History of Smoking Briskets in Texas
There are four distinct ways to smoke a brisket in Texas!
West Texas Barbecue
There is the Western Way which is primarily done in West Texas. It was developed during the height of the famous cattle drives. This method is more like grilling as opposed to smoking a brisket. Normally a pit was dug and the meat was placed over the flame for cooking. Since the most readily available wood was mesquite, the cook often had a supply of mesquite handy for cooking the meals. This gave it that signature mesquite flavor that is still sought after to this day. After years of practice, the cook knew how long to cook the meat so that it had a good flavor and was sought after. Barbecue beans and white bread were often the only sides to go with what the cook had prepared.
South Texas Barbecue
The South Texas Barbecue uses a sweet sauce that has a molasses base. The meat is marinated and cooked in the sauce to seal the meat to help it retain its moisture. South Texas Barbecue is influenced by its neighbor to the south. Mexican cuisine has had a direct impact on barbecue in this part of Texas using a wide variety of spices and herbs. They also introduced the diaphragm and cow’s head to the local cuisine. The Mexican cowboys were often paid with the less desirable cuts of meat as part of their pay. The diaphragm was used at first in fajitas. The cow’s head was wrapped in maguey leaves and put in a pit and cooked until it was done. Some of the other meats that were introduced to South Texas Barbecue were goat, lamb and sheep. Beef was still king of the barbecue.
Central Texas Barbecue
Central Texas Barbecue was developed by immigrants to the Hill Country of central Texas. They were primarily from Germany and the Czech republic. Central Texas pit masters were famous for slow cooking their meats. They did not use sauces as a rule. The main seasonings they used on their meat was salt and pepper. They were famous for their sausages. The meats that were not sold in a timely manner were slow cooked for preservation. Slow cooking took a lot of time and effort. The pits were basically pits that had been dug and lined with brick for heat retention and control of the cooking time. The people liked the slow cooked meats and sausages so much that they started buying those as well. There were two reasons for this. The first reason was it made it easy to have a quick meal and the second reason was the added length of time it could be eaten before it spoiled. This was in a time before refrigeration. Finding a way to keep meats was of paramount importance to everyone.
East Texas Barbecue
East Texas Barbecue is said to have been developed by slaves who were freed at the end of the Civil War. Beef was king but there was an addition to the beef and that was pork. The most common pork used was a pork shoulder(butt) and ribs. We are talking full slab and not spare ribs. “Low and slow” is often a term often used with barbecue in East Texas. Another expression that is used quite often in East Texas is “fall off the bone”. This refers to how tender the meat is after slow-cooking, it literally falls off the bone. Some say that East Texas barbecue is marinating in a tomato-based sauce.
Make it your own
Making it your own style of smoking is not that hard. You need to have the desire to try knew recipes, listen to more experienced grillers and have patience when something does not work out the way you want it to.
You may want to try a different rub or marinade. You may want to try different woods for use in the smoking process. Whatever you decide on, keep an open mind with the results. You will have more failures than successes. The failures are necessary so you can find out what your weaknesses are. Listen, observe and learn. This way you will grow in experience and in favor of those you cook for. Trying different woods can be tricky. You need to find out what flavor most people like. Try one for yourself first and see how you like it and if you got the results that you want.
You must be willing to take risks with family and friends about the flavor, tenderness and whether they would want to try it again. You need to take notes, take pictures and possibly video the event. If you decide to video, you will find there are numerous tools available to edit your production.
Texas has a history of innovation and trying knew ideas with most things. However, Texans are proud of their briskets, sausages and ribs. To the average Texan, respect the meat. The flavor and tenderness are key to Texans. You can dress it up any way you want if you respect the meat. Trying knew recipes is fairly common in Texas but expect for them to put their signature on it to claim it for themselves. It may be an added spice or a change in the marinade or in the time smoked but it will be there.
Most Texans once they have found the right method for them will not allow for any kind of negative comments to what they love. Some may get just downright hostile to you if you do not like their version of smoking. They are fiercely proud of their accomplishments. They hope to one day be recognized for the amount of time of trial and error they spent in their effort to find smoking perfection. All of that being said, try to find your own path. Explore the different methods, find the one that suits you and your family and friends best.