Friday, July 3, 2015
Thoughts on Brisket Rub and Texas Barbecue
I grew up in a Texas meat-eating family. My father was a flying oilman rancher and barbecue or steaks were often a meal time experience at our house. As we traveled the State we often stopped at Barbecue shacks, some great, some OK and some not worth the time and money. We always located the good barbecue in towns close to our family ranches and homes. I ate in some of the holy grails of barbecue and met many of the pit masters that put out meat that would compete with many today that claim titles. I ate in places like Llano, Mason, Elgin, Taylor, Abilene, Eastland, Cisco, Midland, Lockhart, Cherokee, Tyler, San Saba, Brownwood, Brady, San Antonio, Buffalo Gap along with many others all over the State. I know that there were other pit masters out there that I did not get to try, that were just as good, a few maybe better. I also met some others along the way that were not even in the barbecue business but could put out as good a brisket as most any barbecue place. You have to remember this was long before Texas Monthly or any other publication put out their opinions of great barbecue.
By the time I was fourteen I had my own sauce and rub recipes along with a certain style of cooking which I perfected over the next forty something years. In the early 1960s my father had a special pit welded up at the ranch with a firebox at one end that had a fire shield between the meat and fire, with a tall smoke stack at the other end. It was an eight foot long kind of portable pit based on Tommy Cooper's pits in Llano. I cooked everything from deer, turkey, chicken, goat, lamb, pork butts and hams on that pit. We even smoked oysters in the shell and fish on the pit. Some of my fondest memories were of my younger brother and I wrapping deer hams and shoulders with bacon and slow smoking them over pecan coals on that pit. People would try to bust a gut on that venison and it made the best chopped sandwiches with a little sauce, onion and pickle relish. The best meat of all were the wonderful briskets cooked for long hours (briskets were only about forty nine cents a pound back then). I can remember having to get up in the middle of the night to go wrap the briskets in brown paper grocery sacks and check the fire so they would be ready for lunch the next day. I learned so much on that pit through the years. I discovered that really good barbecue took lots of time, it was not something you put on the pit that morning and took off at lunch, except maybe for chicken, sausage or ribs. The San Saba ranch where Dad kept the pit had a pecan orchard and many of those meats were cooked over pecan, though oak and cured mesquite were often used. I can remember Dad having me and the ranch hands load that pit on a trailer along with plenty of wood to do fund raiser barbecues for churches, children's homes and a local college in the Abilene area. That old pit cooked tons of meat and had to be re-welded with a fresh steel plate firebox twice through the years. It taught me a lifetime of barbecue smoking lessons. The pit went with the ranch when Dad sold out and I hope it was treated well.
I have used and tasted rubs from all over and people have sent me samples of their concoctions to try out. I came to the opinion about twenty five years ago that simple was best and it has worked great for us through the years. Many have tasted my cooking and tried to figure out my rub and/or sauce recipes when if they had just asked I would have happily given it to them. For those of you that wanted the rub recipe and thought it was a secret here it is in it's entirety.
Wild Ed's Brisket Rub
3 cups of Restaurant Grade Black Pepper (Always remember fine ground pepper adds heat, course ground pepper adds flavor, my advice is stay away from the fine grinds)
3 cups of Kosher Salt
1 Tablespoon of Garlic Powder
1 Tablespoon of Allspice
I often use this same mixture to season ground meats for stuffing into fresh link sausage for the pit. For dried or smoked sausage you need to add cure.
Mix well and use as a rub or meat seasoning. We keep a shaker of this on our cook top to season most every dish we cook from breakfast to supper. You can multiply or divide the amounts to make a much larger or smaller amount if needed.
I will try and put some of my barbecue sauce recipes and cooking methods on here as time allows in the future. I want to remind you that recipes will not make you a great backyard barbecue cook, that comes from the cooking method and experience. I am going to go out on a limb here and tell you if you want to learn how to do a really good, consistent brisket, which is the goal of most good pit masters, you need to buy a copy of Franklin Barbecue A Meat Smoking Manifesto it will educate you in many ways and get you started while putting you way ahead on the learning curve.
Now go visit some of the great places you have seen written or heard talked about. I will recommend a few for you to visit that are some of my favorites. Some may no longer be in business and some may have changed hands... such is the world of Texas barbecue. Some are under the same name but not the same barbecue. First on my list is Franklin's in Austin, then also in Austin John Mueller's place if he is still cooking, Mueller's in Taylor, Snow's in Lexington, Cooper's in Llano and the original Cooper's in Mason, Joe Allen's and Harold's in Abilene, Big Boys in Sweetwater, ALL the places in Lockhart and Luling, Perini's in Buffalo Gap, Southside in Elgin, Opie's in Spicewood and Southside in Cherokee. If you are on the East or Northeast side of Texas I 35 other than Taylor or Lexington or north of I 20 you will have to find them yourself as I have not been there in years. I am sure there are many other greats out there and if you have a favorite feel free to post a comment or fill out the contact form on this page. If you really feel strong about it, come pick me up and take me to go eat some barbecue and we can decide what we think together. When you visit try to see how they cook, check out the pits, the wood used and ask questions. Just watch and be aware and you can learn unbelievable amounts of information. If you are nice and a PAYING customer many will give you great advice and then some people are just, well you know. Most are proud of what they do and glad to tell their methods. Pick the style you like and work on perfecting your method so it comes out consistent each time you cook.
Remember the above comments are my opinion and you are free to form you own. Many others will agree or disagree, it is all in the opinion of the person eating or cooking the meat. I am of the opinion the Texas Style of barbecue is unique, I realize that some people don't come from Texas and that they have memories of the barbecue in their State, fantastic for them, it is just not Texas barbecue. I am very biased and Texas barbecue is enough for me to master in one lifetime. No insult meant but I don't care how they made it back home. One of the great things about Texas barbecue is that there is always somewhere else to try out and another great pit boss waiting to be discovered.
Have fun in your search and good eating, Wild Ed.
I dedicate this article to Tommy Cooper, who shared his recipes and methods and always had time to answer my questions. Also to my Dad, Doyle Thomas, who taught me about barbecue and took me to pits all over the State. Tommy Cooper and Doyle Thomas both gone from this life too early and both great at their own style of smoking Texas barbecue. Miss you Dad, my wish is that you could see your grandkids and great grandkids, they turned out pretty good. My girls even know how to smoke a good Texas style brisket thanks to the spark you started.