Reading a new cookbook often sends me running to the kitchen to try out an intriguing recipe. Aaron Franklin has no use for recipes and there aren’t any to be found in his new BBQ book. Instead, after reading Franklin’s Meat Smoking Manifesto I found myself running to the garage and rummaging through the tool chest looking for that carborundum wheel that fits on my electric drill.
Grinding down the rust that kept my barbecue smoker’s firebox lid from closing tightly suddenly seemed like the most important task in the universe.I spent hours with the grinding wheel, wire brushes, lubricants and oily rags getting my 25-year old steel smoker back into tiptop shape.
While most barbecue books (mine included), start with wood and charcoal, and meat and spices; Aaron Franklin’s book starts in the welding shop. Building a steel barbecue smoker from scratch is where barbecue begins for Franklin. And in his view, learning how to tune up your smoker and keep it in good repair may be more important than how you season your meats. (Especially since Franklin’s spices are pretty much limited to salt and pepper.)
Barbecue joint owners will be studying this book intently–Aaron Franklin may single-handedly raise the quality of barbecue in America. According to my family and friends, the quality of my briskets has risen dramatically since reading this book (and switching over to the same sort of USDA Prime grade briskets Franklin uses).
Some of the techniques for barbecue restaurant-sized smokers is difficult to follow at home. Franklin is a purist when it comes to “clean fires.” I can’t burn whole logs and still maintain low temperatures in my Texas offset smoker. And sometimes at home, hardwood charcoal is the right fuel for the job. But that’s a small quibble.
Franklin’s book is not filled with simple tips or easy fixes. There are no shortcuts. In the book, Franklin reveals his very complex method of trimming a brisket before smoking. I have attempted to follow his precise directions using the accompanying step-by-step photos several times, and I still can’t say I got it entirely right. I don’t think I have sliced a brisket as perfectly as Franklin demonstrates either–but I have something to shoot for.
And that’s the value of this book. Following a master like Aaron Franklin around and watching how he does it is bound to improve the way you barbecue at home. I recommend you buy a copy immediately.
The following is a short excerpt from a Foodways Texas oral history project recounting the life of Houston barbecue legend, Joe Burney.
My dad used to drive around and give away barbecue to old folks who couldn’t get out of the house. When the Avalon burned down, he used the insurance money to build Burney’s BBQ on Holman—it became an iconic Houston African-American BBQ spot in the late 1940s. Unkie Lott started his own place called Lott’s Barbecue on Holman. Bill Williams opened another place on Scott. My mother and father cooked in the evening and worked their regular jobs during the day. The day crew sold the barbecue.
My father did very well, he bought some show horses and he was very proud of them. There was a group of black businessmen that supported each other. They formed a club called the El Dorado Social Club. It became the center of the social scene in the Third Ward. It’s still around today.
My father died October 12, 1958. I was 6 when my dad died. My mom ran the barbecue joint for a year, then sold Burney’s to Harry Green-my dad taught Harry Green to cook at Burney’s. I got a job as at Lott’s Barbecue when I was old enough to work. That’s where I met my husband Waymon Mayberry; he worked there too. I married a barbecue man, of course.Karen’s son Warren Mayberry, who works in public affairs in Austin, helped make the film titled Barbecue: A Texas Love Story narrated by Ann Richards. The movie debuted at the South by Southwest film festival in 2003.
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