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NE Corner of 16th St. & Bethany Home Rd CFS Served 928600
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BARBECUE

by Dave Bolger
Tue, Jun 3, 2008

Barbecue. Barbeque. Bar-B-Que. Bar-B-Cue. BBQ. 'Cue. Was it that Bill Shakespeare guy or the Sainted Frank X. Tolbert who said that "a brisket by any other name would smell as sweet?" Whichever. It don't really matter. Spell it however you want to, BBQ is as American as apple pie and as Texan as Longhorns and bluebonnets. It is a funny word, though. And scholars who claim to know about esoteric things like etymology – which is not the study of bugs, by the way – are a bit divided about its origin. But, when you shake it all out, it most likely originates from a word used by an indigenous tribe in the Caribbean that meant "the sacred fire pit." Interestingly enough, some of these folks migrated from the islands up to Florida and the Carolinas, bringing their language and cooking habits with them. Including those sacred fire pits. And BBQ.

One reason BBQ was so popular early on in American history, especially in the South, is that folks in that part of the world ate, on average, five pounds of pork for every one pound of beef. Pretty simple, really. Pigs were your ultimate low-maintenance meat on the hoof. They could fend for themselves. You could use every part of the pig for something. For folks living pretty close to the margin, cheap and plentiful pig meat was a staple. And with few Kosher butcher shops in the area, you pretty much were thankful for what you could get. Southern dependence on pigs as a staple grew during the War Between the States and Reconstruction when folks either had to be economically self-sufficient or starve.

As you might expect, all things related to pigs expanded beyond the economic to the social. No matter what your class or economic status, pig-killing time was a cause for celebrations. By the late 1800's BBQs were staples of Southern church gatherings and political rallies where large groups could mix, mingle, and chow down.

Not until the early 1900's did BBQ emerge from a family, or church, or community staple into a commercial venture. As the South grew more urbanized and fewer folks actually raised and killed their own meat, small BBQ stands began to spring up in small towns and big cities. And as more and more people bought cars, BBQ (probably along with "hot tamales") became the original take out food. And, like most great regional food, you won't find any really good BBQ chains. Somebody might own a couple of places, but good BBQ just doesn't lend itself to corporate cooking.

What's funny about BBQ is that, although it is still a staple throughout the South, served everywhere from backyard cookouts to white-gloved receptions to football tailgates, within the South there rages today a great debate about the nature of what constitutes "true" BBQ. As with most food controversies, the disagreements are both stylistic and regional. Just about everybody agrees that it has to be slow-cooked over various kinds of aromatic woods, but that's about where the agreements stop. And beef and even chicken are often as popular as the traditional pork meat. Plus various kinds of sausage. And it's all good!

Some folks say BBQ should be served sliced or not at all. Some say it should be chopped up. Some say it has to be "pulled" (shredded) to be genuine BBQ.

And how you season it is just as big a deal. In the Carolinas and parts of Georgia, the sauce is heavy with vinegar in some places and mustard-based in others. Tennessee BBQ tends to be pulled and served with a relatively sweet tomato-based sauce. Some parts of Alabama sauce it with mayonnaise! In the even less fortunate areas like Arkansas, they serve it all which-a-ways.

As you might expect, being a nation unto itself, Texas BBQ breaks down into four main regional styles, every one of them with different flavors, ingredients, cooking methods and cultural origins.

In the western third of Texas, BBQ grew out of the ranching traditions, where trail drivers cooked their beef over an open pit using mainly mesquite wood, since that was and is about the only kind of wood that grows in this part of the universe.

East Texas BBQ is an extension of traditional Southern-style BBQ, with just about any kind of meat smoked over hickory wood with sweeter, thick, tomato-based sauce. Like at Sonny Bryans' in Dallas.

In South Texas and the Valley, BBQ, or barbacoa, as the Tejanos call it, tends to favor mesquite as the wood of choice, and the old traditional way of cooking was in a pit.

Finally, there's Central Texas – let's say about a 100 miles in most any direction from Austin – which a lot of folks consider to be "ground zero" in the Texas BBQ debate. Oak is the main wood used, but pecan is also popular. There are so many famous BBQ joints that it's best not to even start. But if you did, you could follow the "Texas BBQ Trail" from Elgin (Southside Market) to Lockhart (Kreuz's Market), to Luling (City Market) to Taylor (Louie Mueller's). These four are my personal favorites, and trying to do this in a day, or even a weekend, means you need to block out some recovery time thereafter. Beef, pork, ribs, sausage, you name it. If you can find any better, keep it to yourself.

Bottom line is you can find great BBQ all over Texas. You just might have to ask a few more locals and look a little harder in some areas, that's all. Like accents, side dishes, and hair styles, it will be different, depending on what part of the state you're in. But it will most likely be good. And if your calendar just doesn't have room for a trip back home, then take yourself over to the TEXAZ Grill and enjoy some damn fine ribs, or maybe some brisket. They're not on the menu, so bookmark www.texazgrill.com and see what the specials are. If Stevee's smoked up some BBQ, get there in a hurry! Yum, yum. It's good... it'll get all over your face... and you will have a good time eating it!   

terlingua

The Best Bowl of Red

Celebrating fifty years of chili in Terlingua, home of the dueling cookoffs. Check out this article from Texas Monthly.

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