It’s just one of those things – Texas should be so large a state as to have not one, but several different regional variants in barbeque stylings. Yes, in less-blessed climes, barbeque is done by just throwing your choice of animal flesh on the grill on the back porch and allowing it to char slowly over the coals or (byte ones tongue) propane flame. I have even run across *shudder* recipes for marinated and grilled slabs of tofu.
Sorry – barbeque here means mainly beef, although pork, turkey, chicken, sausages, and even cabrito – or goat and mutton – makes an appearance in the borderland Hispanic variant of barbecoa. There is the east Texas variant; marinated beef cooked slowly over hickory wood until the meat falls from the bone and served with a thick, tomato-based sauce, the central Texas option; beef or other meats rubbed with spices and cooked slowly over pecan or oak wood, and the south Texas style which features cooking over mesquite – an acquired taste. South Texas style preference is for a thick sauce and moist meat. A great many of the old established independent barbeque places began as meat markets, where the butcher – in the days before deep-freeze refrigeration – thriftily began to smoke and slow-cook all those leftover or unsellable bits at the end of the day, providing them as ready-to-eat morsels the next day. Waste not, want not, as the saying goes.
Frankly, to me, it’s all good, no matter what variant and the selection of commercial sauces available at the local HEB will prove that we love it here, either D-I-Y or from the local maestro of the pit. In the main, people here have high standards when it comes to making barbeque themselves, and adamant concerning the virtues of all those places which provide it; from chains like Bill Miller with outlets everywhere, through enormous single-standing locations like the Kreus Market in Lockhart, and then there are tiny and often locally famous places – like the Riverside Meat Market in Boerne (cunningly disguised as a meat market in the back of a corner Shell gas station) – and even the peripatetic Smoke Shack, a food truck which is usually, but not always to be found just inside the 410 Loop at Nacogdoches, parked in what used to be a gas station. Aficionados will drive any number of miles to sample the glories of an independent barbeque outlet … and many other aficionados will also pay interestingly substantial amounts for grills and smokers of every description, although I will note that to the hard-core, propane is frowned upon. It’s all in the wood and cooking it long and slow, in the flavored smoke. For a while, I had one of those inexpensive barrel-shaped cylindrical smoker-griller things, which did an amazing job for the price – save that I had to cook a huge lot at a time, which was only cost-effective if I was expecting to feed a small army on hickory-smoked chicken.
These days, I have to cheat, with my daughter’s propane grill from Lowe’s – which does the job – and I suspect that if I tinkered with it a bit, and figured out a way to put in a pan of soggy wood-chips and keep the heat really, really low – I might have some decently-flavored barbeque.
A couple of years ago, we had a celebration supper at our place, using a recipe for chicken, from the Barefoot Contessa cookbook. The sauce is sublime and hereby passed on.
Sauté until translucent in ½ cup oil: 1 ½ cups chopped onions and 1 Tbsp minced garlic. Add: 1 cup tomato paste, 1 cup cider vinegar, 1 cup honey, ½ cup Worcestershire sauce, 1 cup Dijon mustard, ½ cup soy sauce, 1 cup Hoisin sauce, 2 Tbsp chili powder, 1 Tbsp ground cumin, and ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes. Simmer uncovered, over low heat for half an hour.
Cut up 2 2½ -3 lb chickens, and marinate them overnight in 2/3rds of the sauce. Roast them over low heat for about 45 minutes, basting them with marinade. Serve with the reserved sauce on the side.