Here it is!
The Barbecue Machine
As far as I know, there is no real chili or barbecue made outside of the State of Texas. Now I don't want to appear biased. I am not saying that all Texas barbecue is good. There is a "barbecue belt" in Texas. This runs, generally, from the Houston area up to Fort Worth, over to Brownwood, down to Llano, back to around Luling and back to Houston. Now there may be a few good barbecue places outside of this area and there are a lot of bad places within, but as a general rule, this is the barbecue area. Coincidentally, this is where you will find the best sausage.
The Barbecue Machine
and the best barbecue there is, Bar None!
Barbecue--Barbecue is not shredded pork, slathered with sauce. Barbecue is not hamburger patties cooked on the charcoal grill in the back yard AND the charcoal grill is not "a barbecue". Barbecue is meat that is cooked slooowly on an open or closed pit. Now, let's qualify that. I don't mean the "low and slow" that's expounded by the barbecue gurus and wannabes. The "slow" is dictated more by the distance from the coals than the temperature, which is not necessarily low. Barbecue can not be cooked with gas or electricity.
Barbecue is primarily beef and the cut of choice is brisket. The next choice is shoulder clod. A brisket will normally weigh from 8 to 14 pounds; a shoulder clod will weigh from 20 to 25 pounds. Next choice would be goat.
"Barbecue" is not a verb, meaning to cook outdoors. Barbecue is an art form! It is not a back yard cookout! Barbecue is cooked slowly with as few additives as possible, other than smoke. Even smoke can be excessive. Sauces were invented by the French to disguise bad meat. They have a place, but it is not to cover the meat taste-it is to enhance it. Therefore, you do not put the sauce on the meat; you put it on the side.
There also seems to be a lot of confusion over smoking and barbecuing. They are not the same thing.
Rubs and mops are a whole 'nother story, and we will talk about those later.
Smoking and Barbecuing
In general, what the the "Q" crowd calls smoking is not barbecuing. It is also not smoking.
There is Cold Smoking, which is used in curing of fish, ham, cheese, etc. It is done, normally, at 85 degrees or less. There is Hot Smoking, which is used for the Christmas turkey, some fish and other meat that is served immediately. Smoke Cooking, a term invented by James "Big Jim" Whitten, Florida cook par excellence, is what is turned out by most "Qers" as "barbecue". It is cooked, indirect, in the vicinity of 225 degrees. The 225 degrees is achieved through the use of charcoal, briquets, gas or electric sources, with the occasional addition of chunks or chips of wood.
Barbecue is cooked direct, 24" to 36" over wood coals! Temperature? Don't worry about it. Time? Cook it 'til it's done.
Pit Barbecue--We mentioned, previously, barbecue cooked in a closed pit or cooker. Meat cooked in a closed cooker has salt, pepper and/or, maybe, a dry rub on it. It is put in the cooker and left for 18 to 24 hours, with no tending except to maintain the fire. The Barbecue Machine, pictured above was built when I decided to enter some competitions and because of the difficulty in towing a concrete block pit down the highway. I won a few competitions, but gave it up when I decided that they had little to do with barbecue.
Real barbecue is "open pit cooked". Open pit barbecue is cooked directly over coals; it is not cooked quite as long, because the fire is a little hotter, and it may be mopped (basted) about every 30 minutes. There is more fire tending and it is critical. This is real barbecue. Now, I know all about the different theories on the origin of barbecue. I also know about the claims that barbecue is regional; therefore, there is no real barbecue. These are generally expounded by those who are trying to justify what they are doing. With that understanding, let's get on with cooking real barbecue.
An open pit can take several forms, beginning with a hole in the ground with a grid on top. A more efficient one can be made with concrete blocks in a U configuration, 18" to 36" high and an expanded metal grid/grill on top. An effective one, for temporary use, can be made with four steel stakes supporting the grid on the corners and three pieces of tin stood up along the sides and back. If the sides extend about 12" above the grid, you can put some tin across the top and be "uptown". Using the open pit, a fire is built, separate from the pit, and allowed to burn down to coals. The coals are shoveled in to the "pit" and scattered under the grid to maintain the desired temperature. This is labor intensive and requires almost constant attention, which is probably why the run-of-the-mill "barbecuers" don't want any part of it. BUT, here is where the "secret ingredient" of real barbecue comes in and it cannot be duplicated in any other form of cooker. The rendering fat from the meat falls on these coals and the resulting smoke rises up to flavor the meat. No rub, no mop, no sauce is going to duplicate that flavor.
If I should refer to a meal, I don't want you to get confused. I don't think there is any question about breakfast. It's the first meal of the day and comes early in the morning. When I was growing up, that was AFTER the cow was milked and other chores done. Dinner was the main meal of the day and came around noon time. Supper came in the evening and was generally left over dinner. Lunch came in a brown paper bag. I never heard of brunch until I was about thirty years old; It generally came on Sunday. This is probably why I never heard of it, because we always had Sunday dinner. This was fried chicken or maybe country fried steak, mashed potatoes, hot rolls, cream gravy, Sunday peas (English peas), other fresh vegetables, probably an individual salad (lettuce, canned pear or pineapple and shredded cheese, or maybe cottage cheese). The cottage cheese would be homemade from clabber, which was soured milk and today is called yogurt.
Coffee and tea were just beverages.
Beans--Beans refers to Pinto beans, sometimes called red beans. There is a Red Bean that is used in Red Beans and Rice; it is smaller than the pinto. Then there are the Kidney Beans which are about as desirable as kidney stones. For our purposes, any reference to beans will be Pinto Beans.
Beans are almost as necessary to barbecue as meat. Beans should be cooked with salt pork, garlic, chile pequins, salt and pepper. No Chili powder! Don't add the salt until about fifteen minutes before they are done and taste first, because of the salt pork. Cook at a low simmer. BEANS ARE NOT BAKED!
POTATO SALAD and COLE SLAW--These are two of the most popular "sides" with barbecue. As in other dishes, I'll tell you what, but not how much. That's up to you.
Potato Salad should be made with cubed, just tender potatoes, chopped onion, chopped dill or sour pickle and chopped hard-boiled eggs. I also like chopped pimientos. Add salad dressing (Miracle Whip), a little mustard, celery salt or seed, salt and pepper. You can top with paprika.
Cole Slaw should be made with shredded white (green) cabbage. No carrots! No raisins! No pineapple! Just cabbage! Dress with salad dressing, a little cider vinegar (or try cane syrup vinegar), a little sugar, celery salt, salt and pepper. Slaw is NOT put on sandwiches.
NOTE: The dressing on both the potato salad and cole slaw should just coat the ingredients; it should not be runny or gloppy.
This is where we might get into other dishes that go along with these foods, such as Peach Cobbler, Banana Pudding, Peach Ice Cream or maybe mops and rubs. I might need a few more categories.
In fact, I might need several categories, because we need to discuss drinks, fried catfish and chicken fried steak at a minimum.
And chicken fried steak brings up the subject of gravy, not to be confused with sauces, because it can go on meat.
Chili--Chili is probably the most abused dish there is. There is no such thing as vegetarian chili nor turkey or chicken chili. The use of pork is questionable. Chili is not 5/16" cubes of meat with a lot of exotic spices. Chili does not have beans or other foreign objects in it.
Chili confusion: See, "Chile".
Chili, like some other dishes, was developed to use tougher and less desirable meat (and maybe not too fresh). It was cut up (in chunks) and cooked with spices and maybe tomatoes, but surely with peppers (chiles). Chili is made with BEEF and maybe venison or goat. Jackrabbit is also good.
Now there are, at least, two generations of "chili cooks" who have no idea of what chili should look or taste like.
Since the first chili cookoff with Wick Fowler and that other person, they have degenerated continuously. The judges have been the local beauty queen, disk jockeys (who immigrated) and possibly some politicians. How are you going to judge (or cook) chili when you don't know what it looks like or tastes like?
As I have said before, chili is a very basic dish. The chili contestants want to make it an exotic dish, and they want to cook it in three hours. YOU CANNOT COOK CHILI IN THREE HOURS!
If you are cooking chili for the first time, get a package of Wick Fowler's Two Alarm Chili Mix. This is the basic chili. Prepare it according to instructions and then adjust to your taste. I would 86 the masa; it thickens it , but it makes it mealy (surprise). If you leave the lid off of your pot, it will thicken naturally.
I would not put oregano in it unless I were going to put it over spaghetti.
Now I have mentioned this before and I will probably mention it again (several times); SEASONING! There are recipes that call for putting chili powder in all kinds of dishes: beans, stew, rice, etc. Now, I don't know whether these people can't spell or they don't know what they are talking about. Chili powder is used in chili; that's all. Chile powder is used in other dishes. There is a difference, a BIG difference. Chili powder is a commercial concoction, having chile, cumin, spices, etc. Chile powder is ground chiles (peppers/capsicums). The Cayenne Pepper powder that you buy would be, technically, chile powder. The moral of this is, if you are making real chili, with your roasted and peeled chiles and your comino and your onions and garlic, you don't need chili powder. If you are cooking beans or stew or making some kind of sauce, and it calls for chili powder, I hope that they just can't spell. In other words, if you don't want it to taste like chili, don't put chili powder in it.
Stew--Stew is another dish that people do horrible things to. It is a very simple dish, like chili and beans and barbecue. But, people want to add all of these things to it and they wind up with something that is definitly not stew.
Stew is beef, or other red meat, potatoes, carrots, onions and you can add celery, tomatoes or corn without doing any real damage. That's it!
NOTE:I did not omit garlic. Garlic is included in everything except drinks and desserts
Cornbread--Cornbread is made in a cast iron skillet with yellow cornmeal and no sugar.
Fajitas--Fajitas are made with beef skirt. There is no such thing as chicken fajitas or sirloin fajitas. Why do people have to take a good thing and start changing it. It is absolutely necessary to have tortillas, pico de gallo and guacamole as an accompaniment.
Chile--There are those who talk about "chili" peppers or making "chile", or even worse "chilli". People who call chili chile or chile chilli, just don't know what they are talking about.
Chiles are the secret to everything in the Tex/Mex/Cajun cooking. Contrary to opinion, hotter is not better. This is only the idea of the macho types that drink tequila shots. These are masochists; their taste senses are dulled and their opinion is completely useless regarding food (and possibly other things). Most people use chiles for their hot content. This is wrong! Chiles have flavor and some work better with certain foods. My favorite is the Chile Pequin or Petin or Pepin or Chiltepin or Tepin. It is also called Birdseye Pepper. It is the only thing that I use in beans or stew. Next on my list is Cayenne; this has great flavor and is good in chili or stew.
Serranos are good in Pico de Gallo and Jalapeños are great in cheese (queso) dishes or salsas,and stuffed. Chipotle peppers are dried and smoked Jalapenos; they are terrific in sauces. Ancho peppers (dried Poblanos)are really the basis for Chili and they make a great rub. Banana, Anaheim and others are better used in specialty dishes.
We will get into the use of these as we talk about specific dishes.
We will not talk about Habanero or Scotch Bonnet Peppers since I have no experience with them. I have nothing against them except that I don't like to put anything in food that I have to wear a mask and rubber gloves to handle.
Tabasco peppers are used primarily in the making of a hot sauce in Louisiana. This may be their greatest export besides crawfish.
Fish--Fish can be fried, baked, broiled or grilled. It should not be poached, steamed or covered with some kind of sauce. Fish should not be wet again, once it is out of the water. Lemon juice and butter are permissable.
Now of all of the varieties of fish, the catfish is probably the best and of the catfish varieties, the channel cat is the best.
Like fajitas and salsa, the rest of the country has discovered catfish and promptly started messing it up (I've seen a recipe for smoked catfish and sourkraut; I almost cried). You can cook catfish in any of the accepted methods, but it should be fried. It can be pan fried or deep fried. A catfish up to about a pound and a half should be fried whole. Larger than that is probably better fileted.
Again, simple is better. Coat the fish with some cornmeal, that was mixed with salt and pepper, and fry. Serve with cole slaw, hush puppies, maybe beans and french fries if you must. No sauces! You don't know what hush puppies are? We'll correct that!
Chicken Fried Steak-- What can I say? Outside of barbecue and chili, this is the national food of Texas. Like the other recipes, DON'T MESS IT UP! Outsiders think that if it is this good, then a better cut of meat will make it better. This is the way that they have screwed up chili, fajitas and untold other dishes. Chicken fried steak is made with round steak. You take a round steak, maybe center cut, and about 1/2" thick and pound it (with whatever tool is available) until it is about 1/4" thick. Cut it into pieces (there are membrane strips, and if you follow these and cut out the membrane, you will have about five pieces of meat). Now it doesn't have to be in that order; you can cut it up first and then pound it. Then you dip it into flour, seasoned with salt and pepper, and coat it thoroughly. Next, dip it into milk or beaten egg, or a combination of both, and back into the flour. Make sure that it is well coated each time, but don't try to get more on it than the meat will hold. Fry in deep fat until done.
This must be served with cream gravy and mashed potatoes
Gravy--Don't confuse gravies with sauces; they are similar, but not the same. Gravies are made like a roux, with equal parts of flour and the appropriate drippings, except Red Eye Gravy and Au Jus. The drippings and flour are not browned for white gravy; for brown gravy, they are. Cream gravy is a white gravy, as is biscuit gravy and country gravy. Chicken (turkey) gravy is also a white gravy. These are all made with the pan drippings, flour and milk. Brown gravy is also made from the pan drippings, flour and water. Red Eye Gravy is made from pan drippings of fried ham and black coffee. Natural gravy (au jus) is just the drippings or juice. Biscuit gravy is best made with salt pork grease, and it does not have sausage in it; if it has sausage, it is sawmill gravy. Of course, giblet gravy has giblets in it and sliced hard boiled eggs. Then there is chile gravy, which is Tex-Mex and tomato gravy, which is a south'n thang. There is also a "red gravy" which seems to morph as it moves from Louisiana, through the South and up the East Coast.
Drinks--The drink of choice with barbecue is iced tea. This is brewed very strong and served in large glasses; it may be pre-sweetened, depending on where you are. Next choice would be beer. Preferably Texas beer, but other brands may be acceptable. This is only referring to the serving and/or eating of barbecue.
If we are talking about cooking barbecue, then the drink of choice is B & B. Now people who think that barbecue is cooked on a grill in the back yard probably think that this is Brandy and Benedictine. WRONG! Real barbecue cookers know that this is Bourbon and Branch Water.
Cooking barbecue entails a lot of watching and very little doing. This requires a few B & Bs to pass the time. More than a few may affect the outcome of the barbecue.
Next drink would be the Bloody Mary. This is served in the morning, following a night of barbecuing and drinking bourbon and branch water.
Bloody Marys consist of Vodka, tomato juice, Tabasco Sauce, Worcestershire Sauce, horse radish, salt and lemon or lime juice. If you want to get fancy, put celery salt around the rim of the glass and garnish with a celery stick or a pickled green bean (my choice).
Mops and Sauces--The basic ingredients for a barbecue mop are oil, vinegar, water or stock, lemon, onion and seasoning (salt, pepper, chile, etc.--nothing exotic).
DO NOT USE TOMATO OR SUGAR PRODUCTS IN MOPS! Reason: They burn!
Sauces contain much the same ingredients as mops, with the addition of tomato or sugar products. These can be ketchup, tomato sauce or paste, tomato juice, brown sugar, syrup, honey, etc.
Some type of chile can be added, depending on your taste. Again, the simpler it is, the better it is.
How and When do you use them?As little as possible. More good meat has been ruined by "doing something" to it than anything else. If the cooking method is compatible with the meat cut, the less you do the better.
You can use a marinade on something like beef skirt for fajitas, or flank steak for taquitos. You can use a dry rub, if you must, on brisket or other smoked meat. You can use a mop on pit barbecue. DON'T use sauce on anything! Put it on the side.
Sausage--I had not intended to talk about sausage, but in my net travels I have seen these horrendous versions of sausage. They use turkey and chicken and all kinds of exotic spices and herbs. CHICKEN?? How about fish? Or maybe tofu? I have nothing against experimenting, but a square wheel is not going to make a car run better.
Sausage is made from pork, with salt, black pepper, red pepper, garlic and sage, depending on your taste. Venison, combined with pork is excellent and there is some great sausage made with goat. Some beef sausage may be acceptable.
I have nothing against any of the "ethnic sausages" such as boudin blanc, boudin rouge (I'll bet that most of you "experts" didn't know that there was a blanc et rouge and even a boudin noir), andouille, chorizo or chaurice or chouriço, linguiça, pepperoni, salami, bologna, braunschweiger, kielbasa, the various wursts and others. I like them all. But, CHICKEN??
Steak--I also had not intended to talk about steak, but again, it seems like people are hell-bent on ruining any meat that they touch. Maybe they are undercover PETA agents. Steak is broiled/grilled, unadorned, very fast, on a very hot fire. That's it! NOTE: This does not include chicken fried, smothered, country fried, swiss, salisbury or hamburger steak.
Some Memorable Barbecue Places
Dozier's Market; Fulshear, Texas
Matt Garner's; Houston, Texas
Roger's Barbecue; Austin, Texas
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