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Beef Ribs Are Hot

NAMP 130 beef chuck ribs

NAMP 130 beef chuck ribs

Beef ribs are in the spotlight lately. It’s all about the flavor: a well-cooked beef rib is just as succulent as a perfectly cooked brisket, but with a softer, silkier texture. Louis Mueller’s in Taylor has been cooking beef ribs since they opened. And Pecan Lodge in Dallas has gotten a lot of noteriety for theirs lately too. Ronnie Killen plans to serve them when his new barbecue joint opens in Pearland a few months from now.

Ronnie Killen with a NAMP 123A beef plate rib

Ronnie Killen with a NAMP 123A beef plate rib

“I think they have become popular because they have so much meat on them. Before the barbecued beef ribs were always dry and chewy,” says Ronnie Killen. “Now, cooked right, they are like the fatty end of the brisket but without all the fat.” Killen’s is cooking two varieties of ribs—the shorter ones are served on barbecue plates, and the big ones are sold by the pound. Since the big ones run from a pound and a half to two pounds, they are best eaten family style—one rib serves two or three people.The two big problems with beef ribs are the inconvenient serving size and the confusing nomenclature. The subject of beef short ribs is a rabbit hole that we won’t venture into here. The ribs can come from three different parts of the animal and are cut in an endless variety of shapes and sizes. The short ribs in the meat case at the grocery store might be any one of these.

Ronnie Killen has resorted to using the numbers from the North American Meat Packers meat buyers’ guide to specify which ones he is talking about. The smaller ones are called chuck short ribs (NAMP 130), and they are easily carved into just the right size for a single serving. The giant ones are called plate short ribs (NAMP 123A), and Killen’s sells these by the pound. The 123A Ronnie Killen is holding in the photo weighs a pound and half—at $12 a pound, that’s an $18 beef rib.

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Foodways Texas Benefit

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.

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:


Special Contributor

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


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

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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