Texas is a large state with a big appetite for barbecue. Across the state, cattle is king, and the predominant meat used in barbecue is beef. While most regions in the state agree that beef is best for barbecue, that’s pretty much where all agreement stops. There are four different barbecue regions in Texas each with their own unique style and method of meat preparation: West Texas, Central Texas, South Texas, and East Texas.
West Texas is known for cooking meat directly over a heat source, which is not unlike grilling. This method is also known as cowboy style. Central Texas barbecue is what most people think of when they think of Texas barbecue; this style is low and slow over indirect heat with an emphasis on brisket. South Texas barbecue is known for Mexican barbacoa (and where we get the word for barbecue in English). East Texas barbecue is less defined than other regions, but generally this style is saucier and is known for its chopped beef.
The majority of Texas barbecue is served dry; sauce is almost never applied before or during cooking (East Texas style is the exception). Most restaurants will serve barbecue sauce on the side, however, some places, like Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas forbids it. Simplicity reigns supreme in Texas barbecue, especially in Central Texas; a dalmatian rub, a 50/50 blend of salt and pepper, is all that is applied to the meat before smoking. The true flavor of Texas barbecue comes not from overly complicated ingredients, but from finely tuned cooking techniques that allow the meat to shine. Most Central Texas briskets are smoked for twenty hours under closely supervised conditions at precise temperatures to ensure the most delicious outcome.
Unless you live in Texas you’ll be hard pressed to find this style of barbecue near you. Additionally, you probably won’t be able to replicate Texas barbecue at home unless you have a smoker, ample amounts of oak, and plenty of time on your hands. If you’d like to approximate Texas barbecue in a highly untraditional fashion you can use a spice blend to mimic hours of smoking over hardwood.
A balance of sweet, smoke, and spice is essential to any good spice blend. We chose dark brown sugar for its deep molasses flavor which compliments the other ingredients, smoked paprika for its essential smokiness, and a blend of supporting spices to bring complexity and overall flavor to the spice blend. This recipe is easy to customize to suit your tastes: increase or decrease the amount of cayenne pepper to adjust the spiciness to your liking, increase the amount of sugar for a sweeter flavor, or add a tablespoon of chili powder to amplify the smoky flavor. Use this blend on brisket, ribs, chicken, or pork shoulder. Use about ¼ cup spice blend per 1 lb of meat. Rub blend all over the meat before cooking.
Texas Spice Blend
Makes 1 cup
- ¼ cup dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon dry mustard powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper