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Barbecue Follies - Tres

This is a barbecue joint – never call it a restaurant City Boy!

Just for the hell of it I googled ‘old school pulled pork’.   Why??  Because I just wanted to peek and see if things was as out of kilter as I expected; it was worse than imagined.   About half the page of Google results were recipes for cooking a Boston Butt in a crockpot.  Christ on a cracker!  WTH is up with that?  You think maybe I am a barbecue snob?  I would disagree;  more succinctly I would say I am a barbecue purist ….. and I gotta let it out.

Back in the late 70’s i went back to school for a few years and one the places I settled at was UT Martin.  Martin, TN is a small West Tennessee burg and it suited me just fine.   I picked up a part time job at a mom and pop market while I was matriculating to pick up beer money and girl chasin’ funds.   These little markets are rare nowadays; too old fashioned I reckon.  We sold groceries and notions and they had a small butcher counter in the back.  One of the most popular meat items was pork barbecue and it was the real deal no doubt.   Back then,  there wasn’t no boutique or trendy barbecue, no barbecue contests and no cooking shows on the TV.   We got our whole pork shoulder from a second generation outfit in Dresden, TN.  They would bring in several shoulders  all wrapped up in foil and we would put them in this warming cabinet. When somebody come in wanting some pulled pork,  you would ask them how many pounds and the get out a red-checked cardboard tray.  Open up the glass door to that warming cabinet and the pork shoulder we were working on would be right there resting in a stainless steel tray.  We would pick the pork and fill the tray as required and then wrap it up in butcher paper and hand it across the counter.  There wasn’t any choppin’ or sauce slatherin’ or nuthin’.   The barbecue was just perfect straight up – sweet, smokey,  melt in your mouth good.   The last time I had anything even approaching old school pulled pork was back in 2010 when me and My Bro trekked back to West Tennessee for a funeral.

Cookin’ just right

Even if I piss some folks off,  I have to say this –  Texas is a barbecue wasteland.  Forgive ’em Baby Jesus, they don’t know no better. See this is how it all lined up in Texas to start with…..   After Sam Houston and his Texicans sent Santa Ana packin’ south, there was a whole buncha folks from the South that headed this way.  Their ground over thataway was pretty played out and they were just looking for a better place to raise some cotton and such.  They brought all their stuff with them including their hogs because they figured they would  do stuff in Texas like they did in Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas.   Problem is Tejas was nothing at all like the Deep South -mostly- and their hogs were an early casualty of the harsh environment.  Bye Bye piggies!

Boston Butt ready for sacrifice. Those are Bear Paws meat claws. Amazon up a set and your life will be easier!

Barbecue was poor folk food back in the day.  Cuts of meat that wasn’t fit for much else ended up on a smoker pit because what else you gonna do with it?  I don’t know who was the first ‘un to take the main walkin’ muscle of a cow and throw it on a pit and proceed to cook it for 12 hours??  They didn’t have no piggy to throw on the grate like back home but it is beyond me why they would even think  a stringy,  fatty, tough ol’ big hunk of meat like a beef brisket could be turned into barbecue.  It worked out pretty good though now didn’t it?  Back in the 1940’s or so, there was a meat market in Lockhart, TX that decided maybe the meat they couldn’t sell fresh at the butcher counter could be smoked up and sold instead of throwing it out.  The parts that was getting real close to blinky they made into sausage.  It was the most basic of basic deals.  A coupla picnic tables in the corner of the store,  no silverware and throw the meat on butcher paper instead of foolin’ with plates.  Lockhart is the granddaddy of Texas barbecue these days and  I can’t tell ya how many places have copied their business model.  Sorry but it don’t work for me.

Briskets at the ready

I had never had anything other than pork barbecue before I started drivin’ a big truck into Texas back in the 70’s.   I had never had a barbecue plate neither.  Barbecue was a pulled pork sandwich and if you wanted to get a little fancy you put red slaw on the bun.   I still remember the first time for Texas barbecue  – clear as day.  I crossed over the Texas border on a two lane and pulled over in a wide spot to stretch my legs.  There was a little red trailer over in the corner of the gravel lot with a smoker out to the side and that smoke smelled good.  I walked up to the window and stood behind another fella orderin’ and I knew I was in trouble.   I read through the short menu more than twice and it was just foreign.  Brisket and sausage and chicken and things I couldn’t even pronounce like fajitas and before I knew it I was up to the window.  I caved to the pressure and ordered a brisket plate.   When It came out is was cubed beef with a heavy slather of sauce and I remember thinking ‘What are these Texans thinkin’?’

The Church Smoker full blast. L to R – 2 Boston Butts, 3 briskets and a fresh turkey breast up top

This is the part that I turn my back on most all barbecue as we know it. I absolutely guarantee that if you are a Texan and there is a smoker out on that back deck, you have your own and very best better-than-all-others brisket recipe.  It is natural as breathin’ down here.   Little Blondie believed in the complicated is better school of barbecue-ology and she ain’t the only one.  I guess she watched too much barbecue TV so our smoker sessions were epic events.  There were injections and marinades and rubs and spritzes  and mops- enough to wear a man slap out.   Worcestershire sauce and soy, apple juice,  powdered cayenne, cumin, chili, paprika, tamarind, mustard. There are some that say you gotta use a rare breed hog if you really want to do it up ‘right’.   I got no idea what a rare breed hog is or why it is better.  Because it is rare??   What is wrong with a Landrace or a Duroc?   I just don’t get it.  Little Blondie actually had a checklist that would rival a pre-flight on a 747;  wears me out to just think about it.  We turned out some decent meat but it wasn’t near to what I had grown up with.

Well sir, at some point after Little Blondie blew out south,  I decided the only way I was gonna be able to live with myself was to go back to The Church of the Pure Barbecue.   I can’t blame her for fallin’ prey to the barbecue charlatans on Cookin’ TV that were trying to spin bullshit into cotton candy.  The old school Master Smokers never injected and spritzed.  They didn’t have a bag sack of expensive spices to ply the meat with.  No sir;   they had the knowin’ of how that hickory burnt and how that smoked moved and how that meat cooked.  Pretty simple and cheap really – a little salt, a little pepper, a pile of good dry wood and a cooker.  8-12 hours later, it was magic in your mouth.  Pretty obvious we lost our bearings somewhere along the barbecue road.   Maybe it ain’t too late to find the way back?

‘Sooner or later, everything old is new again.’ 

Stephen King   The Colorado Kid

 

 

End Note: Don’t Let Nobody Rob You of Your Joy by Paul Thorn from the Too Blessed to be Stressed CD.   More Paul Thorn ’cause I like him.

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7 comments to Barbecue Follies – Tres

  • Nancy from South Georgia

    I know what you mean about BBQ in the West. I lived in California from 1979-1982, near Sacramento, and one time a school friend and I decided to take the highway up to Lake Tahoe for the weekend. We stopped at a place I can’t remember the name, I think it was “Red’s” or something like that. I ordered the BBQ beef (pork not being on the menu) and I figured I’d get a version of pulled pork but it would be beef instead, the way it’s done here with brisket. Well, no, that’s not what I got. I got a steak that was cooked on the grill and at the last minute they dipped it in some kind of ketchup-based sauce. Not being one to complain I ate it and it wasn’t bad, just in no way what I was used to as far as BBQ. I grew up in SC/Georgia and in SC the barbeque is pulled pork that has a mustard-based sauce, and in Georgia it’s also pulled pork but with a sweeter “red sauce” type base. Both delicious! I have some excellent BBQ sauce recipes if you’re ever curious – my Mom collected cookbooks for 60 years and she gave all 1200 of them to me.

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    • Andy

      Hi Nancy
      Thinking back on my first brush with Texas barbecue I am thinking it was probably barbacoa. I still don’t care for that to this day.

      If you have any interesting and truly old school sauce recipes, I sure would like you to email me a few.

      Thanks!

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  • Nancy1340

    LOL Oh boy do I remember when I first came to Texas and some proud as punch folks invited me over for brisket . I thought they were funnin’ me. It took me at least 15 years before I stopped almost laughing when everyone would say “Now, isn’t that the best BBQ you ever had?”. I’ve been here 35 years and still don’t like brisket. That’s what we ground up and mixed into the hamburger meat.

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    • Andy

      I think brisket has its’ place. I liked it better when you could buy it for less than $1/lb. When somebody asks me when I am going to cook barbecue again, they are NOT referring to brisket.

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  • Michael Barnett

    Andy, I know what you mean. When I was about 14 I started working at a BBQ place in Arkansas were the meat can out off the packaging and straight to the grate. No rubs as it got all the flavor from the wood you used and the homemade sauce. Even the grease build up on the pit contributed to the flavors. And we used plates. Great memories that still compare yesterday’s BBQ to today. Not many can stand up to that today.

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  • Monte

    Well, to each their own, I suppose. I grew up on Texas beef brisket, so it’s what my mouth thinks of when it smells the mesquite smoke. But, my whole reason for commenting, is to drop the suggestion of adding one ingredient to your salt and pepper mix. Add in a little bit of coffee, just right outta the can. Folks I cook brisket for really like it, and notice its different if I leave it out, but they (nor I) can explain the taste really.

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    • Andy

      Interesting Monte

      What proportion of coffee do you add in relation to the salt and pepper?

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