Thursday, October 25

Lone Star Dispatch: Questioning "Low & Slow"

From the keyboard of guest blogger Daniel Vaughn, aka @bbqsnob.

The mantra of the backyard pitboss or the competition guru may be "Low & Slow" when it comes to barbecue, but that isn't always the rule in Texas. Of course, many Lone Star barbecue joints hew to tradition. Franklin Barbecue gets plenty of accolades with its eighteen-hour brisket, and in the extreme case of Clark's in Tioga, it takes upwards of three days in the smoker to transform tough red meat into tender beef and hard white fat into a buttery chaser. This is low & slow, but it ain't all done this way.

Kreuz Market. Photos by Nicholas McWhirter
Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Q is a Hill Country destination for hunters, tourists, and even politicians. It gained national prominence when President George W. Bush called it his favorite barbecue, but patience is not a virtue with their meat. In an oral history interview with the SFA, owner Terry Wootan notes that the cooking time for "brisket is anywhere from three-and-a-half to five hours. Most of the time about four-and-a-half hours. Pork chops [their most famous cut]...we could cook those in probably thirty to forty minutes." Take it from me that the meat does not suffer from the hasty treatment, and they're able to do it so quickly because their meat is cooked directly over wood coals—not much different than grilling steaks on your charcoal grill at home.

Brisket and a pork chop from Cooper's.
The offerings at Cooper's.
Sacrilege, you say? Remember that the cooking apparatus which is still called a 'pit' is a lexicographic remnant from the days when holes were dug in the ground and meat was cooked on metal grates directly over the coals. This was the preferred method of another politician, LBJ, who favored the open pit style of his pitmaster-in-chief Walter Jetton. It was good enough for the Chancellor of West Germany at an event on LBJ's ranch which came to be known as the 'Barbecue Summit."

Even among cooks who use the new-fangled contraptions called indirect smokers, there are those who prefer hot & fast. Roy Perez of the famous Kreuz Market boasts smoker temps that reach 600 degrees routinely, while third generation pitmaster John Mueller cranks it up to 450 when cooking some of the best beef in Texas. All of these are just examples about how difficult and fruitless it is to impose rules and restrictions on what is and what is not barbecue. Meat and smoke can come together in many beautiful ways.