Like most little boys, when I was a young wee Jack I knew I wanted to be a Cowboy when I grew up. Not the sort of Cowboy that would tarmac your drive for £9.50, a true Texan Cowboy.
I would often imagine myself as a gun slinger, drinking in old style saloons and lassoing cattle on horseback.
My one and only encounter with being a Cowboy came on my first holiday whilst early days of courting with Mrs Shack. In true tourist style I handed my credit card over to the holiday rep to be well and truly ripped off for a tour of the island. It just so happened this tour was partially on horseback. Piece of piss I thought, how hard can riding a horse be? I can finally truly pretend to be a cowboy.
Well that horse took one look at me and was having none of my 17 stone on his back. I swear he sneered at me and growled out of the side of his mouth whilst plotting his next move. Still unperturbed, I climbed on, only for that demented asshole to throw me straight back off again. As Mrs S trotted by gleefully sniggering I opted to join the other husbands in a following truck full of ice cold beer. The morale of the story? I'm no cowboy and horses are best placed in Iceland lasagne's.
My story brings us to the subject of the day, TEXAS BARBECUE. Barbecue is more than cooking in America, it's a downright passage of life. Texas has the most barbecue joints in the United States (and probably the world) with 2,238 restaurants and 1,983 independent locations. It's very likely that there are a whole lot more since these figures were recorded. I need to get my ass on over to this barbecue Mecca although I suspect I'd come back the size of a house.
There are four styles of Texas barbecue defined by the history of settlers infiltrating the regions and having an influence over cooking styles which still exist today.
Central Texas barbecue is credited to Czech and German settlers in the central regions who owned butcher shops and would smoke their leftover meat to preserve it. They began offering smoked meat to customers, eventually evolving into restaurant culture. With central Texan barbecue the meat is given a sexy dry-rub with spices and cooked over pecan wood or oak wood using indirect heat. It don't get more Texan than that.
East Texas BBQ is credited to African Americans who settled in the area after being emancipated from slavery. East Texan barbecue is slow-cooked to the point where the meat falls off the bone seamlessly after being marinated in a sweeter, tomato-like sauce much like the sugary barbecue delights which we know today.
South Texas BBQ is famous for its barbacoa which was introduced by Mexican farmhands near the border. Today's Southern Texas style includes the inclusion of dripping sauce that helps to marinate the meat during the cooking process.
West Texas BBQ is often called ‘cowboy barbecue’ because it is cooked over an open fire using mesquite wood and direct heat.
Historically, barbecue was originally a poor man’s dish throughout Texas, being a mainstay with cowboys, impoverished slaves, and migrant cotton pickers with the cuts of meats which were in those days undesirable even given as part of the worker pay. The low and slow cooking process made the quality of the meat insignificant. The barbecued meats were eaten on a piece of butcher paper and served along with whatever they could find on the grocery store shelves, typically crackers, pickles, onion, or jalapenos, which are still served as the staple barbecue accompaniments known across Texas today.
Of course, the days of barbecue being known as a poor man's food are long gone with patrons queuing for hours across well known barbecue joints across Texas for hours at a time just to get a plate. One of the world's most well regarded and well known pitmasters originates from Austin, Texas, Aaron Franklin and owns Franklin Barbecue, his business which started out of the back of a trailer in 2009. In May 2015, Franklin was awarded a James Beard Foundation Award and he is the only chef who specialises in barbecue to ever be nominated, or receive, the award. A special moment for the recognition of culinary expertise involved in barbecuing. Interesting factoid for my fellow BBQ nerds, President Obama is the only patron EVER to have been allowed to cut the line at Franklin Barbecue and in thanks he bought lunch for the line. He may have been the President but I definitely disapprove of line cutting man.
For anyone who has tried to cook Texas' barbecue speciality brisket will know, there is a fucking science behind getting it spot on. It's hard work. So from my point of view, those Texan barbecue pit masters who are doing this en mass day in and day out are the ROCK STARS of barbecue. Many start at midnight just to get the food prepared for the lines to start forming for barbecue breakfast. At Stiles Switch restaurant in Austin, a typical THURSDAY entails preparing and cooking 45 briskets, 32 racks of pork ribs, 20 beef ribs, each with at least three half-pound portions, and over 100 links of their signature sausage. That's just one day!
So whilst we haven't quite gone to that scale, the missus and I do have a host of Texan recipes for you to try out as well as some snippets of their Texan history, from the lavish to the easy for ur own Texas theme barbecue. So, my fellow cowboys, grab your cowboy hats, an ice cold beer, get Chris Country going on the radio and enjoy some Texan delights.