plus they have a great newsletter.

Update: A note from John Shelton Reed:

Many thanks for writing about our Campaign, Robb. As you say, most “barbecue” restaurants in the Carolinas now cook solely with gas or electricity. Not only that, when we do have community “barbecues” — three annual church fund-raisers within ten miles of us, for instance — most of them cook with gas, too. So do the winners at whole-hog cooking contests in eastern North Carolina, where points are given for “appearance” (smoke discolors the hog).

    A sorry state of things, and not unique to us. True, the faux ‘cue plaque is at epidemic levels here, but I’ve seen cases from most other Southern states east of the Mississippi. Y’all in the Southwest should count your blessings, be vigilant, and keep us in your prayers.

Texas Whole Hog BBQ

Pozo Barbacoa

Yeehaw! Check it out!

Legends of Texas Barbecue: Second Edition!

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The new revised 2nd Edition of Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook is here! The new edition includes 32 new recipes and new info on legendary pitmasters like the late great Joe Burney!

Houston Third Ward Barbecue Legend  Joe Burney

Houston Third Ward Barbecue Legend Joe Burney

There’s also lots of new photos of Community Barbecues in Texas.

Mopping and turning the meat at Millheim Father's Day BBQ

Mopping and turning the meat at Millheim Father’s Day BBQ

Humanitarian BBQ

Firing the Pit O Rufus Lovett

Firing the Pit
O Rufus Lovett

ARLINGTON, Va. (February 23, 2016) — The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) and Casual Living magazine are pleased to announce Stan Hays as this year’s winner of the Donna H. Myers Barbecue Leadership Award.

Stan is co-founder and CEO of Operation BBQ Relief, a disaster relief organization that has provided hot meals in 18 states and 28 different locations and served approx 644,938 meals. Founded after the EF5 tornado that impacted Joplin, Missouri, in May 2011, Operation BBQ Relief’s expert pitmasters and volunteers deploy to disaster sites to provide comfort food, compassion, hope, and friendship to those whose lives have been torn apart.

“The stars of the barbecue industry include those who barbecue for the greater good – and Stan Hays and his organization, Operation BBQ Relief, should be an example for all of us,” said Jack Goldman, President & CEO of HPBA. “He has helped build an organization and given a lot of his time to selflessly feed victims of disasters, and we are proud to count Stan as a member of the barbecue community.”

While spreading BBQ Relief’s mission, Stan is also a champion pitmaster and caterer. With his team, County Line Smokers, Stan has won two grand championships, four reserve grand championships, and numerous first place category finishes at Kansas City BBQ Society events. Recently, Stan was the Chopped Champion runner up in the Grill Master Finale on the Food Network.

The award will be presented March 17 in New Orleans, Louisiana during the Big Green Egg Cook-off at HPBExpo 2016.

For more information on the Donna H. Myers Barbecue Leadership Award and this year’s recipient, contact Carrie deGuzman at deguzman@hpba.org; 703-522-0086 X116. Press can register to attend HPBExpo for free at www.hpbexpo.com.

Talking BBQ with Vince Wilfork