Texas BBQ: bark and burnt ends

I’m flattered that my How to rate Texas BBQ post brought in so many new readers. For you, here are a few scraps and loose ends from my central TX barbecue explorations of the past few months.


Vencil Mares, of Taylor Cafe, and your correspondent

Vencil Mares’ unusual tenderizing technique. Vencil is a 90 year old Texas treasure (in fact he was recently honored with a Texas Folkways Lifetime Achievement Award) who generously describes his brisket cooking procedure to anyone who cares to listen. The meat is rubbed with granulated garlic (so you can “taste it in every bite” which you might not do with a finer grind) then smoked at 160 degrees for several hours to the stage where the meat still has a little “grab” to it when poked with a fork. At that point he wraps it in butcher paper and transfers to tightly sealed Coleman cooker where the residual cooking continues overnight.

The only downside of this is that the finished product, while extremely tender, does not have the crusty crunchy “bark” that many of us love on our brisket; whatever was on the outside has long melted into the rest of the meat. Maybe I’ll experiment with a prep where I smoke for a while, then tenderize a la Vencil, then return to the smoker the next day.


Beef Rib at Mueller’s in Taylor

Meet the Texas dinosaur rib. This is a beast I encountered at Mueller’s in Taylor and Black’s in Lockhart and I predict it will soon show up as a Texas staple. An entire beef rib with a good amount of meat left on is smoked in the same way you would smoke brisket. The result is melt-in-your-mouth tender, since it’s a tender cut to begin with, and you gets lots of bark plus a bone to chew on… what’s not to love? Only problem is it’s a poor value since at least half the weight you’re paying for is bone.

Davis Mutton

Is mutton the new pulled pork? The caul fat on mutton can make it skanky but if this fat is cooked away, or better yet trimmed before smoking, the result is some amazingly tender meat for those who don’t mind that lamb-y taste. The Rev. Davis at Davis Grocery in Taylor opened my eyes to barbecued mutton ribs and better yet he removed the bones before weighing. You all know how I feel about pulled pork and this could make a straight-up substitute.

The Salt Lick Barbecue Scandal. When I reviewed Salt Lick on Yelp, I suggested it was a good place to go if you’re trying to decide whether to take your out-of-town relatives to a BBQ joint or a theme park, because it includes both elements. The BBQ is fair, the tourism massively distracting and I just wish folks would support more authentic places. So I experienced some delicious schadenfreude when my Austin brother-in-law  informed me that a well-known BBQ journalist had recently done an expose. The writer calculated that the colorful pit at Salt Lick is far too small to cook the massive amount of BBQ dished up, and got the proprietor to admit that most of it is actually cooked somewhere else, over gas.

Unfortunately I have not been able to confirm this rumor so can only report it as hearsay. I’d appreciate any commentary, one way or another.

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