Ode to …

Ode To Brisket

When you’re a food writer, people are always asking about the best meal you’ve ever eaten. I know they’re expecting tales of an unforgettable lunch at Michel Bras or a poetic kaiseki meal in Kyoto or a beluga extravaganza on the banks of the Volga, but what always pops into my head is brisket. Specifically, the brisket I had in 1996 at City Market, in Luling. I had eaten plenty of barbecue before that day and was expecting the usual—something tasty but not transcendent—when all of a sudden my mouth was filled with a perfectly balanced bite of meat, fat, smoke, and fire. The elements almost evaporated before I had a chance to chew. I took another bite and another, chasing the taste—there was something magical in the tenderness of this beef. I kept going back for just a little more and a little more until my hair smelled of burning oak and the taste of that brisket was imprinted on my brain.

I have yet to encounter another brisket like the one I had that day. Still, I keep trying. In the meantime I hold the memory close, and anytime I want to, I can close my eyes, conjure that taste, and take myself right back to Luling.

— Ruth Reichl, the editor in chief of Gourmet, secretly enjoys a little white bread with her brisket.

Ode To Sausage

President George W. Bush will leave Washington, D.C., the city where I, a boy from Houston, now reside, every bit as divided as it was when he first hit town. This is too bad, but a far bigger disappointment is that he has not spent a farthing of his political capital attempting to bring Texas smoked sausage to the Beltway.

Because could we not have united already around the link? Seriously. Here we have a foodstuff that resembles America’s cherished diversity (it’s a meaty melting pot of pork and beef and, if you choose, jalapeño and cheese), a delicacy whose form we instantly recognize (it’s George W.’s beloved hot dog, supersized), a snack that represents both our diplomatic abilities (it plays well with other comestibles, such as pickles) and our tendency to pridefully go it alone (perfectly smoked, it requires no assistance). The sausage is defiantly comfortable in its own skin, a quality we celebrate in our public figures and labor to instill in our children. Like our greatest national heroes, it is strong yet supple; a few hours in the pit hardens it into a Pentagon-like ring of utter impregnability, but the subtlest give is detected when teeth are applied, and then, faster than you can say Condoleezza, resistance collapses and juices flow. The carnivorous delirium that ensues is better than sex. It’s better than a classified news leak. And in this part of the world, I am sorry to report, it’s a hell of a lot scarcer than both.

— Author Robert Draper maintains that after his father’s barbecue, everything else is a poor second.

Ode To Ribs

The waitress says
the man at Table Three
is making noises.

You’d think she would be used to grunting
when the sun goes down
at Melvin’s Rib Château,

but this one’s whispering amen
into his marinade,
getting sauce all over his Armani.

It could be
he’s an escapee
from a gated community

of tofu burgers and arugula,
having succeeded his way
into a milieu

of Pilates and Lipitor.
Now he’s speaking in tongues,
saying, Bring me

another slab of mastodon,
in Aramaic.
It is the sound of

a biblical digging-down.
A rescue mission
of smoked pig and Budweiser.

Trying to find out
if his inner philistine
still has an appetite.

— Poet Tony Hoagland eats with his greasy fingers at Beaver’s, in Houston.

Ode To Pulled Pork

Though I am proud to claim Texas associations, I am from the South. So when it comes to barbecue, my first thought is not of brisket but of pork. Does a pig have brisket? It may be hard to find, on a pig.

A cow spends more time standing up and ranging around than a pig does, so the pig has more fat. You could say the same of a policewoman as opposed to a courtesan. But never mind that. A pig is regarded by scientists as being smarter. I don’t guess I want to go into that in a barbecue context, but I do think you can taste it. Eating good pulled pork, I almost feel as though the pig knew his destiny. Went along with it, in exchange for a life of putting on fat. Whereas I can’t help thinking that a cow, confronted with the concept of beef, would say, “Huh?” But never mind that. A cow is bigger.

Watch a cow eat, and then watch a pig eat. A cow is chewier. Brisket, according to some dictionaries, derives originally from a chewy Old Norse word (brjosk, with a little line over the o) meaning “gristle.” Whoa! Let me leap to assure you that I don’t regard this as fair. It is true, however, that brisket is tougher than pulled pork. I don’t know that you can pull brisket.

Nothing wrong with that! Brisket, barbecued, is juicier and more tender than a sirloin even, although it is a tougher cut, because in the process of slow-cooking, the fat marinates down into the fiber. So in honor of the consistency, the unassailable integrity of that great Texas institution, let us all rise, please …

Well, I’m sorry. I can’t make the pig get up.

— Novelist Roy Blount Jr. is from Georgia, where pigs are more esteemed than cows, and no one can take that away from him.

Ode To Sauce

Barbecue sauce is like a beautiful woman. If it’s too sweet, it’s bound to be hiding something.

— Singer, songawriter, and actor Lyle Lovett has been eating barbecue for 49 of his 50 years.

Ode To White Bread

There was a time in this country when you could eat a wonderfully flavorless slice of this substance and not feel like a villain. But that time is long ago, back in the days before iceberg lettuce, white

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