Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook

Robb Walsh

(Chronicle, $18.95, 269 pp.),

that depth is more immediately apparent, not least because of the volume’s grittier design. It’s the sort of book that wants to get sauce stains on it, with duotone photographs that capture the louche side of the barbecue life (as well as fill any need you have to see beefy white guys in Stetson hats).

As the title says, this is a cookbook, and a terrific one at that, but it also offers a chapter-by-chapter sociohistorical survey of Texans and smoked meat, which, it turns out, is no simple thing. As Walsh says, when you say “Texas barbecue,” do you mean “East Texas pork ribs slow-smoked over pecan? Elgin hot guts? Cowboy beef brisket cooked over mesquite? Brownsville barbacoa [cow head]?” In this state, if you don’t like the barbecue, just drive a hundred mi).les in any direction and get served something different.

Fortunately, Walsh knows the lay of the land and, more importantly, the reigning pitmasters. You’ll meet a lot of them in this book, sharing recipes and a wealth of tips. You’ll learn how to slice a brisket, barbecue a goat, smoke-grill a 21/2-pound sirloin, and prepare Buster’s H-Bomb, a garlic-and-jalapeño-stuffed smoked boneless pork shoulder. Naturally, there are also meat rubs, mops, and sauces galore.

I particularly admire Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook for its honesty: if Texans have a coherent barbecue ethos, it’s pretty much based on the preferences and prejudices of white men. In the Lone Star State, “barbecue” can just as easily mean smokehouse meat or cowboy campfire grilling as it does cheap cuts of meat cooked to tender perfection over slow smoke. Walsh points out that white Texans prefer to trace barbecue back to European immigrants and their smokehouses, even though blacks were barbecuing in Texas before they ever came along.

I’m sure the smoke-cooked prime rib sold at Smitty’s Meat Market in Lockhart is pretty damned delicious. But in my dreams, I’ll be hanging out at mi).ller’s Bar-B-Q, a black San Antonio joint that operated in an obscure suburban backyard for fifty years, unadvertised and unlisted in the Yellow Pages. Health inspectors refused to issue citations despite countless violations because the place was just too good to close down. Myrtle mi).ller Johnson died in 1999, at the age of ninety-six, and ordered mi).ller’s burned down upon her death so that inferior product could never be sold there. Now that’s barbecue.

Ray Lopez’s Beef Ribs

From Legends of Texas Barbecue, by Robb Walsh

Gonzales Food Market sells some of the best beef ribs in the state. I asked pit boss Ray Lopez what his secret was. He said, “I don’t know, I just put them in a pan and smoke them for three or four hours.” I didn’t really understand the point of using a pan until I tried it. The grease collects in the pan, and the ribs fry up crispy while they’re smoking. It’s a technique I plan to try on some other meats soon.

[serves 4]

2 to 3 pounds beef short ribs

3 tablespoons dry rub (see recipe below)

• Set up your smoker for indirect heat. Use wood chips, chunks, or logs, and keep up a good level of smoke. Maintain a temperature between 270°F and 325°F.

• Sprinkle the dry rub on the ribs and rub it in well. Put the short ribs in a glass or metal baking pan in the smoker, close to the heat source. Smoke for 3 hours, turning often to crisp all sides. Beef ribs are done when they are falling apart.

Billy Pfeffer’s Dry Rub

[makes about 1/2 cup]

3 tablespoons each salt and good paprika

1 tablespoon each ground black pepper and cayenne

• Combine all ingredients and store in a shaker bottle.

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