by Chris Edwards
A statement was recently made by the guy who currently occupies the governor's mansion, a statement on a subject near and dear to my heart, and it made me wonder "Alright, who does this cat represent? Because it sure ain't Texas."
The topic of the governor's misinformation was barbecue. In his comments, our esteemed head of state government said that the most important thing about barbecue is the sauce. While there are some mighty tasty sauces out there to accompany the various meats coming out of wood smoke-fueled pits across this great land, the subject of barbecue is one of seminal importance to all Texans and should be taught in public schools.
Just like good music, barbecue brings people together. One of our true poets of song, Mr. Robert Earl Keen sang, "barbecue makes old ones feel young, barbecue makes everybody someone." One of my fondest memories of childhood involved the sacred cow (pardon my puniness there) of Texas Barbecue: succulent, slow-smoked brisket. When I was seven or eight, I would go with my grandfather to pick up brisket at Wilbert T.'s Barbecue in Woodville. At the time, Tyler County's greatest pitmaster operated out of a small building in front of the sawmill. Sadly, his place is gone to the sands of time and the sawmill site is now the home of the prosaically named fire hazard German Pellets Plant. However, on the rare occasions where Wilbert T. fires up his massive pit for the public, you can bet there will be a crowd. He still cooks up godlike brisket, ribs and chicken for Western and Dogwood weekends, as well as for random fundraisers.
Since childhood days of eating some of the world's best barbecue, I have eaten barbecue all over the country and nothing compares to Texas Barbecue. It is simply a culinary artform that is unparalleled throughout the world. Chili is the official state dish of Texas and has been since our legislature proclaimed it as such in 1977. Although my good friend Kent Finlay (God rest his soul) would disagree with me, I think that proclamation should be overturned: barbecue should rightfully be the official state dish. Nothing says Texas more than a hearty serving of tender brisket (preferably smoked with post oak, the mighty champion among barbecue woods).
Of course barbecue culture varies in whatever crick of whichever neck of the woods you find yourself. Go further east and you'll encounter more pork and sweet sauces, with hungry folks piling their coleslaw atop their meat. Even within Texas barbecue culture, lines are sharply drawn geographically with the East, Central, South and Western regions of Texas each putting a unique thumbprint on our culinary masterstroke. Differences like our tendency in East Texas to enjoy our 'cue sloppy and falling off the bone or the South Texas style of utilizing thick, molasses-based sauces to keep the meat moist underscore the diversity within the wonderful world of Texas Barbecue.
The types of woods used in cooking the meat also play a big role in creating the regional distinctions. Around here, hickory is king, whereas mesquite is widely used in the northern part of the state. In central Texas, you encounter meat cooked with pecan and oak woods primarily. Most folks I know in these parts tend to fetishize mesquite, which don't get me wrong, is a fine wood (especially for chicken or pork) but post oak is such a superior wood for cooking (and far more widely available out this way, I might add).
Speaking of which, the art of cooking barbecue is a Zen, nearly transcendent experience that matches patience with skill, attention to detail and trial-and-error learning. Never confuse barbecuing with grilling. To say you're going to barbecue only to fire up a bunch of Kingsford-doused charcoal briquettes to cook burgers and steaks is like saying you enjoy great literature, but only read Nicholas Sparks novels. Getting a fire going in a pit and cooking brisket, ribs or pork butt s-l-o-w-l-y at low temperatures is barbecuing. Sure, it takes hours upon hours of tending to the pit and waiting, but the end result is always something that'll make you (and others) happy if done right.
Real Texas Barbecue is a thing of beauty, and I love looking at it, I love cooking it, I love smelling of it and I really enjoy eating it. Whether it's picked from the pit at Cooper's in Llano or a rare treat from Wilbert T. with his brisket wizardry, the most important thing about barbecue might not even be the meat itself, or the amazing pinto beans served on the side, or the sauce, or how great the cold Big Red (or Shiner Bock) tastes with it, but the feeling of satisfaction you get from such a great meal.
Barbecue represents something real, something that's true blue and good for the soul; something that Texans should be incredibly proud of. To quote another great songster here in Texas (by way of Montana), John "Missoula Slim" Gilliam, "Better get'cher self some Texas barbecue.