Barbecue is one of the culinary treasures of the South and Midwest. Texas barbecue stands out in the crowd, combining savory flavors with the highest-quality meats. Barbecue is not complete without side dishes, and Texas barbecue has some tempting options.
Karen Davison, a well-known chef, shares what makes Texas barbecue special, from the preparation methods to the side dishes.
Preparing Barbecued Meats in Texas
One of the features that sets Texas barbecue apart is a focus on meats. Beef is particularly important in Texas barbecue, typically brisket. The other meats that are traditionally barbecued in Texas include pulled pork and chicken.
Most Texas barbecue is prepared in a smoker at a low temperature, generally around 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooking “low and slow” is appropriate because the cuts of meat used in Texas barbecue, like brisket and pork butt, are typically very large.
A smoker provides indirect heat. Pitmasters must continually feed the fires to keep them at the appropriate temperature.
In Texas, meats are often smoked using hardwoods like mesquite, pecan, hickory, or oak wood. Regionally, pitmasters in central Texas often use white oak or post oak. Oak provides a medium smoky flavor that is significantly stronger than the other options. Mesquite is easily available throughout the state, so it is used throughout the region. Pecan and hickory are also used statewide.
Texas barbecue became famous due to its unique treatment of beef brisket. Brisket comes from the breast of the animal, around the first five ribs. It is boneless and can weigh from 8 to 20 pounds.
There are two main sections to the brisket. The first is the point cut. It is more flavorful, but it contains more fat which runs through all of the meat. It is perfect for shredding. The second is the flat cut. It is less fatty, and the fat is largely found in the bottom layer. It is a more expensive cut of meat and is often served sliced.
The reason why brisket is so much better cooked in a smoker is that it is naturally a tough cut of meat. Low and slow cooking allows the connective tissue to break down, gelatinizing into tender, rich meat.
Brisket, like other Texas barbecue meats, is rubbed with a dry rub before cooking. The spices in the rub are distributed evenly over the surface of the meat so the spices stick to the meat and the flavor is able to penetrate the brisket.
The ingredients in a pitmaster’s barbecue rub are usually secret, but authentic recipes are available for the home cook. Paprika, black pepper, parsley, cayenne pepper, cumin, coriander, chili powder, oregano, and brown sugar are the most common ingredients for a brisket dry rub.
Often, the rub is applied up to 24 hours before the meat is cooked. This gives the rub time to penetrate through the layers of meat and provide a flavor that runs all the way through.
During cooking, some pitmasters apply a “mop” or thin barbecue sauce. Most pitmasters keep the meat dry during cooking.
Brisket is smoked for 30 to 60 minutes per pound. This may mean that the meat is cooked for as much as 20 hours. Long cooking times lead to meat that is so tender it falls apart.
If you travel to Texas, trying barbecued brisket is a must. Brisket is not the only cut of meat that is barbecued in Texas. Karen Davison explains how other meats fit into Texas barbecue.
Pulled pork is another Texas specialty. The cut of meat used to make pulled pork is the shoulder or pork butt. It is a good idea to trim the fatty layer off the bottom of the pork butt to a thickness of about ⅛ of an inch. This will allow for some fat to soak into the meat without becoming greasy or messy.
Next, a binder is applied to help the dry rub stick to the meat. The binder is often made with yellow mustard, coarse salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.
During smoking, it is a good idea to spritz the meat with a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar to keep it moist.
Pulled pork is served on a platter or in a sandwich with a toasted bun.
Chicken is one of the lesser-known Texas specialties. It often takes a back seat to brisket and pulled pork, but Texas barbecued chicken is a treat that shouldn’t be passed up.
Texas barbecued chicken is brined before cooking. Brining allows the meat to soak up the solution and makes it much more tender. Like dry rub recipes, chicken brines are kept secret, but home cooks can approximate it by using citrus juice, sugar, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. The chicken can be brined for up to 24 hours.
After brining, a dry rub is applied to the chicken. It is smoked for about two hours for a medium chicken. It is carved right before serving.
One of the things that sets Texas barbecue apart from other regional styles is the selection of delectable side dishes. Potato salad is one of the most common. Made with a mustard base, potato salad complements the sweet and savory flavors of the meat.
Beans, coleslaw, onion rings, fried okra, collard greens, hushpuppies, creamed corn, and macaroni and cheese are other popular Texas barbecue side dishes.
Take a Culinary Journey
If you can get to Texas to try their barbecue, you should try all three kinds of meats. The side dishes are excellent as well. If you can’t get to Texas, there are many great recipes that can help you get close to the taste of authentic barbecue.
Karen Davison encourages all barbecue fans to try the Texas-style. You will find that it can compete with the best barbecue from other parts of the country.