Prior to moving to the great state of Texas, my untutored barbecue experience was memories of my family charring burgers on the grill that could be mistaken for hockey pucks. Anyone who lives here can tell barbecue is huge in Texas, and some of the best and most popular barbecue restaurants are here in the Texas Hill Country. I also noticed a rivalry among different barbecue “joints” all around the state, which led me to ask the question, “What’s the difference? Barbecue is barbecue, right? Not.
Widely considered the “national food of Texas,” Texas barbecue has four distinct styles and features beef ribs, brisket, chicken, pork ribs, and sausage. The four styles include East Texas, Central Texas, South Texas, and West Texas. East Texas style beef is slowly cooked to the point at which the meat is falling off the bone, usually over hickory wood and marinated with a sweet, tomato-based sauce. Central Texas style meat is rubbed with spices and cooked over indirect heat from pecan or oak wood. West Texas style meat is cooked over direct heat from mesquite wood, giving it a distinctive, bitter taste. South Texas signature style is thick, molasses-type sauces that keep the meat very moist. In Deep South Texas, the barbacoa tradition is a Mexican style of meat preparation (barbacoa in Spanish means barbecue, though in English it is often used specifically to refer to Mexican style of preparation). The barbacoa tradition uses goat or sheep meat (even cow’s head), and the meat is cooked over an open fire, or more traditionally, in a hole dug in the ground covered with agave or century plant leaves. Today, though, barbacoa is mostly cooked in an oven in a double boiler.
Here in Texas, beef cuts remain the most common featuring beef brisket, unlike a lot of other Southern barbecue where pork is the star. Many “pit masters” are proud of the fact their barbecue requires no sauce and is typically served on the side upon request. Succulent meats are ordered by the pound and served on butcher paper with your choice of sides including beans, coleslaw, potato salad, Texas toast, and a tall, unsweetened iced tea.
Texas’ love of barbecue is so fervid, once governor of Texas, Ann Richards, even narrated an Emmy-nominated documentary about it.