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BBQ Season

IMG_0651 Tomorrow is Father’s Day–and I will be celebrating as usual at the Annual Millheim Father’s Day Barbecue. Come eat some barbecued beef, pork and mutton and gamble for cakes at the cake walk.

Millheim Harmonie Verein’s Annual Father’s Day Barbecue
Father’s Day
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

BBQ Summer Camp Report
IMG_1824 Last weekend, I fell in love with this Pitts & Spitts mini-trailer at the opening breakfast of the 3rd Annual Foodways Texas/Texas A&M BBQ Summer Camp on the lawn in front of Rosenthal Meat Science Center on the Texas A&M campus. The 50 students taking the class were greeted with sausage wraps and a display of barbecue smokers. The little trailer that could had a two-door horizontal smoker chamber next to the offset firebox and a two-door vertical smoker chamber on the chimney end. I have always wanted a barbecue unit with wheels and license plate holder. It’s only $5,000, the perfect gift for Father’s Day.

Dr. Jeff Savell demonstrates the iGrill app

Dr. Jeff Savell demonstrates the iGrill app

We were welcomed by Dr. Jeff Savell, the head of the meat science center which serves as headquarters for the three-day program.

Crispy ribs at Martin's

Crispy ribs at Martin’s

Then we boarded the bus and went to Martin’s in Bryan, where I did a reading from my new book Barbecue Crossroads on the subject of barbecue culture. The students took a tour of the amazing pit room at Martin’s, where third-generation pitmaster Steve Kapchinski filled them in on the historical details while his wife Betty laid out a buffet. Back at the lecture hall after lunch, Pitts & Spitts owners Barry and Christoper Madden gave a short lecture on important topics, such as finding the hot spots in your offset barbecue pit.

IMG_1821 We also heard a talk about barbecue fuels by Steve Grams from Western Premium BBQ Products. The company is headquartered in Pleasanton, Texas and has been supplying wood to barbecuers since 1986. Western Premium is one of several companies that supply serious barbecuers with hardwood lump charcoal—my favorite fuel for Southern-style pork barbecue. The most interesting products the company had on hand at BBQ Summer Camp were peachwood and orangewood chunks. I have alway envied barbecuers from up north who have easy access to flavorful hardwoods like apple and cherry. But I never even thought about cooking with wood from peach or orange trees until Grams brought the idea up. I took a bag home to try out—I’ll get back to you on how peachwood-smoked meats taste.

Marinades and seasonings were the subject of another session in which students formed teams and took turns seasoning various cuts of meat. And then we got a lecture on brining and a practical demonstration as we watched the whole hog we were going to eat on Saturday getting pumped full of brine that contained salt, brown sugar, and mustard, among other ingredients. Finally, students tasted four batches of unseasoned chicken thighs, each batch cooked on a different wood. We voted on our favorites—pecan edged out hickory by one vote, with mesquite and oak bringing up the rear.

Saturday morning began with a trip to Dr. Savell’s backyard to watch the pig go on the pit at 8 a.m. Then we went back to the meat science center for Dr. Davey Griffith’s lecture on beef anatomy—he used a cow skeleton and a side of beef to show us where each and every cut came from.

IMG_1846Then we all suited up in frocks, rubber gloves, and hairnets and had a hands-on session in the chilly meat science lab where graduated students carved up large pieces of beef and explained the individual cuts. The chefs in the room were especially enthralled with the short rib frenching demonstration and the deconstruction of the shoulder clod, where several very tender cuts like the teres major and the flat iron are found.

IMG_1856 The briskets that the teams seasoned on Friday were cooked overnight by our fearless team of grad students, and after a critical comparison of flavor profiles, they became our lunch. But not before Dr. Savell’s brisket slicing demonstration. A spirited debate about how much fat should be left on the brisket ended in a split decision. Barbecue restaurant owners and caterers hold that you have to trim the fat closely because customers demand lean meat. But brisket lovers who insist on keeping the tallow argue that the crusty spices attached to the fat are part of the experience. Several of the briskets were perfectly cooked and extremely moist—the ones I tried tasted absolutely spectacular.

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Dinner on Friday night was catered by pitmaster Bryan Bracewell and his crew from Southside Market in Elgin. Yes, there was a lot of sausage.

Saturday afternoon was devoted to whole-hog anatomy and a hands-on session cutting up a hog. I gave my two cents worth about buying a pork forequarter if you use a Texas-style barbecue pit. The cut, which includes the whole shoulder and four of the ribs with some pork belly and loin attached, weighs somewhere around 30 pounds and fits nicely on an offset smoker. Cook it with lump hardwood charcoal, skin side down, until the internal temperature reaches 200°F or thereabouts. Then pull the pork, chop it, and mix the cuts together, and you will be amazed at how closely it resembles whole hog barbecue of the Carolinas—especially seasoned with vinegar or mustard sauce.

IMG_1860Saturday night’s whole hog dinner in Dr. Savell’s backyard is one of the highlights of barbecue summer camp–and the pig seems to get better every year. I thought the loin and pork belly were incredible–until Dr. Savell brought me some of the amazingly moist cheek meat. German potatoes, cole slaw, beans, pickles, onions, and white bread were the sides. Shiner provided the beer. The beef ribs that the class had seasoned on Friday were all served separately so you could compare the flavor. The pig was cooked upright in Dr. Savell’s backyard pig pit and presented whole on a table where carvers cut you slices from your favorite part of the pig. They call this a “pig picking party” in Alabama and the Carolinas.

Sunday morning’s poulty session, taught by Christine Alvarado of the A&M meat science center included some words of wisdom on chicken. (Marinate it in mayonnaise!) There were also some seasoning and cooking demonstrations—the Sriracha wings were a hit.

To find out about next year’s summer camp registration, check out the Foodways Texas website. Or better yet become a member and move to the head of the waiting line.

Some Like it Hot

Dallas Morning News Review: Barbecue Crossroads

Thanks to Eve Hill-Agnus and the Dallas Morning News for the wonderful review of Barbecue Crossroads:
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By EVE HILL-AGNUS

Special Contributor

food@dallasnews.com

Barbecue Crossroads is an odyssey — not merely in miles logged from Texas to the Carolinas while documenting the disappearing art of old-fashioned, wood-fire barbecue. It’s a journey into the past, into foodways and subcultures, from regional rifts (whole hog vs. shoulder, wet ribs vs. dry) to incarnations in juke joints, gas stations, drive-ins and barbecue saloons.

Award-winning writer Robb Walsh captures life and culture like a Steinbeck of the South. The story of barbecue is layered and intimate. Do you remember pork sandwiches from the Dallas Pig Stand or know that the original McDonald’s served barbecue? People’s stories flash by like scenes outside a car window. Recipes with names like Church Supper Butter Beans and Baby J’s Monkey Juice come from real people.

Their voices emerge in dialogue and their faces are captured in O. Rufus Lovett’s photographs. We see stolid Tennessee men who wield cleavers and hoist whole hogs and the laughing eyes of the woman whose fried catfish nearly made Lovett fall out of his chair.

There are visceral pleasures: the freshly chopped pork sandwich eaten at a Formica counter, coconut pie eaten over the car hood. But Walsh, who has written extensively about the history of Texas food, always gives you something deeper to chew on. He explores the plantation-culture ties between blues and barbecue in Memphis; how Central Texas German meat markets added sausage to the plate; and how Southern convenience stores, serving migrant workers unwelcome elsewhere, began turning out amazing barbecue.

Barbecue Crossroads is a sensitive mapping of race, region and resources. It’s also a portrait of a threatened art. The rising cost of meat and wood erode tradition: Even hallowed barbecue shrines abandon wood-fire pits for stainless-steel electric ovens.

Ultimately, Crossroads teaches us that the history of barbecue is sinuous, that the tradition is resilient and that people continue to care. A masterful piece of documentation, the book is a labor of love and time — like barbecue itself.

Community BBQ: Saturday May 4

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Houstonia Magazine and D&T Drive-in are holding a Community BBQ and Dewberry Blackberry Cobbler Contest Saturday May 4 from 4pm to 8pm.

D&T Drive-In is an old icehouse at 1307 Enid near Calvalcade and I-45. The cool old/new watering hole has been renovated by Chris Cusack and his Down House partner Joey Treadway.

The $25 ticket includes a plate of slow-roasted pork, potato salad, baked beans, coleslaw, and—of course—blackberry cobbler. We’ll have plenty of beer from St. Arnold Brewery and cocktails from Deep Eddy vodka. Houstonia’s own Robb Walsh will be signing copies of his new book, Barbecue Crossroads.

All net proceeds go to Foodways Texas
Foodways-Texas

Our four competing chefs are Chris Shine of Franks American Revival, Greg Gatlin of Gatlin’s BBQ, Wafi Dinari of The Bird and The Bear, and Bill Leeson of Flying Saucer Pie Shop. Only one will be crowned Cobbler Champion, and it’s up to our guests to decide who it will be.

For tickets, click here.

Community Barbecue this Saturday in Galveston

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Book Release Update:

UPDATE: Barbecue in Black and White

At the Foodways Texas BBQ Symposium recently, I gave a talk about the clash between the plantation barbecue culture and the German immigrant barbecue culture in North Carolina and Texas and the traces of old animosities and racism that surface in discussions about barbecue sauce. I read the quote from Texas Monthly (below) to illustrate the attitudes of whites in Central Texas in the 1970s. I must have been mumbling or not very coherent in my remarks. To my chagrin, the racist statement is now being attributed to me.

Matt Garner's on W Gray, 1985

“The heavily-sauced, chopped East Texas barbecue is a reflection of the fact that it was originally a Negro phenomenon, an ingenious method for rendering palatable the poorer, less-desirable cuts of meat which often were the only ones available to the poor black. Hence most of the attention was lavished on the hot sauce, whose purpose was to smother the dubious flavor of the meat which the barbecueing process had at least made tender.

In Central Texas, by contrast, the Saturday barbecue at the town meat market was developed by the dominant social class, who could pick and choose from among the best cuts of meat and cooked them to emphasize their flavor. Piquant sauces had little appeal in that situation, and it is therefore not surprising that Central Texas sauces are often a rather bland incident to the large well-flavored chunks of beef enjoyed for their own sake.”

Griffin Smith, Jr.
“The World’s Best Barbecue is in Taylor, Texas. Or is it Lockhart.”
Texas Monthly, April 1973

Check out the whole story in my new book, Barbecue Crossroads, or take a look at the story I wrote in the Houston Press back in 2003 titled Barbecue in Black and White.

Barbecue Crossroads: Review

A review of Barbecue Crossroads in this week’s Austin Chronicle:

Robb Walsh seeks enlightenment on his own BBQ spirit quest
By Kenny Pailes, 9:45AM, Thu. Apr. 4

Barbecue Crossroads: Notes & Recipes From A Southern Odyssey
cover photo by O. Rufus Lovett
Robb Walsh, photographs by O. Rufus Lovett
University of Texas Press, 282pp. $16.47 paperback Amazon

A “closed” sign on a BBQ joint door is just an invitation to talk to the folks running the fried pie kitchen next door. An offer of catfish at another shack famous for (but sold out of) spicy brisket is only an excuse to explore the religious roots of African-American barbecue in America.

So goes Houston-based, three time James Beard Award winning author Robb Walsh’s journey across the South – from Texas to the Carolinas – exploring the roots and heart of this essential American cuisine. Barbecue Crossroads is cleverly served as a three-meat combo, equal parts history lesson, road trip memoir, and cookbook, with slick dollops of photographer O. Rufus Lovett’s intimate shots glazing every corner of the plate.

If your heart, like mine, beats strongest for Texas barbecue, you might think Walsh and Lovett would have been wise to stop their trek on their first day, before Interstate 30’s escalating exit numbers reset themselves to “1” halfway through Texarkana. Fear not, prideful brisket-eater: for even while the duo are deep in the overgrown and under-appreciated country roads of Tennessee, waiting patiently for a grumpy pit boss to prep his first meals of the day for them, Walsh’s mind wanders back home for a treatise on some of the oldest examples of market store BBQ joints. There’s talk of Smitty’s in Lockhart and Martin’s in Bryan before the day-dream-turned-history-lesson returns to the meal in hand at a convenience store in the Volunteer State. That trends holds throughout the book, as nearly every aspect of Southern barbecue history that Walsh details is related back to Texas. Whether you take that pattern to mean that the other barbecue states revolve around the shining Lone Star or you see these writings as proof that Texas and Southern barbecue have more in common than we often admit is up to the reader.

Between recipes for Whole Hog Barbecue and Sweet Potato Pie, Walsh laments the slow death of America’s original barbecue culture. Once common, massive communal servings of piles of piping hot pork and beef served straight from in-ground open pits growling with the heat of real wood have nearly all been relegated to textbook chapters in our country’s rural history. The present-day demands of hungry urban diners have pressured even some of the most legendary BBQ restaurants throughout the South to replace their original pits with faster gas ovens. Meanwhile, rising meat and wood prices have created a new economy that runs completely counter to the very origins of BBQ itself.

Still, it is clear that all is not lost for fans of the cuisine. Even in the face of what the author paints as a bleak fate, Walsh and Lovett’s loving treatment of the people behind the pits and counters from Austin to the Atlantic Coast make it clear that this true folk food is still alive. Recent trends in our own city demonstrate the resurgence in popularity of slow-cooked, wood-smoked meats – even if new purveyors are challenging older establishments for mouths and minds. Walsh himself, co-founder of Foodways Texas, even musters up some optimism by ending the book with his own internet-based solution to the dwindling numbers of community barbecues.

Regardless of your regional loyalties, Barbecue Crossroads is a must have book for anyone with a passion for pit crafted meats.

Both author Robb Walsh and photographer O. Rufus Lovett will be featured speakers and sign copies of their book at this weekend’s Foodways Texas Symposium, Our Barbecue, Ourselves.

Houstonia Magazine: Of Pork and Preachers

Reverend Jimmie Cobbin photos by O. Rufus Lovett

“Once you start to see the connection between African American barbecue and religion, it pops up everywhere. When I attended services at Reverend Hodge’s church one Sunday, I met a guest preacher named Reverend Jimmie Cobbin. After I asked him if he ever cooked barbecue, he smiled and said, ‘Funny you should ask.’ As it turned out, Cobbin operated a barbecue stand in Richmond called Jimmie’s Ribs for several years.”

Read the article “Of Pork and Preachers” at Houstoniamag.com or look for the first issue of Houstonia Magazine on newstands and supermarket magazine racks all over Houston.

Congrats BBQ Snob!

Daniel Vaughn gets some tips from Joe Nick Patoski

Our friend Daniel Vaughn (@BBQsnob) has been named Barbecue Editor of Texas Monthly Magazine; his first day of work is April 15. (We expect Franklin’s brisket tallow to be smeared on his forehead in the “sign of the Q” at the anointment ceremony.)

The announcement caused quite a stir as it seems @BBQsnob may be the first full time barbecue editor in the country.

The appointment comes at a critical time. TM does a barbecue survey every five years ranking the top 50 barbecue joints in Texas, and the next ranking is due in the June issue. In past years, the rankings were established by lumping together scores from tasters all over the state. And the winning barbecue establishment was always within an hour or so of the magazine’s headquarters in Austin. When a tiny weekend-only place called Snow’s in Lexington won last time, the editors brought in barbecue authority Calvin Trillin to endorse their findings–he didn’t.

Vaughn, who lives in Dallas, promises to bring some credibility to the TM BBQ issue. He is a barbecue fanatic of long standing and his website Full Custom Gospel BBQ is already the gold standard when it comes to rankings and ratings of Texas BBQ joints. We applaud TM’s editors for finally getting serious about the subject.

We look forward to congratulating Daniel Vaughn in person at this weekend’s Houston BBQ Festival. See you there!