Texas BBQ

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Introduction by Robb Walsh

The pitmaster squints into the smoke as he opens the giant steel door. From your place in line, you watch him fork and flip the juicy, black beef briskets and sizzling pork loins.

Your heart beats faster as he opens a steel door to reveal a dozen sausage rings hissing and spitting in the thick white cloud.

Slowly, the sweet cloud of oak smoke makes its way to you, carrying with it the aroma of peppery beef, bacon-crisp pork, and juicy garlic sausage. Your mouth starts watering. You swallow hard. Your stomach rears back and lets out a growl. You’re in a frenzy by the time you get to the head of the line, where the hot meats are being sliced and weighed. You order twice as much as you can eat. You carry it away on a sheet of butcher paper, with an extra sheet tucked underneath for a plate.

Welcome to Texas barbecue.

We love to eat it. We love to make it. And we love to argue about it. We have competing theories on the etymology, the definition of the word, and on those characteristics that make it uniquely Texan. We don’t agree on the kind of wood, the need for sauce, the cut of meat, or which part of the state does it best. And we all have our favorite pit bosses. But we all agree that non-Texans don’t understand it.

Traditional barbecue definitions don’t make sense here. “Barbecue is always served with a distinctive sauce,” say some. Not in Texas—some of our most famous barbecue joints serve no sauce at all. “Barbecue means slow cooking over the low heat of a wood or charcoal fire,” say others. Sorry. Some of the best smoked meat in the Lone Star state is cooked at 600° F.

So what is Texas barbecue exactly?

Taking a look at Texas barbecue history may be the easiest way to understand it. The Caddo Indians cooked venison and other game over wood fires in Texas ten thousand years ago. They were followed by the Spanish shepherds, who spit-roasted kid goat and lamb al pastor (shepherd style) on the South Texas plains, starting in the 1600s. Mexican barbacoa, meat sealed in maguey leaves and buried in hot coals, has been seen along the Rio Grande Valley for a couple hundred years.

The Southern version of pit barbecue migrated to Texas in several stages beginning in the early 1800s. Black slaves recount cooking barbecue to celebrate the harvest on Texas cotton plantations before the Civil War. And Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the freeing of the slaves in Texas has been celebrated with barbecue since 1865.

The Southern version of barbecue begat the first big civic barbecues, which fed hundreds and sometimes thousands of people. These began to be held around the state in the early 1800s. Whole sheep, goats, pigs and steers were cut into pieces and cooked over oak or hickory coals while being continuously basted. The standard cooking time was 24 hours. This tradition lives on in such events as the XIT Annual Reunion in Dalhart, Texas, where tens of thousands of people gather year after year to attend the “world’s largest free barbecue.”

After the Civil War, beef became the most common meat in Texas. While the ultimate in Southern barbecue was cooking a whole hog, cooking a whole steer was the ultimate in Texas barbecue. Barbecued beef cuts remain the most common in Texas barbecue, although pork, mutton and other meats remain popular.

European meat smoking was brought to Central Texas by German and Czech butchers during an era of intense Germanic migration that began in the 1830s and reached its height around 1890. The German meat markets sold fresh meats and smoked their leftovers in enclosed smokers, as they had done in the Old Country. They were probably astonished when migrant cotton pickers first mistook their smoked pork loin and sausages for barbecue in the late 1800s.

It was the black and Hispanic cotton pickers who began the tradition of eating that German smoked meat on a piece of butcher paper with nothing but crackers or pickles they could find on store shelves as accompaniments.

During the Progressive Era in the early 1900s, sanitation regulations changed the way barbecue could be cooked for public consumption. The earthen pits of Southern barbecue were abandoned in favor of enclosed smokers modeled after those used by the German butchers in their meat markets.

And so the old meat markets came to be considered the quintessential Texas barbecue joints—despite the fact that the German smoked meats and sausages they originally produced weren’t really barbecue at all.

Southern barbecue is a proud thoroughbred whose bloodlines are easily traced. Texas barbecue is a feisty mutt with a whole lot of crazy relatives. Open up a few of the oral histories on this site

and meet the family—you’ll see what we mean.

– Robb Walsh


Robb Walsh is a writer, SFA member, and bbq lover. You can see more of his work  at RobbWalsh.com.

This introduction was adapted from Robb Walsh’s book Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook © 2002. Used with permission of Chronicle Books LLC, San Francisco. VisitChronicleBooks.com.


Interviews and photographs by Jung Min (Kevin) Kim

Interviews

Artz Rib House - Art Blondin - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Artz Rib House

Art Blondin moved to Austin in 1980 and discovered the wonders of Texas barbecue while he drove around central Texas looking for gigs for his country band.

Barbecuties - Nikki Dugas - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Barbecuties

Nikki Dugas, a recent college graduate, opened a barbecue stand on Austin’s vibrant Sixth Street in May of 2007. Known as the Barbecuties, the stand employs only women and sells brisket sandwiches to hungry night owls from Thursday to Saturday.

Ben's Long Branch Barbecue Restaurant - Ben Wash - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Ben’s Long Branch Bar-B-Q

Originally from Mississippi, Ben Wash started cooking when he was seven years old. He moved to Austin as a teenager in the late 1950s and learned to grill brisket from older friends. His mother cultivated his love and talent, and at twenty-seven years old, with a bank loan of five hundred dollars and a good eye for bargains, Ben started the Long Branch in his garage.

Burton Sausage - Jerry Schultz and Nicole Harmel - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Burton Sausage

Describing himself as three-quarters German and one-quarter Bohemian, Jerry Schultz learned the meat business in central Texas’ Czech and German traditions. Today he owns and runs Burton Sausage, a company that is part slaughterhouse, part sausage producer.

Church of Holy Smoke New Zion Missionary Baptist Church Barbecue - May Archie - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Church of Holy Smoke

Born in 1944, May Archie had a career with the telephone company. When she married her husband, Horace Archie, in 2002, she joined his church, the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church, famous in Huntsville for running a barbecue restaurant.

City Market - Joe Capello - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

City Market

Born in 1947, Joe Capello started to work for the Ellis family at City Market in Luling when he was twelve years old. He has managed the restaurant since 1969, overseeing the post-oak-smoked brisket and sausage Mr. Howard Ellis learned to make at Kreuz Market in Lockhart.

Cooper's Old Time Pit BAR-B-Que - Terry Wootan - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Cooper’s Old Time Pit BAR-B-QUE

Terry Wootan worked at Cooper’s when he was in high school. After spending some years away from barbecue while focusing on his real estate business, he took over Cooper’s in 1986. In his first years operating the business, Wootan did all the cooking and his wife operated the cash register.

D. Wiley, Inc. - Don Wiley - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

D. Wiley, Inc.

Since 1981, Don Wiley has built over 1000 custom-made barbecue pits for businesses, college football teams, and individuals in and around central Texas and as far away as New Jersey and Colorado. Each pit is numbered and built to customer specifications.

Dziuk's Meat Market - Marvin Dziuk - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Dziuk’s Meat Market

Originally from Poth, Texas, Marvin Dziuk moved to Castroville in 1974 at the age of eighteen to manage Dziuk’s Meat Market, the latest branch of the family business. In its heyday in the 1980s, the company included three retail locations across south-central Texas and a slaughterhouse in Poth. Upon his father’s retirement, Dziuk became sole owner of the Castroville location and currently operates it as a family business with his wife and daughter.

Forestry Management Service - Wood Purveyor - Ronnie Vinikoff - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Forestry Management Service

Ronnie Vinikoff was born in San Gabriel, California, in 1964. He grew up in east Texas, and originally came to the Austin area as an ironworker. He started his forestry management and woodcutting business when he was fifteen years old, and he now works primarily on land outside of Rockdale, Texas. Ronnie and his crew supply post oak and other types of wood to numerous restaurants in and around Austin, many of them barbecue restaurants.

Gonzales Food Market - Richard Lopez - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Gonzales Food Market

Richard Lopez is the third-generation proprietor of the Gonzales Food Market in Gonzales, Texas, a storefront barbecue restaurant located on the town’s historic Texas Heroes Square. Richard grew up in Gonzales, working in the market alongside numerous cousins and extended family members. When his father decided to retire, Richard, who spent twenty years working for the corporate grocery chain Albertson’s, was eager to continue a family tradition.

Graham Land and Cattle Co. - Tyler Graham - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Graham Land and Cattle Co.

Born in 1983, Tyler Graham is a young hand in the Texas beef industry; he has, however been running around his family’s ranches since he was a wee tyke.

House Park Bar-B-Que - Joe Sullivan - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

House Park BAR-B-QUE

As a child, Joe Sullivan ate at House Park Bar-B-Que and thought to himself that someday he wanted to own this restaurant or one just like it. In 1981, he fulfilled his childhood ambition by purchasing House Park, which sits near the Austin neighborhood of Clarksville where he was born and much of his family still lives.

Inman's Ranch House Bar-B-Q - Billy Inman - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Inman’s Ranch House Bar-B-Q

In 1960 Lester Inman started selling barbecue at his Exxon station in Llano, Texas, developing a turkey sausage based on a recipe passed down by his wife’s grandmother. By 1964, he’d convinced his brother Francis to open up shop down the highway in Marble Falls.

Kreuz Market - Rick Schmidt - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Kreuz Market

Born in 1945, Rick Schmidt grew up with his brother and sister in Kreuz’s, their father’s meat market. Well over 100 years old, Kreuz Market fits firmly in the tradition of central Texas German meat markets that evolved into barbecue restaurants over time.

Louie Mueller's Barbecue - Bobby Mueller - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Louie Mueller Barbecue

Bobby Mueller was born in Taylor, Texas, in 1939. Louie Mueller was Bobby’s father, who opened the restaurant and grocery store in 1949. When not either in school or in the service, Mueller has worked with the family business, which he bought from his father in 1974, around the same time Louie Mueller stopped selling groceries. It was about this time when Mueller, himself, learned to barbecue.

Meyer's Sausage Company - Gregg and Betty Meter - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Meyer’s Sausage Company

Sometime in the 1930s, Rudolph Meyer began selling his homemade sausage out of his small community store in Elgin, Texas, The Rockfront Grocery. His sausage proved so successful that he soon branched out to restaurants and groceries in Austin where he would sell his products out of the trunk of his car.

Meyer's Smokehouse - Gary and Becky Meyer - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse

Sometime in the 1930s, Rudolph Meyer began selling his homemade sausage out of his small community store in Elgin, Texas, The Rockfront Grocery. His sausage proved so successful that he soon branched out to restaurants and groceries in Austin where he would sell his products out of the trunk of his car.

Mi Madre's - Aurelio Torres - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Mi Madre’s

Aurelio Torres was born in Raymondville, Texas, before moving as an infant with his family to Saltillo, Mexico. Torres and his family brought with them a long tradition of Sunday morning barbacoa when they moved to Austin, Texas, in 1988.

Pok-E-Jo's Smokehouse - Danny Haberman - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Pok-E-Jo’s Smokehouse

Customers who frequent the current five Pok-e-Jo’s Smokehouse restaurants in the Austin metro area enjoy the consistent taste across locations and the variety of meat accompaniments, including eleven side dishes, three varieties of cobbler, and an expansive pickle bar.

Ruby's BBQ - Pat Mares - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Ruby’s BBQ

Pat Mares was born in 1951 in Schuyler, Nebraska. After working in food most of her life, Pat and her husband, Luke Zimmermann, opened Ruby’s BBQ in 1988, just north of the University of Texas at Austin campus on the edge of the Hyde Park neighborhood. From the restaurant’s early days to the present, Ruby’s BBQ has been deeply entwined with the Austin music scene.

Sam's Barbecue - Waunda Mays - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Sam’s Barbecue

Waunda Mays, daughter of Dan Mays, has been working at Sam’s Barbecue in East Austin since her father purchased the restaurant in 1978. The restaurant, one of Austin’s oldest African American barbecue restaurants, has been around since the 1940s.

Smokey Denmark Sausage - Jim McMurtry - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Smokey Denmark Sausage Co.

Jim McMurtry and his family have owned Smokey Denmark Sausages since 1972. In that time, Mr. McMurtry has expanded his factory, updated production methods, and brought his daughter and son-in-law into the business. Though a lot has changed at Smokey Denmark in the last thirty-five years, Mr. McMurtry has remained a constant presence in the factory in East Austin.

Southside Market - Ernest Bracewell Sr. and Ernest Bracewell Jr. and Bryan Bracewell - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Southside Market

For three generations of the Bracewell family, working at “The Market” has just come naturally.

Taylor Cafe - Vencil Mare - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

Taylor Café

Vencil Mares was born on November 10, 1923. A native Texan, Mr. Mares returned home from WWII and went right into the barbecue business. He began in Elgin, Texas, at the Southside Market in 1948. It was there, working in the smoke pit, that Mares learned the secrets of the barbecue trade, including how to make his much acclaimed sausage.

The Salt Lick - Christine LeClair - Texas - Southern BBQ Trail

The Salt Lick

In 1988, after ten years in the insurance industry, Christine LeClair became a member of the wait staff at The Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas. Twenty years later she still enjoys the flexible hours, the generous tips, and the laid-back atmosphere at the restaurant, but relishes the off days when she can spend time with her grandchildren.