Barbecue is big business in Texas. It’s so big that different barbecuing styles are split between North, South, East and West Texas – everyone claims that theirs is the best. In eastern Texas, where I am now, meat is cooked until it is falling off the bone, smoked over hickory wood and marinated in a beyond sweet tomato based sauce to counteract the slightly acrid smokiness.
Southern Texas style is a little different, where meat is slathered in a molasses sauce which makes the meat pretty moist. Either way, barbecue here is taken damn seriously. Even as a non-meat eater I was keen to visit a few traditional barbecue joints because this stuff is the cornerstone of Texan society.
Traditional sides to a Texan BBQ are fries or a baked potato, coleslaw, black beans and perhaps a gherkin or two. These sides obviously differ depending on where you go, but there’s certainly something fascinating about having the enormous tray brought out from the smokepit and being given enough food to fuel a small family for a weekend for $12.99.
Non-meat eaters traditionally don’t get much of a look in when it comes to BBQ unless you’re a massive fan of potato, but sometimes that’s ok. Sometimes it’s fine to just sit in a huge, wooden shack, the windows darkened by years of smoking, and breathe in the smell of hickory and oak. There’s the obligatory stuffed deer standing by the counter, and tables are ramshackle and the floors are uneven.
This isn’t even completely for effect. BBQ joints are the epitome of rough and ready. On every table is a roll of kitchen towel more than a foot tall for mopping up juices, sauces and spills. There is a constant stream of people kicking back the swing saloon doors to the bathroom with their elbows, covered in BBQ sauces and chipotle.
Out back is where the magic happens, so there’s often a woody aroma wafting around these BBQ shacks. And maybe that’s why I like them so much. They don’t smell like meat, but they smell of the forest; that autumn smokiness when you light a bonfire using wet wood.
What’s interesting about BBQ here is that some places are trying to make the barbecue a more welcoming place for everyone. I’m almost with the school of people who say “leave it well alone. If you want vegan food, don’t come to a BBQ joint”. But then I suppose I like the idea of going with friends who want to really enjoy the meat and being able to eat something other than shoestring onion rings (did I mention that these were beyond incredible?).
Places like the Woodshed Smokehouse in Dallas are throwing things on to the grill that isn’t just slabs of meat. Among the typical offerings of pulled pork, chopped beef and brisket, there are a plethora of vegan/vegetarian friendly options. How about crispy potatoes with aioli, or smoked Texan peanuts and chili salt? Smoked artichokes covered with lemon? Or try the three kale salad, guacamole, and smoked pepita? Dig into the arugula, pickled red onion, smoked pecans, with orange supremes salad instead. Or opt for the slow smoked cauliflower with mornay sauce. I love how these dishes sit on the menu at no expense to pure, traditional BBQ items. No grumbling meat eaters because they’ve been dragged somewhere that only serves salad, and no sad, po-faced veggies who have to nibble on a lettuce leaf while looking mournful at the rack of ribs baked in sticky sauce.
Heaven. But sadly too far to walk to from our flat on the Katy Trail, so it’s being appreciated from afar. >