So what is Hill Country style BBQ!

In the mid 1800’s, Texas experienced a huge immigration of Germans and Czech’s. A few families, rooted in tradition, opened old world style butcher shops. They sold premium cuts of beef to the wealthy, along with fresh bread, produce and other basic goods. Using tried and true European techniques, they preserved and tenderized the cheaper cuts by either smoking them low and slow, or making sausage the same they would have back home.

When these age old German methods adapted to local Texas ingredients like beef, post oak wood (an abundant type of white oak, traditionally used for fence post) and chilies, Texas BBQ planted it's roots. Because it was the poor farmers who were eating the "BBQ", they could only afford day old bread or crackers, and an occasional onion or tomato with the meat. This authentic style of cooking and service, along with other quirky but practical traditions, is known today as “Meat Market” or “Hill Country” style BBQ.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What is BBQ?

This opens up a huge can of worms, but simply stated BBQ is the cooking of food with indirect heat, usually provided from the burning of a flavorful wood. There are hundreds of variations, and even more theories, but this is as simple an explanation as possible.

Do clarify things a bit more, indirect heat is best attained in a 2 chamber system, ie... the fire is built in one chamber, and the hot smoke is directed to the food chamber. This can also be achieved with a charcoal or gas single chamber grill, by placing the food on one side, and heating the other side. If you are limited to the more common single chamber equipment, you can throw wood chips on the fire for flavor.

The more common form of BBQ, which is not BBQ at all is direct cooking or grilling. This is how you cook burgers, with the food directly over the heat source. People often assume when you grill chicken over an open flame, then burn BBQ sauce on it, that you have made BBQ chicken. I don't want to knock this cooking method, I do it all the time, it is simple and fast, but technically it is not BBQ.

For those of you with a Weber BBQ, check out this book!

If you have been in 1 or 2 backyards, then you have for sure come across a Weber. They are known as kettle BBQ's and are usually black and sort of a dome shape. It is a long but interesting story how they came about, but simply stated they were invented by a man named Stephen Weber while working at his fathers steel factory in Chicago. He could not BBQ in the winter with the cold winds, so he cut a buoy in half (yes those things that float in the ocean as markers for different things) drilled some holes in it, put some legs on it and added a grate. The design has not changed much, but what you can do with them has. They have become extremely versatile and a great piece of BBQ equipment that can also be used a grill. Anyways, there is great book that I have used for years called "Weber's, Art of the Grill" it does a great job explaining how to properly set up the grill as a BBQ, Smoker or Grill and has fantastic recipes that are very accurate.

Friday, March 7, 2008

A great Smoker (BBQ) for beginers, the Bar B Chef

For those of you a position like I was a few years ago, wanting to step up from your back yard grill to something that will allow you to properly BBQ, but don't want to spend a bundle of money or don't have the space for a huge smoker, I have got the perfect smoker for you. I bought the Bar B Chef (they sell a stater package for $30 bucks more, but it is not worth it, please check future post or e-mail me for specifics, I will tell you what you need to get started) from BBQ Galore and though a series of trials and errors, have gotten this think to work pretty darn well.

The Bar B Chef is a traditional style off-set smoker, meaning the firebox and smoke chamber are separate, allowing you to properly BBQ food via indirect heat. Basically, you build your fire on the left side in the fire box, this unit is not strong enough or big enough to burn wood alone, so use a good quality natural charcoal with some wood chunks. The smoke and heat is vented into the smoke chamber where you can cook a whole brisket and a chicken, about 4 slabs of ribs, 4 pork butts, or any other combination. I will provide tips for setting up the smoker in another post, but setup properly you should expect to get 3-4 hours of unattended smoking without too much change in temperature. Enough time to do pork or beef ribs, chicken, beef jerky, sausage, tri-tip, pork roast, prime rib and anything else you can think of, without needing to add more charcoal.

Due to the smokers relatively inexpensive price, it is made out of very thin metal, so it does not hold heat great, there are better units on the market, but not for under $1000. The Bar B Chef is a great way to experiment with a smoker and see if it is hobby you are willing to make a real investment in.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Why does Texas love an "ice cold one" with their BBQ?

Facing economic turmoil in the 19th century, Germans were lured by letters describing the untapped potential of Texas. They chose to leave Europe amidst growing economic problems and overpopulation, launching a massive migration to the eventual state of Texas.

Although there were a few Germans in Texas when the area was under Spanish and Mexican rule, the first permanent settlement of Germans was in Austin County, established by Friedrich Ernst an
d Charles Fordtran in the early 1830s. Ernst wrote a letter to a friend in his native Oldenburg which was published in the newspaper there. His description of Texas was so influential in attracting German immigrants to that area that he is remembered as "The Father of German Immigration to Texas." By the 1840s, the social, economic, and technological conditions in Germany, coupled with the availability of lands in Texas frontier, created an ideal climate for an influx of immigrants.

Where there are Germans, there is beer and still to this day, Germany is the largest brewing and beer consumption country, per capita, in the world, second only to Ireland. The German immigrants brought their old family recipes and techniques, eventually changing the beer industry in America forever. Along with their strict beer brewing technique, came a very refined art for butchering, sausage making and smoking meat. These old butcher shops and meat markets would eventually create what is known today as Texas BBQ, or more specifically Hill Country BBQ.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Are your ribs really smoked...?

How can you tell if the brisket or ribs at your local BBQ joint are really smoked, or if they are pulling a fast one on you? First of all, the flavor and texture of meat that is properly smoked is impossible to duplicate. It can only come from the long and slow exposure to right kind of wood. I know what you are thinking, and no you can't! Under no circumstance can you use liquid smoke for anything. It is created from the residue left on the walls in commercial smokers. The sticky brown goop is scraped off, boiled with water and food coloring, then bottled. It is full of dangerous carcinogens and just tastes awful. So back to the question at at hand, besides the flavor, the best way to ensure that meat has been properly smoked, is by looking for what professionals call the smoke ring. The smoke ring is a pink ring that may range from 1/8 inch to 1/2 inch thick. In beef the ring is reddish-pink and in pork, chicken or turkey it is a much brighter pink. Bellow is an example of pork ribs (left) and brisket (right) from City Market in Luling, TX. Notice how much darker the ring is around the brisket. (The most Amazing Ribs in Texas)

I will avoid boring you to death by repeating your high school biology teachers lecture that you didn't care about then, and definitely don't care about now. Basically, meat gets it red color from myoglobin, burning wood emits notorious dioxide or NO2. The reaction of NO2 with the myoglobin, in a sense, "preserves" the meat, locking in the red color. The NO2 can only penetrate so far into the meat, which is why the meat does not turn pink all the way though. This reaction is very similar to one that occurs when meat is cured by marinating or rubbing it in a mixture of salt, spices, and nitrates. Bacon, ham and hot dogs are examples of meat that has been cured.

The one thing you have to be careful for is places that cook BBQ in combination smoker / gas ovens, or worse in a regular old gas oven. NO2 is a by product of natural gas and propane, along with other additives like sulfur, that make you meat taste and smell terrible.