It’s summer, and that means a new crop of barbecue books. One that stands out is “Legends of Texas Barbecue Cook Book: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit Bosses” by Robb Walsh (Chronicle Books, $18.95).
It includes plenty of recipes, but the best part is the fascinating lore about the history and folkways of Texas barbecue. The cliche about Texas barbecue is that it’s about beef--open-pit mesquite barbecue. Actually, Texas barbecue is a mixture of Southern, Midwestern and Southwestern elements.
So in east Texas, people make classic Southern pork barbecue. In the west, there’s a lot of Mexican goat or cow head barbacoa, and this tradition has spread beyond the Latino population. As Walsh says, no matter how much cowboys liked beef, it wasn’t worth slaughtering a cow for a meal, but a single goat was about enough to feed four or five cowboys.
In the center of the state, there’s a sizable colony of Germans and Czechs, who follow their own European tradition of smoking pork, though sometimes in Texan-ized form. The famous Elgin sausage (the “gin” pronounced as in “begin,” not as in the liquor) is basically a smoked German garlic sausage with extra red pepper.
This has given a unique spin to Texas barbecue. The German and Czech places were originally markets that only sold their barbecue out their back doors. The reason was that their barbecue customers were migrant cotton pickers who went to the shops for something to eat because regular restaurants wouldn’t serve them (or, to put it another way, because the cotton pickers wouldn’t have to take off their dirty coveralls and dress up if they were just eating a handful of barbecue behind a butcher shop).
To go with their hot smoked meat, they’d buy a few things like crackers, pickles or canned peaches. In a few old barbecues, that’s still all you get. Kreuz Market in Lockhart, one of the most revered barbecues in Texas, serves your order on a piece of butcher paper with nothing but bread and crackers--and not a drop of barbecue sauce, which barbecues in this tradition have only recently, and grudgingly, started serving.
This means that the recipe for Lockhart-style pork loin calls only for pork, salt and pepper. Most of the book’s sauce, spice rub and side dish recipes are more elaborate, but there’s still a classicism about the whole approach here.
Two ongoing themes of the book are the growing interaction of those various barbecue traditions and the power of the state’s love of ‘cue. In San Antonio, for instance, Miller’s Barbecue operated in violation of the city’s zoning and health department regulations for decades, but it was such a beloved institution that inspectors never dared cite it. The clear moral is: Don’t mess with Texas barbecue.