Barbecue aficionado Jimmy Ho travels Texas in search of the state’s best ‘cue. Here, in the first installment of our new regular column, he shares some of the basics of Texas BBQ.
The popularity of Texas barbecue has exploded recently. People from all over the country flock to Texas to sample and understand this Texas tradition. My name is Jimmy Ho, and I am a huge barbecue aficionado. I love traveling across the state and eating BBQ. I respect pitmasters who put in the time and effort to fine-tune their craft—they deserve all of the credit. These are the basics of Texas barbecue.
Grilling or Barbecuing?
You can argue what is considered grilling versus barbecuing till you are blue in the face. The consensus is barbecue is smoked directly or indirectly over coals and/or wood. Direct is when you cook the meat over the heat source, and indirect is where the heat comes from a fire off to the side. You will find both styles being used throughout the state. The wood being used is sometimes dependent on what is abundant in the area. Post oak, mesquite, hickory, and pecan are the popular choices. Each wood provides a different kind of smoke and taste; it all comes down to preference.
What separates Texas barbecue from the rest of the country is brisket. The brisket cut comes from the pectoral muscles from the chest area of the cow. There are a lot of connectivity tissues and fat in the cut. It requires a balance of time and heat to break these down to something that is edible. You want to get the temperature of the meat above 185 degrees. Most places smoke it low and slow so the process could take 12-18 hours for the meat to be ready. You can order it fatty or lean. When a perfectly cooked slice of brisket hits your tongue, you are in heaven. There is something about the tender and smoky bite. Once you taste it, your life will never be the same.
Sauce or No Sauce?
That is your choice. I would ask for it on the side though. You do not want a ladle of barbecue sauce ruining your meal. If a meat is rubbed well, the sauce should complement the meat but not dominate the taste. A simple rub of salt and pepper can go a long way. There are a lot of styles of sauce. The popular option is a tomato concoction that is heavy on black pepper and salt with a touch of sweetness and spiciness. You will come across mustard and vinegar based ones as well.
Most places in Texas are judged by these three meats. Brisket, pork ribs, and sausage. Brisket is king so opinions are formulated quickly with the first bite. Pork ribs are trickier because you can find baby backs, spareribs, or St. Louis style ribs on the menu. The meat should be tender but not coming off the bone. Most places do not make their own sausage. You should appreciate the places that do. The sausage grit should be coarse and packed tight into the casing. The casing should snap when you bite into it.