How ‘low and slow’ became the standard in Texas barbecue cooking

Texas barbecue has many unique characteristics, mostly related to how it’s cooked—low and slow—and how it tastes (salty and smoky).

Central Texas style barbecue is further characterized by the method used to cook the meat low and slow. Specifically, he uses a technique in which the heat source is offset from the chamber in which the meat is cooked.

This process is known as “indirect” cooking, or smoking, in which the heat and smoke from the fire flow over the meat to cook it, rather than directly under it. This technique has given rise to the traditional Central Texas-style barbecue cooking appliance: the offset brick or steel smoker.

When, why, and where did the indirect heating method become standard in Central Texas? Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer. But there are records, beginning with the immigration of German, Czech and Polish settlers to the area in the mid-1800s.

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Central European smokers, beginning in the Middle Ages, separated the fire chamber from the cooking chamber for safety reasons, as well as to better control the flow of heat and smoke.

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The big difference back then, however, was that smoking was used to preserve meat rather than to cook it.

Food preservation is one of the most important factors in human evolution and still influences flavors and techniques in cooking – especially barbecue – today.

In particular, the ability to store food for later consumption (for example, during times of drought or winter) greatly influenced the development of human civilization.

Before mechanical refrigeration, people used other food preservation techniques, mainly fermentation and curing. The purpose of food preservation is to make it safe to eat, tasty to eat and pleasing to the eye.

The enemy of food preservation are pathogenic microorganisms. These can cause food poisoning, make food tasteless and make foods like meat look gray and unappealing.

These microorganisms thrive in moist environments with moderate temperatures. So one way to successfully store food is to manipulate humidity and temperature.

Food curation is a great way to do this. This process makes the food inhospitable to those nasty microorganisms. There are three basic curing techniques: drying, salting and smoking.

For example, from a Western historical perspective, the ancient Egyptians were famous for dried fruit, the Romans perfected the process of salting meat, and the Central Europeans refined a technique known as “cold smoking” to preserve food. In this case, the salted meat is exposed to low temperature for long periods of time to further enhance safety and taste.

This smoking process checked all the boxes for successful food preservation: the low heat dried the meat while the smoke introduced germ-killing ingredients and added flavor. The process also preserved the red or pink color of the meat, making it visually appealing.

Although there is no definitive historical connection between the cold smoking techniques of Central Europe in the 1500s and the German meat markets of Central Texas in the mid-1800s, there are many correlations between these traditional food preservation techniques and the way how meat was eventually made. cooked low and slow like barbecue in the historic meat markets around Lockhart, Fredericksburg and New Braunfels in the early 1900s.

Today, some of the oldest offset brick pits are located at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart. Here, the fire rests in a pit on the side of the rectangular brick cooking room said to have been built in the 1920s. It’s one of the earliest examples of Central Texas-style barbecue still in operation.

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