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Is injecting a great technique–or a nasty habit?

My traditionalist barbecue friends think injecting a pork shoulder or whole hog with brine or flavorings is heresy. The pitmasters of yesteryear certainly didn’t do it. But injecting is standard procedure on the barbecue cook-off circuit. Most competitors, like Chris Lily and Myron Mixon, use an apple juice-based injection. I have cooked up a lot of crazy injection brines including a Dublin Dr Pepper concoction.

When we prepare a whole hog at Foodways Texas BBQ Summer Camp at the Texas A&M Meat Science Department, we inject it with a sweetened brine. The salt helps the meat retain moisture. Myron Mixon uses MSG in his whole hog injection. Other competitors use nitrates, nitrites and similiar cures as well. That’s where I draw the line. No chemicals in my barbecue please.

You better not be opposed to injecting if you buy your pork and chicken at the grocery store. The enchanced meats in the supermarket are injected with salt, antioxidants, phosphate, water, and or other flavoring before we buy them. (The added water makes it more profitable.) You have to go to Sam’s or Costco to find meat that isn’t enhanced. That’s where barbecue cook-off competitors shop because the rules don’t allow enhanced meats in the competition.

So is injecting cheating? What do you think?

The Generation Gap

At El Hidalguense, the Huatecan restaurant on Long Point Road in Houston, barbacoa de borrego is the special on Sundays. The seasoned lamb is cooked in a built-in pit lined with maguey leaves. The rich broth from the bottom of the pot is the first course, followed by barbecue lamb tacos on freshly made corn tortillas. The restaurant’s owners import a smoked chile from Hidalgo that tastes a little like a chipotle, but not as smoky. They make a table salsa from this chile that is one of my favorite salsas in Houston.

El Hidalguense was the second stop on the “World Barbecue Tour” that Chris Shepherd and I led for the Houston Culinary Tour Series. Our group sampled the lamb barbacoa, cabrito al pastor, cabrito ranchero and chicharon gorditas for lunch with several shots of tequila and some wonderful frijoles. On my way out, I noticed this family seated at a table near the door. Dad was enjoying some lamb barbacoa and broth. But the younger generation demanded their own favorite dish–Tex-Mex yellow cheese nachos.

Whole Hog: Building the Pit

My friend Richard Flores, a veteran barbecue cook-off competitor, has always wanted to cook whole hogs in a classic Southern pit. And I have to come up with a whole hog recipe for my upcoming Southern barbecue cookbook. So we decided to work together on the project.

I showed him photos of the various whole hog pits I had visited while researching the book, and we decided to adapt the construction technique from some of those. An mortared cinderblock pit will work fine, but you have to make in four bricks wide to accommadate the splayed out hog and to also leave a gap so you can shovel hot coals or charcoal in from the top. The main vent you see at one end is for ventilation–it will get a sheet metal door that can be opened or closed incrementally.

If you have built one of these before, we would appreciate your comments!

World BBQ Tour

Houston “Where the Chefs Eat” Culinary Tours are offered by the Houston Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

Sunday, February 26, 2012: World BBQ with Chef Chris Shepherd and Robb Walsh

Underbelly’s Chef Chris Shepherd and Cookbook Author Robb Walsh team up to showcase the best—and culturally-inspired—BBQ Houston has to offer. Of course you’d expect a stop at a Houston barbecue joint for some East Texas style pork ribs and sliced brisket with barbecue sauce and all the pickles, onions and condiments to make savory sandwiches.

But have you tried the magnificent smoked duck and whole roasted pork with crunchy skin that found in the Chinese BBQ cases at stores and restaurants in Chinatown?

And when’s the last time you had Korean BBQ, the grilled bulgogi and short ribs lovingly prepared at hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurants?

There’s also Mexican-style lamb barbacoa and cabrito al pastor cooked in an indoor pit at a Mexican BBQ joint.

Click here for tickets or more info.

UPDATE: Event Cancelled Due to Weather

Sorry! If the Black Cowboy BBQ Cook-Off gets rescheduled, we’ll let you know!

Pride & Joy: SFA’s New Movie

The Southern Foodways Alliance filmmaker, Joe York,  has been working on a big project for the last few years. The feature length project formerly titled “Southern Food, The Movie” and now called “Pride & Joy” is nearing release. Looks like its going to be shown first on Public Television stations across the South. Here’s a teaser:

PRIDE & JOY: A Southern Foodways Alliance Film Project from Southern Foodways on Vimeo.

East Carolina: Wilber’s Barbecue

At Wilber’s Barbecue in Goldsboro, North Carolina they cook whole hogs over wood coals in the pit house out back behind the restaurant. The pit house actually has a built-in fireplace, but it is no longer used. “It feels like 400 degrees in there with all the pits cooking and the fireplace burning,” Wilber Shirley told me. So we just started burning the wood down outside in this hole in the ground.

I noticed that some of the wood on the fire was hissing and I realized it was green wood. Using green wood is a major mistake in Texas barbecue since you are cooking with the wood smoke. Green wood imparts a nasty flavor and some Texas barbecue men say it will make people sick. I asked the pit man at Wilber’s about it. “Green wood, seasoned wood, it doesn’t matter when you are burning it down to coals before you cook with it. In fact, some folks think green wood coals burn better,” he said.

“Excuse me,” I told him, “I am learning on the job.”

The place was called Hill’s Barbecue when it opened in 1962. “Fred Hill was an older man when he built the place. It was going to be his retirement hobby, but then he had a heart attack before it opened and he never got a chance to run it.  I bought it from him with a partner,” Wilber Shirley remembers. Shirley and his partner called it the Hwy. 70 Barbecue, when it reopened on July 24th 1962. Within the year, the partner sold out and the name was changed to Wilber’s Barbecue.

Pig Pickin’

Despite my advice to the contrary, my daughter Katie has been pursuing food writing as a career track lately. As much as I wish she would find something better to do for a living, I am very proud of her efforts. Here’s a recent blog post from her regular gig at Whisked Foodie: http://whiskedfoodie.com/chefs-rant/a-happy-birthday-pig-pickin-party/

A Happy Birthday Pig Pickin’ Party
by Katie Walsh | Jan 6, 2012


I was at my dad’s house in Houston last weekend to celebrate his birthday when he told me to come outside and bring my camera. I was intrigued.

He lifted the lid of his smoker to reveal two big ol’ hunks of beautifully barbecued meat, a whole pork shoulder, and a ham, which he’d had cooking low and slow for 26 hours.

It came off the heat and onto the cutting board, where he pulled back the skin and separated the fat from the crispy edges from the tender, fatty midlands, all of which got pulled apart and thrown into a big bowl. We all gathered round and pitched in for a regular pig pickin’ party.

My sister Julia and Joey, her chef-in-training boyfriend, took a little video reel as Dad demonstrated the process and chatted a little about his strategy. He explained that he’d picked those two cuts of pork to bring in the flavors and textures of meat from all over the animal, giving his pulled pork a whole hog taste without having to actually fuss with one.

read more Pig Pickin’ »

BBQ Products: B&B Charcoal

I learned about B&B Charcoal from the old-timers at the Washington Lodge of the Sons of Hermann. These guys have been barbecueing on an open pit since the 1950s and their lodge has been holding barbecues since the late 1800s, so maybe they know a thing or two.

The modern Texas barbecue smoker burns hardwood and imparts a strong smoky flavor to the meat. Old-fashioned Southern barbecue is cooked over coals and doesn’t have much of smoky taste. In the old days, barbecuers burned seasoned hardwood in a fireplace and shoveled the hot coals into the barbecue pit. But for the last 20 years or so, the barbecue crew at the Sons of Hermann Lodge in Washington has been starting their fire with lump charcoal. “But you can’t use just any charcoal,” veteran BBQ man Bubba Roese confided.

B&B Charcoal company in Weimar sells lump charcoal made from oak and brags that their curing method removes acid and resins that cause inferior charcoal to impart bad flavors to the meat. I found B&B Lump Oak Charcoal at my local HEB grocery store in Houston. You can call them at 1-855-BBQCOAL to find out where to buy their charcoal near you.

Barbecue Time Machine

At dawn on the morning of Sunday October 16, I drove into the parking lot of the Washington Lodge of the Sons of Hermann. As I described in an earlier post, a handful of old fraternal organizations in this part of Texas have preserved the pit barbecue style that was once common all across the South. This Sons of Hermann Lodge was established in 1898 and the members claim that their barbecue tradition goes back that far too.
read more Barbecue Time Machine »