We have completed week three and are heading into week four. We probably know what is in store for us now. We are waiting for the final plans for the septic system, we have a fairly good handle on our electrical load requirements, the roof needs to be removed and replaced with something a little more robust and waterproof and the planning for the kitchen is moving along nicely. In all this mayhem we have to step back once in a while and remind ourselves of what it is that we are doing and why. This week we took a long hard look at the barbecue portion of our menu.
Neither Josie nor myself is a pit-master with 20 years of barbecue experience, though we know what we like. We have grilled for the family for years and we think we are pretty good at it, but that is not West Texas Barbecue. We decided to look around and see what is being done around here. Frankly, it is pretty disappointing. This part of West Texas is a barbecue desert. Earlier this year we visited a few places in the Corpus Christi area, but despite some slick presentation, it was clearly mass market, pseudo barbecue. It was OK but hardly the kind of food either of us want to serve to our customers. Wet, partly cooked chicken, brisket that may have once walked past a smoker but had retained none of the flavor, boring beans and baked potato that was actually steamed in an aluminum wrap and so it was equally boring. We had made repeated visits to a barbecue chain known as Crazy Bill’s or some such name. Despite its popularity with some members of my family the brisket had a curious flavor that was reminiscent of strong disinfectant, the beans were straight out of a can, the chicken thickly covered in too sweet barbecue sauce, anyway, enough of that. I think you get the picture. We have found the barbecue scene to be either boring or absent and we need to fix that.
We have been spending a lot of time listening to barbecue enthusiasts, researching pit designs and examining cooking techniques. There is a wealth of information and misinformation. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is the hard part. We could see a great deal of experimentation in our future and we had reached that point of barbecue confusion that left us spinning in circles but going nowhere. For every opinion there was a counter opinion. They can’t all be right. Frankly, it had been so long ago that I tasted good barbecue I was wondering if my memory was at fault or if any such barbecue place still existed.
We had to drive to Fort Davis to see the TABC people about our liquor license so we had a few hours to talk about the problems we saw. Our thirty plus year old pit was showing its age and we discussed refurbishing it versus replacing it. The state of the brickwork was such that we needed to take the whole thing apart, replace the grates, doors, fire-door and about thirty percent of the brickwork. In the end, we would have had a new BBQ pit. We agonized over how we could keep the old pit but finally, we decided that we could produce better barbecue with a totally new pit from the ground up. Nostalgia is all very well but when it gets in the way of good food it is time to get real. Having more or less decided we were getting a new pit we now had to decide on what we were going to get. Do we copy the old pit in detail because it did have some very good points or do we go with a tried and tested competition smoker? Do we go with propane or stick with wood? Indoor or outdoor? Counter-flow, baffled or straight through? The offset firebox seems to be a settled question and it is hard to find a modern barbecue that does not use an offset firebox. I kept on coming back to the same issue. What would the barbecue taste like. There are so many issues and opinions and a lot of contradiction. I wanted to know that the system we got was capable of producing exceptional barbecue night after night. I thought I knew what I wanted and what would work but so many people had other ideas, it was confusing.
As we drove to Fort Davis and just before we drove into Fort Davis Josie noticed a barbecue place. With our barbecue problem in mind, Josie and I decided to call in, on the way home, which we did. They had a really nice, portable, competition pit, wood fired with propane to get it started and it fit exactly with my image of what a barbecue pit should be like. It was a classic. It even smelled right just sitting there. It set me thinking. I try not to tax my brain but once in a while you just have to. Having found a barbecue place we just had to stop in and say hello and do a little culinary espionage. They were not serving but we halloed and hollered until, eventually, a slightly surprised Jenny Turner appeared. After just a few minutes chatting, she called up her husband Scott and the pit-master, Brian Bourbon, so the five of us visited for a while. Part way through the conversation she disappeared, so we were left chatting with Scott and Brian. It seems they only started selling barbecue last fall and they entered their first competition about that time. They placed very highly, coming in third I think. They proudly showed us the pit and explained its features. Honestly, they demonstrated their enthusiasm and knowledge in no uncertain terms. They presently only do Brisket, pulled pork and sausage along with homemade sides. Right now they are saying they are not ready with the chicken until they have it perfected but judging by the twinkle in various eyes we won’t have to wait long. I started to wonder what the Barbecue they made was really like. Was this all talk or was it real? They certainly walked the walk and talked the talk but could they deliver the goods? About that time Jenny came out bringing two brisket sandwiches. Without any reservation, that was the finest barbecue sandwich I have ever had. The flavor was beyond good. It was authentic, deep and rich and the sides were exceptional. If you are in Fort Davis then give them a try. These are some of the nicest people you could hope to meet and that is definitely a barbecue to stop and sample. They have limited opening hours but you can find out all you need from their Facebook page.
Tell them hi from La Kiva.
The great thing about all this is that we have now confirmed how we will get the flavor we want in the barbecue. The style of barbecue pit we want will do the job and they have proved that to us in no uncertain terms. What our instincts were telling us all along as being the right way has been backed up by the real life experience of the folks at Come-and-Take-It-BBQ.
So why would I be talking up the competition? It’s simple. They are far enough away so we will not be competing, so we can be friends and swap techniques and tips without hurting each others business. In addition, I would love to have these folk just down the street. It would be good for tourism and we would all benefit from that and they are good folk. Scott even spent many years in Terlingua and knows La Kiva well.
At his point I can see a huge controversy developing about the dry rub we should use. What is your favorite dry rub for barbecue? By that, I mean low and slow as opposed to grilling.
Photo of the modern smoker used in this post is used under the Creative Commons License as listed below. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode Robert Nunnally , BBQ grill, Camden Arkansas, Daffodil festival, 2010