Since I seem to be in the midst of a thematic mini-trend about Texas, here’s an older bit that is making its Bonnywood debut. Enjoy.
1. The intense and possibly gun-drawing pride.
As with most things, Texans are almost militantly proud of their barbecue. In the mind of a Texan, barbecue prepared anywhere else in the country or the world can’t even begin to compete. In fact, if you are visiting the state, and you stupidly happen to mention a fondness for barbecue from a foreign land like Kansas City, Atlanta or one of those trashy Carolina settlements, it is perfectly legal for you to be killed on the spot. The Texas Rangers will even hold you in place until the offended Texan can locate one of his many firearms and then terminate your daring rudeness.
2. Mooing, not oinking.
For a barbecue event of any kind to receive official Texas approval, a cow has to die. Beef is essential, and there are to be no refutations to this edict. Yes, you’re allowed to fiddle around with sausages and pulled pork, maybe even some chicken or turkey, all that lesser mess, as long as doing so doesn’t distract from the main attraction. Beef is king. This phrase can be found chiseled on many a gravestone in the Lone Star State.
After these two indisputable facts have been understood by all and the unbelievers have been dealt with, we then enter the section of Barbecue Law classified as “still Texan but some disagreement is allowed concerning the finer details”. You should be aware of all arguments in order to survive any social occasion…
3. Degree of moisture.
There are those who prefer that their barbecued meat contain so much juice that simply poking it with a fork can result in the total drenching of everyone in a five-table radius. Meat was meant to be succulent, brook no compromise. On the flip side, we have the Rawhide Rowdies who insist on a degree of juice-negating crispness that will leave you thirsty for the rest of your life. There is no middle ground, it’s either saturation or Sahara.
4. Appropriate time for sauciness.
Three camps here: Those who slavishly slather their meat with barbecue sauce from the time it is butchered through the entire cooking process and up to the moment just before a morsel enters your mouth. Next up are the folks who cook dryly but then offer up vats of simmering nectar for dunking and drowning at the table. Finally, we have the aficionados who affirm that meat and sauce should never meet or the world will end. This trifecta of variance has led to a number of civil wars over the years.
5. Slice-and-dice or the whole shebang.
This pertains to the sausages, and discussion only comes into play once you have satisfied the beef-must-be-the-main-feature regulation and the Texas Rangers have left the building. The actual cooking of sausages and links, of course, involves doing so with the tubes relatively intact. (Otherwise, you would have a mess that no one is happy about.) But for serving purposes, debate once again ensues.
One clan prefers that a sausage be placed on their plate in the formative state, leaving it up to the consumer to either whip out an always-handy knife and proceed with the carving-fest, or gnaw at the entire tube, taking bites as needed. (Understandably, this method is very popular in Red Light districts.) The other clan clamors for the sausage to be pre-hacked, resulting in an array of meaty coinage that can then be drenched in sauce and speared with a fork or a finger or a grenade clip. Leftover discs (which are rare) can be used as spares in a checkers game should someone drunkenly lose one of the original playing pieces. (Astonishing as it may seem, some Texans do engage in games of skill that require planning and analytical thinking, although you wouldn’t know it based on the clueless people that often get elected to public office.)
6. The productivity of ribs.
This factor is dependent on your degree of willingness to invest extensive physicality into your meal. Some folks will stop at nothing to get at the tender meat, spending hours gnawing at a bone to find the treasure. Others have busier schedules and will often pass up this labor-intensive barbecue selection that can require you to rearrange your entire schedule to allow enough time for consumption.
7. Mustard or mayo when it comes to spuds.
You must have potato salad in some form, that much is non-negotiable. But the method of preparation is firmly divided into two camps. We have the creaminess converts, who insist that mayonnaise is an essential, preferably primary, ingredient for the potato salad to be deemed worthy. On the other side of the campground are the tangy touters, convinced that the salad is simply not edible unless things are spicy and yellow. Both parties agree, however, that the mixing of the two condiments is akin to devil’s work and should never be attempted.
8. The coleslaw conundrum.
Once again, two distinct masses of followers. We have the folks who must have coleslaw with their barbecue, whether you make it with mayo, mustard or bacon grease. You cannot shirk this necessity, and the shame of not shredding cabbage when one should is cause for endless humiliation and life-long banishment. On the other page, we have the folks who will never eat anything that isn’t meat and/or potatoes, thus avoiding non-starchy vegetables of any kind regardless of the preparation or presentation skills of the cook, the flow of alcohol, or local governmental rulings.
You never wear one. End of story. (Related note: Despite the lack of drippage protection, you must be willing to attack your meal with a gusto, using your bare hands whenever necessary, especially after you have knocked your cutlery to the floor in a power-play to grab the last remaining cut of brisket.)
This you do. You do not ignore any juices, sauces or liquid fat that may misbehave and adhere to your digits. You go after these escapees with a vengeance, sucking at your fingers with enough intensity to peel the chrome off a trailer hitch. If such behavior embarrasses you in any way, then you really shouldn’t have come into the restaurant. Or the state of Texas.
Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” way back in the day. Some changes made for this post. My personal preferences: My fave barbecue meat is sausage, followed closely by turkey, so I’m already at odds with most Texans. I want my meat juicy, which should not come as a surprise, and I want enough sauce that the items on my plate can do the backstroke. I don’t care if the sausage is cut or uncut, I just want it. I never get the ribs, because life is too short. I like all kinds of potato salad, bring it on. I’m also a fan of coleslaw, but I like it creamily drenched, not dry. (That mess where some folks just shred some cabbage and sprinkle a dash of vinegar? Not for me.) I never wear a bib. And yes, I suck.
Story behind the photo: This is my actual dinner plate from a nephew’s wedding that I attended in Houston a few months ago. Some of you may note the exuberance of pickles and onions. This was not covered in my above treatise, since it’s not really a Texas thing, but I must have both of those condiments when I eat barbecue or my life is not complete.
Speaking of that wedding, here’s a bonus shot of Partner and I at said shindig. As you can see, we have our own unique conception of proper wedding attire.
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