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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 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!

UPDATE: Barbecue Crossroads

100 advance copies of Barbecue Crossroads will be sold by Foodways Texas at the Barbecue Symposium April 4-6 as a fund-raiser for the organization.

In stories, recipes, and photographs James Beard Award-winning writer Robb Walsh and acclaimed documentary photographer O. Rufus Lovett take us on a barbecue odyssey from East Texas to the Carolinas and back. In Barbecue Crossroads we meet the “keepers of the flame,” the pitmasters who still use old-fashioned wood-fired pits, and we sample some of their succulent pork shoulders, whole hogs, savory beef, sausage, mutton, and even some barbecued baloney. Recipes for these and the sides dishes, sauces and desserts that come with them are painstakingly recorded and tested.

But Barbecue Crossroads is more than a cookbook, it is a trip back to the roots of our oldest artisan food tradition and a look at how Southern culture is changing. Walsh and Lovett trace the lineage of Southern barbecue backwards through time as they travel across a part of the country where slow-cooked meat has long been part of everyday life.

What they find is not one story, but many. They visit legendary joints that don’t live up to their reputations—and discover unknown places that deserve more attention. They tell us why the corporatizing of agriculture is making it difficult for pitmasters to afford hickory wood or find whole hogs that fit on a pit.

Walsh and Lovett also remind us of myriad ways that race weaves in and out of the barbecue story, from African American cooking techniques and recipes to the tastes of migrant farm workers who ate their barbecue in meat markets, gas stations and convenience stores because they weren’t welcome in restaurants. Walsh and Lovett also expose the ways that barbecue competitions and TV shows are undermining traditional barbecue culture. And they predict that the revival of the community barbecue tradition may well be its salvation.

Barbecue Crossroads will be released April 15 from the University of Texas Press. The book is now available for pre-order on Amazon

See You at the Foodways Texas BBQ Symposium

3rd Annual Foodways Texas Symposium

Save the date: April 4-6, 2013

Our Barbecue, Ourselves, the 3rd Annual Foodways Texas symposium will explore the past, present, and potential of smoked meat in Texas and its intimate connections to Texas cultural history and identity. As we feast on plates from around the state, we’ll consider what we can learn from barbecue as both meal and process. What can both the meat and the dishes served alongside it tell us about our history? How have traditions and techniques from diverse heritages intersected to create today’s Texas barbecue? How is the way we consume barbecue and barbecue culture being affected by changing technologies and food ideologies? Join us in Austin, April 4-6, 2013, as we eat, think, and talk our way from pasture to pit to plate.

Pitmasters and chefs for the weekend include:
Aaron Franklin,Franklin Barbecue, Austin
Bryan Caswell,Reef, Houston
Tiffany Derry, Dallas
Greg Gatlin, Gatlin’s BBQ, Houston
Hugo Ortega,Hugo’s, Houston
Jesse Griffiths,Dai Due, Austin
Justin Fourton,Pecan Lodge, Dallas
Levi Goode,Goode Company, Houston
Patrick Martin,Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, Nolensville, TN

Speakers include:
John T Edge, Southern Foodways Alliance, Oxford, MS
Bryan Bracewell, Southside Market & Barbeque, Elgin, Texas
Daniel Delaney, Briskettown, New York
Daniel Vaughn, BBQ Snob, Dallas
Jason Mellard, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas
Jody Horton, Photographer, Austin
Joe Nick Patoski, Wimberley, Texas
Robb Walsh, Houstonia Magazine, Houston
Tim Byres, Smoke Restaurant, Dallas
Toni Tipton-Martin, The Jemima Code, Austin

Thursday, April 4th (Franklin Barbecue)
6pm Registration & welcome dinner from Franklin Barbecue

Friday, April 5th (Saengerrunde Hall)
8:30am –
11:30am: Barbecue Sessions

12:00pm: Lunch

2:00pm –
5:00pm: Barbecue Sessions

6:00pm: Booksigning

7:00pm: Dinner (Hausbar Farms)

Saturday, April 6th (University of Texas Campus)
8:30am –
11:30am: Barbecue Sessions

12:00pm: Lunch

2:00pm –
5:00pm: Barbecue Sessions

7:00pm: Dinner

***(Full lineup and final schedule announcement coming soon)

Houston BBQ Fest: Be There!!

Houston Barbecue Festival
Sunday 24 March 2013 from 1pm-5pm at the Bayou City Event Center–Participating Houston barbecue joints:
• Blake’s BBQ • The Brisket House
• Brooks’ Place BBQ • Burns BBQ
• CorkScrew BBQ • Fainmous BBQ
• Gary Burns Old Fashioned Pit Bar-B-Q
• Gatlin’s BBQ •Gerardo’s
• Lenox Bar-B-Que• Pizzitola’s Bar-B-Cue
• Ray’s BBQ Shack• Tin Roof BBQ • Virgie’s Bar-B-Que

• Limited availability
• All tickets sold in advance
• No sales at the door

For more information and ticket sales visit

Pitmaster: Trent Brooks: Brooks’ Place BBQ

Ask for some crusty meat from the fatty end of a brisket at Brook’s Place in Cypress and you won’t be disappointed. There is one picnic table in front of this barbecue trailer parked in front of an Ace Hardware store at the northwest corner of Barker-Cypress and FM 529 (18020 FM 529, Cypress, TX 77433). But I wouldn’t count on the table being available. Be prepared to eat in your car, or get it to go, but don’t miss this place. The ribs are also excellent. The pulled pork is a little dry, but a good drenching with Texas Pete or some other vinegar pepper sauce will fix that.

Second-generation pitmaster Trent Brooks learned the art of smoke from his dad, who still has a barbecue catering operation headquartered in Acres Homes. You might also find Trent’s wife Norma running the trailer. The place is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11am to 6pm, Sunday 11am to 5 closed Monday and Tuesday. Call 832-893-1682 to see if there’s any brisket left.

Dallas BBQ & Brew Party for Foodways Texas

Suds and Smoke

Deep Ellum Brewing Company, February 25th, 6-9pm
Join Foodways Texas at Deep Ellum Brewing Company for Suds and Smoke on February 25th from 6-9 pm. The evening will be a celebration of smoked food and craft beer and all proceeds will benefit Foodways Texas oral history projects in north Texas.

To add to the festivities, Foodways Texas will give away tickets to our upcoming symposium, Our Barbecue, Ourselves, on April 4-6 and our third annual Barbecue Summer Camp on June 7-9.

Camp Brisket Highlights

Dr. Davey Griffin Cutting Up at Camp Brisket

At the first Camp Brisket on January 11 and 12 at Texas A&M Meat Science Center in College Station, Dr. Davey Griffin helped us understand the mysteries of barbecueing a beef brisket by dissecting one and showing us where the different muscles and fat pockets intersected. Then Dr. Jeff Savell gave a short lecture on knives and put the anatomy lesson to use by showing us how to carve a brisket fresh off the smoker.

The first day, a Friday, was devoted to classroom lectures and demonstrations including a blind taste test between Select, Choice, Prime, Certified Angus and Waygu briskets. On Saturday morning we gathered outside around a bevy of barbecue smokers.

Students at Camp Brisket

Smokers, woods, and the lastest electronic thermometers and gadgets were discussed and demonstrated in an all day cooking session that included a blind taste test of briskets smoked with pecan, oak, mesquite and hickory.

Tickets for the third annual Foodways Texas Barbecue Summer Camp coming up in June sold out shortly after they on sale. And so Foodways Texas and the meat doctors at Texas A&M decided to add another barbecue session during the winter break. Like Barbecue Summer Camp, Camp Brisket was a collaboration between Foodways Texas and the Meat Science Section in the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University.

Dr. Jeff Savell demonstrates the iGrill app

Barbecue Summer Camp will continue to take a broad approach to barbecue cookery and culture in Texas and beyond, while Camp Brisket focuses specifically on that quintessential Texas smoked meat, the humble brisket, covering topics such as the debate over wrapping or not wrapping the brisket,and much more.

Unwrapped brisket in full glory

Attendees at both camps get a chance to talk barbecue with  pitmasters from around the state of Texas.

Justin Fourton, pitmaster at Pecan Lodge in Dallas

Meals at Camp Brisket were catered by Long John Silver’s fish and chips restaurant. (Kidding) Actually, we ate the briskets we cooked supplemented by sides and sausages from Fargo’s in Bryan, Slovacek’s in Navasota and Southside Market in Elgin.