My father was a Texas Oilman and Rancher that traveled all over the State for his business. Sometimes he would take me along on his road trips and my favorite thing would be when we stopped for lunch. Dad knew every good hole-in-the-wall Barbecue place in Central and West Texas. We would always get some brisket and sometimes sausage links or ribs with onion, jalapeno and bread. No beans, potato salad or other sides were bought, I was taught that the meat was the reason we were there. My father was quite the BBQ Pitmaster himself and was always looking at different styles of Barbecue smoker designs and had several different ones made. I can remember my family cooking briskets, sausage links and ribs for church and school fundraisers along with family barbecue get-togethers. As I grew older I was always asking the pitmasters at each place we stopped questions about how they cooked, seasoned the meat, what type of wood they preferred and any other things I could get them to tell me. In those days many of the pits were made of sheet steel, brick or stone. Most were simply a long rectangle with a lid to lift and a grill to put meat on. Fires sometimes burned at one end and the smoke passed through the pit around the meat to a smoke stack at the other end or smoke simply rose through the meat and found its way out of the pit around the lid. My favorite places to eat had long, steel pits that they shoveled coals into a door at one end or at the back of the pit. Most barbecue places today use modern-type offset smokers with many now using smokers that burn pellets or lump charcoal. A few of the best Texas style barbecue joints still use the old type pits and cook with real wood coals. I realize that barbecue is done different all over the country and I am sure many methods are excellent. My goal here is to simply give you the instructions to make a simple Texas style box pit and how to use it. I am going to show pictures of my latest pit construction along with recipes for rubs, sauces and how to cook a Texas style brisket, ribs, sausage and other cuts of meat. My pit is three feet wide, three feet tall and 6 feet long.
The grill of expanded metal sits on a rail about 10 inches deep in the pit. The frame is one inch steel tubing but I have used angle iron with equal success. The covering is simply sheet metal I had left over from constructing a metal building. I have seen these pits built out of stone, brick, sheet steel and other materials. Some buddies and I even built one to use at a deer camp by stacking concrete blocks and using a piece of scrap metal for the lid. I put a metal counterweight on the back of my pit lid to help with opening and closing the heavy lid or hold it open while I tend to the meat. You don’t need to worry about a smoke stack to draw the smoke out as you will be shoveling wood coals or lump charcoal coals into the end of the pit under the meat and the smoke will rise through the meat and find its way out of the pit. I build a fire of oak or mesquite in a fire ring close enough to the pit so I can put a shovel full of coals in the pit as needed. I cut a door in the sheet metal where I shovel in coals directly under the grill on one end of the pit. Sometimes if I am in a hurry or just cooking a small amount of meat I use lump oak or mesquite charcoal and shovel it in the pit when it is burning and covered with white ash. The great thing about this type pit is you can use it to cook for just a couple of people or it will handle enough meat for a hundred people depending on what you cook. You can cook a half a deer, hog, lamb or goat on this pit if you need to.
I am going to give you some family recipes and then tell you how to I use them and some tips on how I cook meat. I will also give you a temperature guide for cooking and wrapping your meats. I don’t use a thermometer much anymore as I kind of know what I am looking for in the meat bark and pretty much can tell when I want to wrap it and when I want to take it off the pit. If you don’t have a lot of experience with barbecue, by all means use a thermometer as good meat is too expensive to mess up. The methods and recipes here are from my family, friends and other Texas pit masters that have shared with me through the years. There are lots of other recipes, methods and opinions out there. With that said here are some of mine. The meat rub: I use a simple four part rub made of kosher salt, course ground black pepper, garlic powder and allspice. In a quart jar use equal parts salt and pepper with about a teaspoon of garlic powder and a teaspoon of allspice and mix well. I wet the meat with Worcestershire sauce, olive oil or vinegar whatever I have the most of usually. I then liberally rub the rub all over the meat to give it a good coating and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour and sometimes even overnight. This is what will give you a good bark or crust on your meats and enhance the flavor. The mop: I take one cup of barbecue sauce (I will give you my recipe), three cups of water and one cup of vinegar to which I add some sliced onion and a quartered lemon. Place a half stick of butter in this mixture and place in a pot or pan on the grill in the pit to heat. This is simply used to mop or dip the meat pieces as needed in order to give the meat moisture as it is cooking. You can find a meat mop in many grocery stores or online, it looks just like a miniature floor mop and works great. An old cup towel or rag works just as good. The sauce: Good barbecue does not really need sauce but lots of people like to have some on the side so here is an easy one that most seem to like. I never baste meat on the pit with sauce as it will caramelize and burn, which is not the flavor you or looking for.
This is a basic Texas style sauce and you can add different spices if you want more heat or substitute molasses, sorghum or other syrup for the brown sugar.
1 32 ounce bottle of ketchup
½ cup of brown sugar
½ cup of molasses
1 cup of vinegar
½ cup of water
½ teaspoon liquid smoke
1 tablespoon meat rub
1 tablespoon of course ground pepper
This is the basic sauce feel free to add more pepper, sugar, cumin, chili powder, paprika, your favorite hot sauce or other spices. Experiment and come up with your own. I sometimes add leftover strong coffee for an espresso sauce or substitute pickled jalapeno juice instead of vinegar for a more spicy sauce. Cooking the meats: In Texas, barbecue almost always includes brisket so I will cover how to cook a Texas style brisket and then cover some other basics. Remember this is how I do it and there are many more ways to cook a brisket and many more opinions. This method has always turned out a good product for my family. I usually pick smaller briskets with lots of meat. I buy packer trim as I want to trim the fat myself so any of the fat that will render as it cooks is left on the brisket to keep it moist and flavorful. Pick a brisket that is flexible. The brisket that does not flex well when you bend it usually has more hard fat that lean meat. Take the brisket out of the plastic and trim off only the hard fat. Wet it down and cover with rub and set aside to rest until you are ready to place on the pit. You will also be able to cook prime ribs, large roasts and other large cuts of meat the same way. When you have your wood coals or lump charcoal burning and ready shovel into the pit, add the coals and let the pit get up to cooking heat. I try to cook somewhere between 250-350 degrees Fahrenheit. Again the temperature is not critical it just makes the cook longer or slower. One good thing about this kind of pit is you can place the meat directly over the coals and if it is cooking to fast or trying to burn just move it to the part of the pit where the meat is away from the coals it will keep cooking and smoking. I try not to check the meat too often as it lets heat out of the pit, but I do check the meat now and then. If it is getting dry, I mop the meat to add moisture. I wrap my briskets and other meats when they have the desired bark and color. If you are unsure stick a meat thermometer in the meat and take a reading, somewhere between 150-165 degrees is about right for a brisket. I wrap my meat in paper not aluminum foil. I believe meat steams in foil and then tastes and has the texture of roast beef not barbecue. I like to use the pink butcher paper as it works well for me. If you use white waxed butcher paper place the waxed side out away from the meat. I have used plain brown wrapping paper and even paper sacks from the grocery store and the meat comes out fine. The paper will allow the meat to breathe, not steam, and continue cooking without over smoking and getting dry. At around 185-195 degrees I take the paper wrapped brisket and place in an ice chest (without the ice of course) lined with old towels. Cover with an old towel and shut in the ice chest for at least an hour or until you plan to slice it and serve. This allows the meat to continue to tenderize and take a set so it will slice clean. Slice across the grain and serve. Any large cut of meat I do very similar, ribs I simply cook until they have the color and bark I desire. They will bend and start to break when you try to pick them up with a meat fork from one end. When they reach this point simply wrap in paper and place in ice chest until ready to serve. On chicken and steaks I can tell by color and crust if they are ready or not. Use a thermometer until you are a good judge on these. On this type of pit you can hold most any meat for quite a while by simply wrapping in paper and placing on the far side of the pit away from the coals. Give this style pit and these methods a try and I believe you will find them a favorite method of yours also. Several generations of Texans swear by it. Wild Ed