Editor’s Note: Just three more days until the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival! As you surely know by now, we’ve been interviewing all the featured pitmasters, with questions from TM staffers, esteemed BBQ experts, Twitter followers and you, the readers of this blog.
Today we’re featuring Abraham Avila, 42, of Wild Blue BBQ in Los Fresnos. For more info, visit their page on TMBBQ.com.
What is the heat source you use at Wild Blue?
We use a wood-burning gas grill, similar to what Lamberts Downtown Barbecue uses. It has a fire box. It’s a commercial barbecue pit called Ole Hickory. It has a gas thermostat and a firebox that you throw three or four pieces of wood in. We, almost exclusively now, use oak. Split season, cut and dry oak. When we can get a hold of it, we get some apple. There’s a farmer up in Lubbock that gets us some apple wood, and we mix up that with the oak.
So do you start a new fire everyday then?
No, we clean the fire box, we clean the ashes, and then we put about three logs in, and it will send the smoke into the cooking chamber. And that will last about three to four hours.
Do you cook slow and low of fast and high?
We cook at about 225. Our brisket cooks for about fourteen hours. So that’s very low and slow.
Where did you learn your barbecue craft from?
I worked fine dining. I worked for the Ritz-Carlton in Cleveland, Ohio, and I was an executive chef after that at a restaurant named Sapphire, and then I was Chef de Cuisine at a place called Alana’s Food and Wine in Columbus, Ohio. Most of my culinary career has been in Cleveland after going to culinary school in Pittsburgh. I enrolled in the Institute of Culinary Arts there, but I was born and raised in Brownsville. Anybody who’s from Texas that leaves Texas becomes a homesick Texan. So that’s why I always missed not only barbecue, but the Mexican food. There’s no place like it. We opened Wild Blue on April 20, 2005. We really struggled to get it right early on. It was a lot of trial-and-error. I read as many books as I could, and I traveled before I opened.
What are some of your non-secret dry rub ingredients?
We use a dry rub of kosher salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and brown sugar. And a little bit of coffee for the brisket. The ribs and pork rubs we use on the baby back ribs, that’s a little bit more complex because it has toasted ancho chiles, coriander, cumin, paprika. A little bit of all-spice. And everything is toasted and ground here. We also make a rub for the chicken with a little bit of cinnamon, a little bit of cumin, and paprika.
Do you guys make your own sauce? And do you believe in sauce?
We make our own sauce, and it’s a little bit unorthodox. It’s got tamarind and guava. We don’t believe in putting sauceon it. We believe in you having it and using it as a condiment. You put on as little or as much as you want. But we never sauce our meat before it leaves the kitchen.
What is your signature meat?
Brisket. In Texas it’s all about the brisket. But our baby-back ribs are very popular.
Do you make your own sausage?
No, we don’t make our own sausage. But we’re going to start here pretty soon. We use Slovacek. It’s from a town named Snook. It’s a commercial sausage, but it’s not a cheap sausage. They’ve been making sausage for a long time.
Do you use aluminum foil or butcher paper?
We use butcher paper.
What are some of your favorite barbecues in Texas besides your own?
I like Lamberts because you can get a barbecue plate or you can get broiled oysters. And I also love Olivia, in Austin.
What do you think a home cook should look for when buying a brisket? What are good things to know and look for when purchasing meat?
I get certified Angus or better. I’ve seen a lot of select-grade brisket, and some people can actually make it work, but the better you shop usually the better you cook. But my best advice is to build relationships with your butcher.
Any other advice or techniques for the home smoker?
Usually you’re gonna need a pit—not necessarily need a huge pit or a commercial barbecue pit, but you’re gonna want to have a pit that’s gonna allow you to cook with indirect heat. Try to invest in a thermometer that will keep your temperature at 225. No higher than 250! And if you’re cooking brisket, be prepared to spend all day at home.
Ever had Texas barbecue outside of Texas?
There is a place in New York City, a restaurant named Hill Country, and that’s the only place that I’ve seen that even comes close. They claim to be Texas barbecue.
Who are you looking forward to trying at the Festival?
Snow’s. And I’m dying to try Franklin.
How many pounds of meat do you cook today?
We cook about three cases of brisket a day, which is about 21 briskets. They all weigh different everyday.