NOT A RESTAURANT
I attended my first barbecue class yesterday at Texas A&M Meat Sciences Department.
Because who’s a brisket bitch? I’M A BRISKET BITCH!
Now, I always thought that BBQ was when you flip meat stuff on a grill in your back yard while you drink beer and then forget to pay close attention to said meat stuff and end up just barely overcooking your meat stuff, but “just barely overcooking” it ruins it. That’s how we did BBQ in my family!
But as a maturing brisket bitch, I am learning it is so much more.
Obviously, there are a gabillion forms of barbecue. But for today, for this weekend, and probably for the rest of my life, I will be writing about Central Texas barbecue because that is what caught Jack’s heart and I’m stuck to him like Florida beach tar on the souls of your feet.
Quiet everyone! Listen up. Hey, I mean it! Save it for after class.
OK. Food historian, author and restaurateur Robb Walsh taught the freshman class, Barbecue 101, yesterday at Texas A&M. And this is what he said.
Early Central Texas barbecuers started slow-cooking hind ends and loins in three-foot pits dug in the Brazos Valley ground. But these meats were dry and tedious to cook. The pits evolved into stacking cinder blocks above sandy pits and cooking forequarters. The meat was slightly better, but again, it was still prone to drying out. Then in the ‘60s, some fart smeller said, Forget cooking the forequarters and let’s cook brisket, which is fatty enough to be self-basting.
They did and the birth of the modern brisket came into being.
Meanwhile, about this time (like, the ‘50s) the most common Central Texas BBQ places were German meat markets (lots of German settlers in this area, and in fact, Jack’s family – even though they hail from Dallas – are predominantly German, Guten Tag Laura and Libby!). And because refrigeration was still somewhat rare in these parts, the Germans started smoking meats and sausage and serving them with sauerkraut and/or potatoes.
NOW, there were a lot of migrant cotton pickers in this area at this time. It was also a time when Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation in Texas and people of color could not eat in restaurants with people of no color. But all these BBQ purveyors needed to sell their ‘cue to as broad an audience as possible. So they figured out a clever little workaround that has stuck to this day, even though the Jim Crow laws didn’t:
Restaurants were defined by dining establishments that contained dishware and cutlery. If you don’t have dishware or you don’t have cutlery, you weren’t considered a restaurant. So those clever pitmasters started selling their culinary delights out of shops and gas stations with seating outside. Everything was served on butcher paper and you were expected to eat with your hands. And the side dishes consisted of crackers, white bread, pickles, onions, and a few side dishes you could fetch in to-go portions.
This way, every person of every color could sit down and sup together, because see, they weren’t actually in a restaurant.
And those traditions hold today. Though one mighty convenient addition to many modern BBQ joints is a sink and soap near the line where you can wash your hands before handling your ‘cue.
“That’s where we came from and that’s where brisket came from and that’s where Central Texas barbecue came from,” concluded Robb at the end of class, where students of all colors sat in the auditorium-style room and shared some Aggie-smoked brisket when Robb finished.
Class dismissed. Bon appetit.
Pictured above: Robb Walsh lecturing at the Barbecue 101 class on Friday at Texas A&M Meat Sciences Department; brisket after class.