Regional BBQ Styles: Texas

Grail Note: This is the third in a continuing series on what was initially going to be about the four major regional styles of BBQ in the United States, but now may be expanded to other regional styles across the globe.  I’ve already published posts on Carolina and Memphis styles.

Today’s guest blog post on Texas style BBQ brings back a lot of memories.  It was in Texas, while being stationed at Fort Hood in the 1970’s, that I first tasted brisket.  My love of BBQ started the second that brisket crossed by teeth and hit my tongue.  This blog post is written by Trey Moran who writes the Texas Food My Way blog.  You can also find Trey on Twitter spreading the word about BBQ.  Trey’s Texas BBQ knowledge was passed down from, Johnnie Moran, Sr., his grandfather, who is pictured here working a pit in 1950’s,

Smoke, that’s what it comes down to.  As you travel across the state of Texas you’ll find more styles of barbeque here than in any other state but what they all have in common is the smoke. It might be hickory, mesquite, oak or pecan but in the end the smoke is what makes or breaks it.

 A Basic History

Texan’s can trace their barbeque origins back before the earliest European settlers arrived. The Caddo Indians were cooking wild game over an open fire for hundreds of years. Mexicans were cooking barbacoa, meat wrapped in maguey leaves and buried in a pit with hot coals, long before the Battle of the Alamo.  Starting in the 1800’s settlers began to move into Texas from the southern states and with them came the open pit, cooking meats on a grate over a hole in the ground that contained a fire or hot coals. In the mid 1800’s there was a large migration of German and Czech immigrants who settled in the the Hill Country of Central Texas.  They brought with them the sausages and smokehouses from their homeland.   Beef became king in Texas after the Civil War and it quickly became the meat of choice for most regions in Texas.  Barbeques became huge social events throughout the state. Brisket, ribs and whole steers were cooked to feed the large crowds.  It wasn’t long before barbeque was synonymous with Texas.

Kruez Market woodpile


Each type of wood gives a different flavor profile.

Oak: Has a very mild flavor. Burns hot and long. Used for all types of meats, poultry and vegetables.  Often used in combination with other more intense woods to balance the flavor.

Pecan: Very mild with a little sweetness.  Goes well with all types of meats and poultry. Pecan shells are also a popular smoking choice when soaked in water.

Hickory: Very strong flavor, can be slightly sweet. Great for pork and turkey. One of the most common smoking woods.

Mesquite: Very strong and a very distinctive flavor. Can be bitter at times.  Great for beef or game. Mequite is very dense and burns extremely hot.

Pass (on) The Sauce

Any good Texas BBQ joint serves their meat dry.  Not dry as in a hunk of leather but dry as in without slathering it in sauce.  Sauce is an afterthought. It’s served on the side, if at all. To Texans, good barbeque does not need sauce.  Sure, there might be some sort of sauce, or “mop”, used during the cooking process but by the time the meat is on your plate that sauce has permeated the meat and left behind its sugars and spices or caramelized to helped to form a bark , or crust, on the outside.  We don’t drown the meat here. The meat stands on its own.  Any sauce that you do find in Texas will most likely be tomato based and it will probably have some heat to it.

Regional Differences

Salt Lick restaurant

In Central Texas, the German/Czech influence is everywhere. Brisket, sausages and pork ribs are seasoned with a dry rub and smoked for hours using pecan and/or oak. Many places still serve simply on butcher paper or market style.  Several old German style meat markets still exist in the Hill Country.

With East Texas there is a definite Southern influence.  Pork shoulder, pork ribs and sausage are cooked slowly until fall apart tender and you might find a hint of sauce here and there.  You’ll see hickory used a lot here.

South Texas brings in the Mexican influence.  Beef, goat and sheep are cooked directly on a fire or cooked barbacoa style.  You will find mesquite and oak used here.  Fajitas originated from this region.

Out in West Texas you might still find a few places still using an open pit but they are dying breed. Beef, goat and sheep are cooked using a more direct heat method  and mesquite is the primary wood.

Wrap It Up

Grill it, smoke it, dig a hole and cover it with hot rocks, barbeque is bigger than ever in Texas.  Many of the old time places such a Kruez Market in Lockhart and Louis Mueller’s in Taylor are packing in the customers while newer names such as Franklin Barbeque in Austin and Pecan Lodge in Dallas are serving to huge crowds almost every day of the week.  You would think with the huge number of barbeque joints we have here in Texas that there would be no room for anyone new.  But there is always room for good barbeque.

Trey’s Suggested Reading:

Note:  The picture of the Kreuz Market woodpile is reprinted, with permission, from Texas BBQ : Photographs by Wyatt McSpadden which I originally reviewed in 2009. Read that review here.

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