Texans are the most opinionated people to walk this earth, and that’s my opinion on the matter. Texas is so big that it can be viewed as distinct regions for just about everything, food included. Barbeque has so many regions and approaches in Texas that I always wonder just what people mean when they refer to ‘real Texas barbeque.’
A portion of my family comes from Shelby County in East Texas. The last time I was there was in the late 1950’s, but I remember the pig being roasted over a pit dug in the ground and filled with burning coals. When it was done, we cut it into chunks and served it with a vinegar/pepper sauce, home baked bread, and poke salad greens. They called it barbeque.
The next day we were invited to a neighboring farm where the pig was baked in a smoky wood-fired brick oven, and then chopped into tiny pieces and mixed with a thick tomato/mustard sauce and served with hamburger buns and cole slaw. They called it barbeque.
One of my friends lived in Wichita Falls where they grilled steaks over a hot fire, and served it with slices of cantaloupe. They called it barbeque.
Out near El Paso, I had lunch at a barbeque joint that served only chicken marinated in vinegar and chiles then tossed onto a smoky grill. On the side were cheese enchiladas. They called it barbeque. Actually I don’t care what they called it as long as it came with cheese enchiladas.
At a friend’s home in Dalhart up in the panhandle, big chunks of beef were simmered in a tomato/chile broth, and then finished in the oven. The broth was served as a soup. They called it barbeque.
In San Antonio a restaurant I frequented served cabrito, tortillas, beans, rice and hot pickled carrots. They called it barbeque.
A market in central Texas serves ‘hot guts’ (sausage) and calls it barbeque. I could eat my weight in these things.
A family I know in Eagle Pass simmers big pork shoulders in a broth, and then smokes it directly over hot mesquite wood coals before slicing it and frying it in a skillet. They top it with a thick ancho chile sauce and serve it with big ears of boiled corn. To them it is called barbeque.
I’ve seen barbeque cooked in big smokers, on top of grills, in skillets, ovens, and slow-cookers. And then there is the open pit. This is more or less what my East Texas relatives were using, but I’ve seen some of these things that looked as though they were a city block long. Maybe they were. In the summer of 1967 I attended a Walter Jetton catered event northwest of Fort Worth where enough pigs, chickens, steers, and sausage were on the pit at one time to feed almost 3,000 people. And this was not considered big by Walter Jetton standards.
This doesn’t begin to cover the many approaches Texans take to barbeque. My preference is the central Texas German smoking style found in and around Lockhart, but if I am not in Lockhart or the surrounding area, I will definitely not go hungry.
Once again, barbeque is where you find it.
Right now I live in California, and there are a few places advertising ‘real Texas barbeque.’ They have some interesting approaches, and I’m certain somewhere in Texas this is considered ‘real Texas barbeque,’ but this is California. So why isn’t this ‘real California barbeque?’ Come to think of it, I see ‘real Carolina barbeque,’ ‘real Southern barbeque,’ ‘real Kansas City barbeque,’ ‘real Memphis barbeque,’ and a few other ‘real’ barbeques, but I’ve never seen ‘real California barbeque’ being advertised in California.
Before I travel down this road much farther, I must acknowledge Santa Maria barbeque. Of course I’ve tried it, but I wasn’t impressed. From my experience it is either an expensive steak burned over a hot red oak fire and served covered with ashes, or it is a tri-tip soaked in vinegar, coated with black pepper, burned over a hot red oak fire and served sliced and covered with ashes. The taste in both cases was juicy over-smoked grit. If this is ‘real California barbeque,’ no wonder they try to imitate other places.