There’s an old saying that you should never discuss religion or politics in polite company, and the equivalent in Texas would be discussing football or BBQ among folks you don’t know very well.

When it comes to barbecue, there is a science to making great-tasting meat and a lot of different techniques involved. You’ll also find tons of different tips, tricks, competition BBQ secrets and hear varying opinions from different BBQ pitmasters of what works best.

But, there are definitely some clear dos and don’ts. As well as some common smoking, barbecuing, and grilling myths that you may have heard and need some clearing up. In this article, we’ll break down some common barbecue myths….let’s take a look:

Texas Barbecue Myths – Part 1 of 2

This is part 1 of the 2 part post Texas Barbecue Myths.

For Texas Barbecue Myths – Part 2Click Here.

I often hear people say something like, “I like my brisket Texas-style seasoned only with salt and pepper, cooked low and slow and served without sauce because my barbecue has nothing to hide.”

Though the message is conveyed with relatively few words, it’s an encyclopedia of innuendo, backhanded insults and, frankly, ignorance of barbecue as it exists in Texas. Such a statement goes to show just how far today’s shallow, BBQ themed TV shows and drive-by magazine articles have dumbed down people’s knowledge of barbecue.

Though there is more information about barbecue available nowadays than ever in the history of the world, thanks to the Internet, TV, magazines, books and newspapers, some of the popularized portions of that “knowledge” are nothing more than half-truths and downright falsehoods.

The worst part is the fact that too many writers with amplified outlets lazily take turns regurgitating faulty information and echoing each other’s errors ad nauseam.

Sadly, the old adage, “A lie travels around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes” is still true; so is the old adage, “If you repeatedly tell a lie, people will come to believe it.” All of the false information about barbecue available today is a witness to the truth of those old sayings.

So, what’s the truth about Texas barbecue? Is barbecue only seasoned with salt and pepper uniquely Texan?

Is sauced barbecue shunned in Texas? Is barbecue supposed to be wrapped in butcher paper? Is brisket really a difficult cut of meat to barbecue? Doesn’t everyone “who knows what they are doing” barbecue a brisket for 12 to 18 hours? What about barbecued sausage? Let’s turn off the echo chamber of monkey-see-monkey-do writers and examine the facts.

Myth #1 – Texas-Style Barbecue is Seasoned Only with Salt and Black Pepper

Black’s Barbecue Rub.I know of only one place in Texas that MIGHT season its barbecue with only salt and black pepper. The majority use additional ingredients including sugar. Kreuz (pronounced Krites) Market in Lockhart uses salt, pepper and cayenne. The same is true of the rub at the Salt Lick in Driftwood. Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart uses additional ingredients in their rub including what looks like red pepper flakes (much like a Virginia-style rub).

However, beyond the rub, Texans add other things to season their barbecue through the use of mops, spritzes and bastes. The people at Snow’s barbecue in Lexington season their barbecue with salt and pepper; some claim that they have also spotted some red pepper flakes. They add other seasonings to the barbecue when they baste it. Snow’s pit masters mop their barbecue as it cooks with a liquid that includes seasonings such as Worcestershire sauce, citrus juice, onions, oil and vinegar. There is much fanfare over Aaron Franklin’s claim that he only seasons his briskets with salt and pepper. But then, he spritzes the briskets as they cook with an amber colored liquid that is yet to be revealed.

Unless there is some secret liquid salt and pepper in Texas, something more is being used to season the barbecue. John Lewis grew up in El Paso and honed his Texas barbecue cooking skills at Franklin Barbecue in Austin for 2 ½ years. He flat out stated, “I’ve never cooked a brisket in my life whether it be at La Barbecue, at Franklin Barbecue or on the competition circuit with just salt and pepper.” Mopping and spritzing adds seasonings and flavor to the barbecue and the use of a seasoning liquid during the cooking process invalidates the claim that “only salt and black pepper” is used to season the BBQ cooked “Texas-style.”

Myth #2 – Texas Barbecue Doesn’t Need Sauce

Apparently, everyone, except Texans, knows that Texas-style barbecue shouldn’t be served with sauce. Writing about barbecue in Texas in 1937, a reporter for a Dallas newspaper wrote, “Good
Sauce for sale at Black’s Barbecue.barbecue requires much sauce.” He went on to describe the Texas-style barbecue sauce that was made with vinegar, hot water, melted butter, sometimes rendered beef suet, salt, black pepper, red pepper, tomato ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, onions and thickened with flour.

The writer concluded, “It is useless to ask a Texan for a barbecue sauce recipe in small amounts.” That hasn’t changed to this day. If you’ve ever been to Texas and eaten at a barbecue restaurant there, you know that Texans love their barbecue sauces. The stuff is on display at barbecue restaurants there like precious jewels. In fact, I know of NO barbecue restaurant in Texas that doesn’t serve sauce with its barbecue. That’s right, there is NO restaurant in Texas that doesn’t serve sauce with its barbecue; NONE.

Apparently, we have Kreuz Market to thank for the Texas no-barbecue-sauce myth. Kreuz Market has a sign hanging in the restaurant with the words “NO BARBECUE SAUCE (NOTHING TO HIDE).” That sign has a lot to do with the myth that Texas barbecue isn’t eaten with sauce on it. Even so, Kreuz Market does serve sauce with its barbecue. I’ve had their barbecue topped with it. The way they skirt the issue is by calling the sauce in the bottles on their tables hot sauce.

However, the sauce is meant to be put on their barbecue which makes it a barbecue sauce regardless of what they choose to call it. Further, the families behind Smitty’s and Kreuz Market (both in Lockhart) opened a restaurant near Austin. Squeeze bottles full of barbecue sauce are prominent features on the tables. At the famed “Cathedral of Smoke,” Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas, they serve a sauce that’s made with such ingredients as tomato ketchup, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, sugar and molasses.

Interestingly, black pepper and salt are the last two items listed in the ingredients indicating that the quantity of those two is the smallest. Two interesting omissions are jalapeno and cumin. Aren’t they unique Texas ingredients? John Mueller, protégé of the famous Louie Mueller, has been known to dress his pork ribs using a sweet sauce made with Italian dressing and Karo syrup. That’s real Texas BBQ; or is it Italian barbecue being cooked in Texas? When I was served barbecue at The Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas, it came with barbecue sauce drizzled over it.

Regarding the “nothing to hide” remark about barbecue sauce, apparently, according to people who hold to that philosophy, every barbecue restaurant in Texas has something to hide. However, in truth, serving barbecue sauce on the side is a long-held tradition in the United States that goes back to at least the earliest years of the 19th century.

Barbecue served with sauce on the side rather than on the barbecue is not merely a “Texas thing.” Many places in the United States serve barbecue with sauce on the side and have done so for a long time.

Actually, barbecue sauce isn’t a bad thing. Barbecue sauce can complement the flavor of barbecue in several ways. It can intensify the flavor of the meat, introduce a counterpoint flavor (vinegar countering the richness of the meat, for example), and, as every competition barbecue cook knows, sauce can enhance barbecue’s appearance.

Some variations of southern barbecue have sauce mixed into the meat, other styles call for it to be served on the side. I’m all for it and so are Texans. If you want to cook “real” Texas-style barbecue, fill up that sauce bottle and serve it with the barbecue. Otherwise, your “Texas” brisket is a poser. In Virginia, many old-time barbecue restaurants not only serve delicious barbecue with the sauce on the side, they don’t even put a barbecue rub on the meat before barbecuing it. That makes it a “Virginia thing,” doesn’t it? So, let’s put this Texas no-sauce myth to bed for good.

Myth #3 – Texas-style Barbecued Sausage

Traditional southern barbecue isn’t cooked with indirect heat or in a “smokehouse.” Traditional southern BBQ is cooked while being suspended directly over a pit filled with hot coals (not flames). A smokehouse is used to smoke Virginia ham and bacon. Smoked meat in Virginia is a very different thing than barbecued meat. That’s why old school barbecue joints in Virginia and North Carolina advertise their “pit cooked” barbecue rather than their “smoked barbecue.”

Like backyard “barbecuers,” Texans claim to be able to barbecue sausages. We can’t do that in Virginia. Neither can North Carolinians. We can smoke roast them, braise them or grill them, but not barbecue them. Hot dogs are sausages and they can’t be barbecued any more than Texas hot links can be barbecued. Texans smoke roast their sausages and some there use temperatures above 400 degrees Fahrenheit to do so and they call those sausages “barbecue” just like some New Yorkers call their grilled hot dogs “barbecue.“

Myth #4 – Texas-style Barbecued Brisket Must be Wrapped in Butcher Paper

Someone please tell Tootsie Tomanetz that Texas-style brisket must be wrapped in butcher paper while barbecuing it. Ms. Tomanetz is the pit master at Snow’s Barbecue in Lexington. She is an expert who has cooked barbecue in Texas for 50 years. Snow’s BBQ was named the best BBQ in Texas back in 2008 and still today routinely shows up in top-5 and top-10 lists of Texas barbecue restaurants. Ms. Tomanetz wraps her award-winning brisket in aluminum foil while it cooks. The people at Black’s Barbecue do the same thing. There is a reason why aluminum foil is known as “the Texas crutch” and butcher paper isn’t. Both are crutches but foil is the crutch of choice in Texas just as it is everywhere else in the country.

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