Tastes of Texas: BBQ

When you think of Texas, do you think BBQ? Well, now I do!!

Texas BBQ is more than food, it’s a lifestyle; it’s not just a recipe for brisket, it’s folklore. Barbecue tradition has passed down through generations and each region of Texas has its own story. Some Texans spend weekends devoted to meat. BBQ is celebratory and a big part of Texan pride. People line up early in the morning at their favorite joints just to get a piece of the BBQ pie. Why? Well, read on, y’all!

So what is barbecue? Barbecue is a special preparation of meat that uses a closed hood and indirect heat to cook the mouthwatering fare. The large pieces of meat are usually spread out around coals in a pit and can take up to over half a day to fully become BBQ’ed. Don’t confuse it with grilling! Grilling uses direct heat which makes for a quicker cooking time. Barbecue is a much longer process.

But not all barbecue is the same. Barbecue is regional and varies from state to city. The US happily has four well-known types of BBQ: Memphis, Kansas City, Carolina, and, of course, Texas. Every type has its own tale and preference for the kinds of meats cooked, spices used, fuel, and, my favorite, the sides. What makes Texas BBQ Texan? Texas loves their beef and wood-burning ovens, and it has a penchant for finding the perfect sauce or dry rub.

giant brick pit of barbecue

Remember how I said barbecue differed from region to region, same is true within Texas. You’ve got your Central, South, East, and West varieties. Let me break ‘em down.

Central Texas barbecue may be the most well-known. If you go to a BBQ joint in Los Angeles or New York, odds are you are eating Central. Established only in the 19th century, Central Texas BBQ credits Czech and German settlers for its start. The settlers owned butcher shops and would smoke leftover meat to preserve it. They started selling the leftover meat to customers, and WHAM!, the people loved it. Central BBQ burns oak and pecan wood at a low heat to slowly smoke their meats. The meat is the star with no emphasis on sauces or fixings. Quality beef doesn’t need sauce or sides argues Central BBQ: it’s too good on its own. (Aside from a lil dry rub.)

The second most popular type of Texas BBQ is Eastern. The style is credited to African Americans who settled in Texas after being emancipated. East Texas barbecue is all about the sauce, sauce, sauce and chopped (not sliced!) meat. The meat may be either beef for pork, and it’s usually served with a bun, sandwich style. Did I mention the emphasis on sauce?

Also heavy on the sauce is South Texas barbecue. The South was heavily influenced by Mexico and Mexican flavors that were crossing the border. Because of the mix of cultures, South Texas BBQ features barbacoa prominently. Barbacoa is traditionally made by wrapping a cow’s head in damp leaves and cooking it in a pit with hot coals for several hours.

Now, West Texas barbecue is more akin to grilling than smoking meat. The meat is usually cooked at a higher temperature over an open fire with mesquite. Goat and mutton make appearances along with signature beef. We like to say that West Texas BBQ is essentially cowboy BBQ. This so-called cowboy style sprang out of the days of cattle drives and trailblazing.

basket with barbecue meats

And, what’s the one thing all of these styles have in common? BRISKET. Brisket is king in Texas. Always remember that.

Want to get your hands on some Texas BBQ? Most joints open at 11:00 a.m. and serve until the meat’s out. Customers often line-up early just waiting for their chance to eat the smoked meat, but once it’s gone, sorry! It’s time to go home.

In Austin? Check out Franklin BBQ. The line is long, but it’s totally worth it. I promise!!

franklin barbecue sign in austin, texas