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Join Us for Camp Brisket

Foodways Texas and Texas A&M Meat Science Center present: Camp Brisket

Vencil's Briskets photo by O. Rufus Lovett

2013 Camp Brisket

January 11-12, 2013
College Station, Texas

We’re trying something new this year in partnership with the Meat Science Section in the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University. We will hold a second barbecue camp, Camp Brisket, on January 11-12, 2013. While Barbecue Summer Camp will continue to take a broad approach to barbecue cookery and culture in Texas and beyond, Camp Brisket will specifically focus on that quintessential Texas smoked meat, the humble brisket, covering topics such as the debate over which grades/types of beef to use, types of smokers, wrapping or not wrapping the brisket, and much more. Attendees at both camps will receive direction from professors in the Texas A&M University Department of Animal Science Meat Science Section as well as hear from pitmasters from around the state of Texas regarding some of their basic techniques. We are still working on the program for this first Camp Brisket, so stay tuned for more information.

Tickets go on sale:
Nov 16 – Foodways Texas Members (must be member in good standing by November 2)
Dec 1 – Public

Ticket prices:
$495 – Foodways Texas Members
$550 – Public

*Cost of ticket includes all sessions, talks, and activities as well as lunch and dinner during the event.

For more information.

BBQ Tours R Us

When Springer, the world’s leading science and technology publishing company, hosted a three day conference in Houston, they wanted to see a little slice of Texas, but they only had three hours on a Tuesday night. So I arranged a bus trip around town to drink Texas beer, sample some Q, and look at the pits at some outstanding BBQ joints. Among the conference attendees were visitors from England, Ireland, Denmark, Afghanistan, and Australia–and a good time was had by all.

Book Review: Legends of Texas Barbecue

Many thanks to Brette Sember for her recent review of Legends of Texas Barbecue on the Lonely Planet’s Traveler’s Library blog.

Big Barbecue in Texas

The book starts with a detailed history of how Texas barbecue began (10,000 years ago with the Caddo Indians) and evolved as different peoples came to the area. The sport of barbecue (and it is without question a sport in Texas, verified you see the photos of the trophies that are competed for!) has been influenced by African-Americans, German-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and virtually every large ethnic group that has made an imprint on the state of Texas. Barbecue is a huge cultural institution in the Lone Star State and it seems no celebration is complete without some meat being cooked over a fire. Texans have made a tradition of this, and stories of the “free barbecue for all” festivals at inaugurations and other festivities are simply mind-boggling.

For those who think a gas grill is how you barbecue, the book goes into great detail about the variety of equipment used to produce authentic Texas barbecue. I had never heard of a water smoker nor knew the secrets of the charcoal starter chimney. The personal stories of famous barbecuing Texans will introduce you to the men (and very few women) who live and breathe barbecue in competitions, restaurants, and backyards.

These are the folks who live and breathe barbecue and they share their advice and tips. The photos in the book are pretty fantastic. Cowboy boots? Check. Cowboy hats? Check. Huge, giant pits, and massive barbecue festivals? Yep. Big hair. Most definitely. Crusty, dusty cowboys? For sure. This book shows you that the Texas of legends is very much alive and well and just waiting for you to visit and taste it. The photos of the meat are a visual treat. Rich, succulent, deeply glazed, and cooking amid giant clouds of smoke on dry landscapes, the barbecue in this book really does look like the stuff of fantasies.

Some of the recipes will make you do a double take. One barbecue champion swears that marinating chicken in bottled salad dressing is the key to his success. Many recipes use no sauce whatsoever (which is surprising if you aren’t familiar with the vast geographic divide in barbecue across the country). And if you’re looking for the presidential touch, Ladybird Johnson and Barbara Bush’s recipes for barbecue sauce are included. Country style ribs marinated in orange juice, beer can chicken, pork shoulder, sirloin, barbecued goat, turkey, lamb, barbecued bologna (which apparently tastes like hot dogs), and brisket recipes will get you salivating, but don’t forget the sides! Barbecued cabbage, fried green tomatoes, turnip greens, mashed potato salad (and other potato salad variation), cole slaw, and of course, beans, all sound like they would be perfect next to a nice slab of smoky meat on your plate. You could eat for an entire summer just with this cookbook as your guide.

The final chapter is one you will want to rip out and put in your glove compartment if you’re going to be in Texas. It lists exactly where to go to get authentic Texas barbecue, with details on what to order and what to skip at each joint. Once you’ve seen the photos in this book and dog-eared a few recipes you’ll be imagining yourself at the barebones wooden table of a real Texas barbecue joint with a Coca-Cola sign overhead, digging into some Texas-raised and Texas-smoked beef while a guy in jeans, boots, and cowboy hat gnaws on a bone behind you.

To read about another great Texas cookbook by Walsh focusing on the Mexican influence, check out, The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook.

Brette shared these three recipes from Legends:

Dozier’s Crispy Grilled Ribs

2 cups white vinegar
2 cups vegetable oil
1 rack 3 ½ down pork spareribs (under 3 ½ lbs)
3 tablespoons Billy Pfeffer’s Dry Rub (recipe below)
Barbecue sauce of your choice (optional)

Combine the vinegar and oil in a mixing bowl. Rinse the ribs and pat them dry. Season both sides of the ribs with the dry rub.

Set up your smoker for direct heat. When the coals are gray, spread them out and place the ribs on a grill at least 18 inches above the coals. Cook for 20 minutes, mop with the oil and vinegar mixture, and then flip the ribs over and cook the other side. Light more coals in a chimney starter and replenish the fire after 1 hour. Continue flipping and mopping for roughly 2 hours, or until tender. Serve with barbecue sauce if desired.
Serves 2 to 4.

Billy Pfeffer’s Dry Rub

3 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons good paprika
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon cayenne
Combine all ingredients and store in a shaker bottle. Makes about ½ cup.

Jalapeño Potato Salad

4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾-inch cubes
¼ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup white wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup olive oil
One 3 ½-ounce can pitted black olives, drained
¼ cup thinly sliced scallions
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
4 jalapeños, seeded and chopped

Place the potatoes in a 3-quart saucepan or Dutch oven and pour in cold water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Drain.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the mustard, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper. Slowly whisk in the oil. Add the potatoes, olives, scallions, feta cheese, and jalapeños. Toss to mix well. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Serves 6.

Killen Q

Ronnie Killen's New Klose Pit

Ronnie Killen is competing in the “Come and Take It!” BBQ competition this weekend in Gonzales. In July, he cooked in the Moulton Jamboree Cook-off. His team is doing pretty good–they have taken a couple of overall medals. He bought a new pit from Klose which he is still breaking in.

No Ronnie Killen, the owner of Killen’s Steakhouse in Pearland, isn’t chucking it all and going on the cook-off circuit. Killen is improving his equipment and sharpening his Q skills for an upcoming restaurant venture he is calling Killen’s BBB (Barbecue, Burgers & Beer). The idea is to move the steakhouse to a new location in Pearland and return the current restaurant to its original purpose–it was a barbecue joint when he first took it over.

Brisket, ribs and sausage at Killen's

Killen invited me and a couple other of the usual suspects to his restaurant to sample the barbecue the other night. Here’s Eater Houston’s post and another one from culturemap. The consensus at my end of the table was that the baby back ribs were great and the brisket was excellent, but the housemade sausage stole the show. Here’s what J.C. Reid had to say about the links at 29.95.com:

But the stars of the show were the pork-and-beef links made in-house by Killen and staff. High-quality (no filler) pork and beef is ground to a perfect consistency (not too coarse, not too fine), embellished with garlic and other herbs and spices, stuffed into a snappy pork casing and smoked on the pit. These are what barbecue links should be: properly textured with a balanced fat content, well-seasoned and smoked, and a casing with good snap but easy to bite through.

Ronnie Killen is looking to go head to head with the Central Texas guys. And if he can turn out competition quality Q everyday, his new joint could be one of the state’s best. But the devil is in the details, if you know what I mean.

Pitmaster: George Archibald, Jr.

George Archibald, Jr. photo by O. Rufus Lovett

There is a lot of barbecue on television these days. You see colorful barbecue cook-off competitors and talented young pitmasters. What you don’t see enough of are veteran pitmasters like George Archibald Jr.– artisans who have been quietly carrying on the Southern barbecue tradition for decades. We visited Archibald’s while we were researching Barbecue Crossroads, our new book from UT Press.

ARCHIBALD’S BAR-B-Q
1211 MLK Blvd.
Northport, AL 35476
(205) 345-6861

“I’ve been the barbecue business all my life.This is just a small little place. I just build a fire and keep the fire low and cook it slow.” – George Archibald, Jr.

George loading the pit

Here’s a few highlights from an oral history by Amy Evans of the Southern Foodways Alliance:
George Archibald spent years working in a steel mill. His wife, Betty, worked at a paper mill. In 1962 they opened Archibald’s Bar-B-Q in their hometown. George Archibald, Jr. was twelve years old when he started working in the family business. Today, he and his sister, Paulette Washington, run the business their parents started.

Archibald's ribs with white bread and Golden Flake potato chips


Not much has changed—not the ribs, the vinegar-based sauce, not even the pink interior of the place. Loyal customers drive up even before they open the doors at 10:30 a.m. Whether you take a plate to go or settle into one of the picnic tables outside, you’ll savor some legendary Alabama ‘cue.

Read the complete interview with George Archibald Jr. at the Southern Foodways Alliance Southern BBQ Trail Oral History Collection:

BBQ Burgers

There’s a recipe for Franklin’s brisket in my new book, Texas Eats. There’s also recipes for some other “shade tree barbecue” recipes. And then there’s a real gem of a BBQ recipe tucked away in the hamburger chapter.

It’s my version of the BBQ burger at Guy’s Meat Market in Houston. This burger is incredibly popular–people line up for them–just like Franklin’s brisket. The great thing about BBQ burgers is that they are snap to make at home. And they are a great idea for a quick dinner when you are getting ready to put a brisket or a pork shoulder on the pit overnight.


Guy’s BBQ Burger

Tuesdays through Fridays, Guy’s Meat Market on Old Spanish Trail in Houston smokes 200 burger patties in their barbecue pit. They go on sale at 11 am and they often sell out before noon. The secret to enjoying Guy’s barbecued burger is to skip the lettuce and tomato and top it instead with barbecue sauce and pickles.
It’s not worth firing up the barbecue smoker to make a few hamburgers, but these are easy to make when you are smoking something else. Try them for dinner when you are barbecueing a brisket. The hamburgers are done in less than an hour and then you can let the brisket smoke overnight.

Serves 2

2 half pound hamburger patties
2 hamburger buns or kaiser rolls
Half cup barbecue sauce
8 dill pickle chips or 12 pickled jalapeño slices (optional)
2 thin slices from a large sweet Texas 1015 onion

Start a charcoal fire in your barbecue unit. Use wood chips, chunks or logs and keep up a good level of smoke. Maintain a temperature between 275 and 300 degrees F. Sear the meat patties on a skillet set over the fire, turning once. Resist the temptation to press down on the patty with the spatula—this squeezes out all the juices and results in a dry hamburger.

When the burgers are just browned a little, transfer them to a spot in a barbecue smoker where they can smoke for a while. Cook the burgers for an hour or until they reach an internal temperature of 150° F. When the burgers are nearly ready, split the buns and butter both sides. Lay the buns on the griddle or grill, and toast them until they are nicely browned along the edges.

Spread a tablespoon of barbecue sauce on the bottom and a tablespoon of sauce on the top of each bun. Place an onion slice on each bottom bun and add the burger patties. Then put the jalapeño slices or pickles on top of the meat and add the crown halves of the buns.

Serve immediately.

Note: The USDA recommends that ground meat should be cooked well done (160° F) for safety’s sake.

Life-Altering Barbecue

Counter at Martin's, Bryan, Texas, photo by O.Rufus Lovett

Barbecue Top 10 lists, BBQ restaurant ratings, rib rankings and all the rest of it are, as the Buddhists would say, illusion. There is no best barbecue, anymore than there is a best symphony or a best painting. This website is about the art, the culture and the Zen of BBQ.

Fire barrel, Scott's Variety, Hemingway, S.C. photo by O. Rufus Lovett

We seek out the restaurants and barbecue events that are preserving America’s artisan food tradition. We don’t have any judgements to offer about yummy lunches–but we do have a whole lot of recommendations about life-altering barbecue experiences.

Whole hogs in the cooler at Grady's Barbecue, Dudley, N.C. photo by O. Rufus Lovett

Please come back and see us again soon.

Political Barbecues: Tippecanoe and Roasted Ox Too

Campaign BBQ for William Henry Harrison, image from Crystal Bridges Museum

At Crystal Bridges Art Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, I found a display on the subject of political barbecues. In the election of 1840, Whig candidate William Henry Harrison threw barbecues and held parades instead of debating such national problems as the expansion of slavery and the establishment of a national bank. The event depicted in this cartoon was held in Little Rock, Arkansas on July 13, 1840. Note the whole ox being barbecued in the top left corner of the cartoon.

Harrison was in fact a rich man who owned a plantation, while the poor of the frontier were Democrats. As governor of Indiana, Harrison had lead an army troop to disperse a native American uprising at Tippecanoe, and so he was regarded as an Indian fighter. By embracing the log cabin symbolism of the frontier, Harrison easily defeated Democratic candidate Martin Van Buren who insisted on addressing the issues.

Harrison and the Whigs borrowed the idea of the political barbecue from Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson and his Democratic Party. In the election of 1824, the aristocratic John Quincy Adams was awarded the presidency despite losing the popular vote to the popular war hero of the Battle of New Orleans. Adam’s inauguration celebration was the most elaborate ever seen.

Four years later, Jackson took on Adams again. This time he devised a new tactic–he ignored the debate in Washington and took his campaign directly to the people through a series of parades and barbecues. Jackson won the election and his roughhewn Western supporters mobbed Washington convening at the White House for an impromptu celebration.

Community ‘Cue in the Houston Press

Check out this week’s feature story in the Houston Press on our latest research project:

“Barbecue is one of the oldest artisan food traditions of the Americas. For the past few years, I have been crisscrossing the Old South documenting Southern barbecue culture. When I set out, I expected to trace American barbecue back to its roots in rural Southern restaurants. But in my research, I found the ancient artisanal culinary culture I was searching for has been much better preserved in community barbecues, though those are endangered, too.”

Foodways Texas Films: Vencil Lives Here

Congratulations to Keeley Steensen for her new movie about Taylor Texas pitmaster Vencil Mares, winner of this year’s Foodways Texas Lifetime Acheivement Award.

Vencil Lives Here from Foodways Texas on Vimeo.