Central Texas BBQ Dynasties

What Becomes a Legend Most?

Barbecue is everyman's chance for culinary greatness, where cheap cuts of meat like pork butts, beef briskets, and ribs can magically be turned into everyday haute cuisine with the application of spices and smoke. Most geographic regions in the American South boast a time-honored barbecue tradition. In eastern North Carolina, it's not barbecue unless it's pulled pork, served with Brunswick stew and hush puppies. In the Tennessee/ Arkansas/Mississippi area around Memphis, pork ribs are a must. As far north as Kansas City, where they actually hold annual barbecue championship cookoffs, sweet, smoky sauce concoctions play an important role. Definitions of barbecue vary with geography, ethnic heritage, regional culinary traditions, and the availability of agricultural products. The subject is known to evoke passionate controversy among the regions.

Central Texas barbecue traditions evolved from a confluence of events in the second half of the 19th century. Refugees from the Civil War, both black and white, came to Texas looking for new land and a new start, bringing their recipes and cooking styles along. German and Czech settlers arrived with centuries of experience making sausage and smoking meats. The Chisholm Trail, a route for driving big Texas cattle herds to stockyards and railheads, passed through the area, bringing cattle in abundance. With over 100 years of refinement, the result of this culinary congregation is a reputation for world-class brisket and sausage, plus pork, chicken, mutton, and even cabrito that can hold their own with any man's pit work. Whether it's smoked over oak, pecan, mesquite or hickory, served on butcher paper in a historic family meat market, out the window of an aromatic roadside shack, or in a comfortable sit-down restaurant with a wine list, Central Texas barbecue is cause for pride and celebration.

It comes as no surprise to regular Chronicle readers that we take this hallowed barbecue tradition very seriously here at the paper. We embrace it heartily and jump at the chance to promote it to barbecue lovers such as ourselves as well as new and recent converts. This year, we're spotlighting the legendary Central Texas barbecue dynasties, eight families who've dedicated themselves to the pit master's art for generations. These folks have fed everyone from cotton pickers to presidents, deer hunters to diplomats, building solid family businesses with fiercely loyal clienteles.

The food staff (Mick Vann, Wes Marshall, MM Pack, and myself) spent some time this fall visiting with these humble, hard-working folks, sampling a bit of their family history along with their barbecue. In case you're only familiar with their great meats, we'd like to introduce you to the Mikeskas, the Muellers, the Bracewells, the Meyers, the Schmidts, the Blacks, the Coopers, and the Inmans, the rural royal families of Central Texas barbecue.

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