North Meets South

Okay, if you've never been to Texas -- or any of the southern states -- then you have no idea what I mean. Heck!! I had no idea what I meant!!

You see, until my trip to Dallas, I thought I knew about BBQ. We do it all the time at home. And we don't keep it for just the summer time, we BBQ year round. So I head to Dallas with a "show me" attitude that would put a Missourian to shame!! I mean, after all, we have BBQ'd all manner of meat, fish and vegetables. There was nothing I hadn't tried.

BBQ is so much a part of Texas that it's enshrined -- right up there with the two-step, ten gallon hats and longhorns. There are over 1300 BBQ "joints" -- yes, someone actually counted them -- and they range from road side shacks to full service restaurants with views.

And you can find BBQ everywhere. It's the quintessential fund-raiser and an integral part of Texas hospitality from family reunions to political fundraisers. So you know something this important to the lives of your average Texan is going to be fraught with controversy. Rumour has it there's a BBQ joint somewhere in Texas that has the following sign over its front door: "Bar-b-que, sex and death are subjects that provoke intense speculation in most Texans. Of the three, bar-b-cue is probably taken the most seriously." I never saw it myself, but I don't question local folk lore.

One of the first things you discover about BBQ in Texas is that they don't mean the kind of BBQ we do up North. They call that grilling and while they don't actually say it's for the faint of heart, well, you can draw your own conclusions. To be called true bar-be-cue, the meat must be slow cooked in a cooker that closes, holding in the smoke that is the essence of bar-be-cue flavour. And, barbecuing is a long slow process, sometimes taking as much as 24 hours.

The secret recipes for "the best bar-be-cue" are guarded more closely than most countries guard their national treasures. And rightly so, having had some of the "best" in Dallas, I am hooked!!

Most recipes call for slow cooking over some kind of wood chips, usually hickory or mesquite, although pecan and oak are also favourites. The meat is rubbed with dry spices and then basted with a bar-be-cue sauce that ranges in flavour from sweet to spicy.

Beef is the king of the pit, most often the brisket or ribs are used although sausage is also good. As well, you'll find turkey, chicken and pork on most pit menus and in certain areas of Texas you'll find local specialties. East Texas is known for mutton, West Texas offers cabrito (young goat).

And you know another myth I found to be true?? The more run down and "I wouldn't be caught dead in here" a place looks, the more likely it is to serve up some of the best bar-be-cue you've ever tasted!! But don't believe me, try it out for yourself!!

So. You wanna try your own version do you?? I knew you would, so I asked my friend and host for my Dallas trip, Brenda Everroad (a Texan by way of Louisiana) to run me through the paces of an authentic Texas BBQ. Here's what she told me:

Take your brisket and rub your seasonings into it. Place it in a pan and pour enough water into it to come halfway up the side. Cover it with chopped onion. Cook covered overnight at 275F.

The next morning, fire up your grill, add your wood chips, place your brisket over the slow heat, cover and cook several hours. Pour your barbecue sauce over the whole thing and cook 30 to 40 minutes more.

Slice thinly and serve with boiled potatoes and fresh corn on the cob.

Now, Brenda says she has her favourite recipes but couldn't be persuaded to part with them (that national treasure thing, I think), so I did some research and came up with some creditable versions I think you'll enjoy experimenting with.

The Rubs

Brisket Rub

This makes enough rub for 20 or so briskets but don't worry, it stores well.
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup chili powder
  • 1/4 cup garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup black pepper
  • 1/4 cup dried thyme (optional)

Combine all ingredients and store in an air tight container. When you're ready to cook, rub about 3 tablespoons into your brisket. I actually liked this one with and without the thyme, but you decide.

  • Yields: about 4 cups of rub

Southwestern Rub

This one comes from the Texas Beef Industry Council and is enough to season about 2 pounds of beef.
  • 1 1/2 tsp chile powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp cumin

Combine all ingredients and stir well. Rub into your meat just prior to cooking.

  • Yields: 1 tablespoon

Best Dry Rub

  • 12 tbsp salt
  • 8 tbsp black pepper
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 3 tbsp garlic powder
  • 3 tbsp cayenne pepper

Combine well and store in an airtight container.

  • Yields: about 2 cups

Okay. So you get the idea. The rub is seasonings that are combined and rubbed into the meat prior to its slow cooking process. In my research I found that rubs can be quite complicated with many ingredients and very simple with just a few essential ingredients. I also saw a recipe that called for the brisket to be coated in prepared mustard and the liquid replaced with beer. Creativity seems to be the key.

As for the barbecue sauce, well ... here are a few samples, but again, if you have a family pride and joy recipe, use it!!

The Sauces

With any of the sauces, the key is to brush it on first one side then the other, alternatively. There's no such thing as too much from what I could glean.

Grandad's Barbecue Sauce

  • 2 cups butter (please use only butter)
  • 1/2 large bottle ketchup
  • 2 tbsp mustard
  • 1 tbsp Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 large bottle of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tsp chile powder (or less)

Melt the butter in a pan, and stir in the remaining ingredients. Keep in mind that this all a taste thing so feel free to vary the quantities of anything that you use. Simmer for 15 minutes.

  • Yields: 4 - 5 cups

Volunteer Fire Department Barbecue Sauce

In Texas, the VFD is considered the top of the line as far as BBQ goes.
  • 8 cups ketchup
  • 1/2 stick margarine or butter
  • 1/2 cup mustard
  • 1/2 cup soy
  • Juice of a lemon
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 6 drops Tabasco
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes.

  • Yields: about 2 quarts

Roxie's Barbecue Sauce

I developed this one myself a long time ago. It's a little different, but oh so good!!
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 1 stick butter
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tbsp Chinese chili paste
  • 1 tbsp Sambal Oelek
  • 5 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • juice of two limes
  • 1 tbsp Tabasco sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 cups dark beer (or use chicken stock)

In a heavy pot, sauté the onion in the butter until soft and almost golden. Add garlic and sauté a couple of minutes more. Add everything else and simmer on low for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring often. Baste your brisket or ribs often while cooking.

  • Yields: about 3 cups

I don't know about the rest of you but I suddenly have a craving for bar-be-cue. Gotta go get me some brisket started!!

Let me know how your own experiments worked out. And if you have a secret rub or sauce recipe you'd like to share, feel free. I'm always looking for something new!!