When it comes to barbecue in Texas, patrons are willing to stand in line for it, sometimes for hours. Barbecue has surpassed being just a dining option. It has its own culture in the Lone Star State.
What really sets Texas apart from other regions in America is that we love our beef.
“Texas barbecue is defined by what we call the Texas Trinity: brisket, ribs and sausage,” said Grant Pinkerton of Pinkerton’s BBQ, 1504 Airline Dr. “Those are the gold-standard meats of the Texas barbecue plate. Texas barbecue leans heavily on beef and thus the brisket’s popularity.”
In other states, such as Alabama or South Carolina, pork takes center stage. Pinkerton said some areas are known for smoking whole hogs, while others are known for butts and shoulders.
“(Other regions) all have one thing in common: barbecue, traditionally, to them is slow-smoked pork,” Pinkerton said. “We love our ribs here, but pulled pork takes a back seat to brisket. Brisket is king in Texas.”
Which meats are most popular in each region is usually determined by what drives the agriculture, said Greg Gatlin of Gatlin’s BBQ, 3510 Ella Blvd. And Texas has a lot of cows.
The culture of barbecue in Texas goes beyond the beef. It’s become a big part of building a sense of community.
“Barbecue in Texas is way of life,” Gatlin said. “It’s usually a part of a lot of family functions. It doesn’t matter if it’s your birthday, a christening, a holiday, a graduation party. Whatever it is, a lot of people here in Texas will think about doing a barbecue as a thing, just like how in Louisiana it’s a gumbo or crawfish boil.”
Cooking processes also differ in different regions, including different regions within Texas. Pinkerton said some areas cook over direct heat with a bed of coals from hardwood, while others rely on offset smokers that carry heat and smoke from a firebox through the main chamber with meat and up through a smoke stack.
The common denominator is that barbecue requires a lower heat and longer cook times, and that’s what makes it different than grilling.
One of the great debates in barbecue is in the sauce. Traditionalists tend to say barbecue doesn’t need sauce, according to Gatlin, and there are some people who consider the sauce to be the key to barbecue.
Texas likes to be different with its sauces. While places like North Carolina uses a vinegar sauce and South Carolina a mustard-base sauce, Texas sauce typically has more of a tomato, savory base.
Gatlin’s opinion on the matter, and barbecue as a whole, is that you should eat it how you enjoy it.
“Barbecue is so diverse now. In the last 15 years or so it’s reached a point you can’t necessarily say, ‘It has to be this way,’ ” Gatlin said. “Now there are traditionalists that want it a certain way, but there’s no box that says it has to be that way.”