Driving around the south side of Lake Texoma, I was in search of the <a href="http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ays02" target="_blank">Shawnee Trail</a>. It’s an old cattle trail that crossed the Red River about five miles west of where Highway 75 crosses it now just north of Denison. The cattle trail followed an even older path called the <a href="http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/exo03" target="_blank">Preston Road</a> that connected Cedar Springs, Texas (larger than Dallas when the road was built) with Preston, Texas on the Red River. Driving north on the modern-day Preston Road I was thwarted by a dead end at a gated community, so I veered west up the road towards the tip of Preston Bend. Having almost reached the tip of the peninsula I spotted an active smoke stack alongside the road. “Hannah’s BBQ” was painted on the side of the trailer that housed the smoker. I pulled in. <p style="text-align: center"><em id="__mceDel"><a href="http://www.texasmonthly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Hannahs-BBQ-02.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-6479 aligncenter" alt="Hannah's BBQ 02" src="https://www.texasmonthly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Hannahs-BBQ-02-e1373941597946.jpg" width="300" height="216" /></a></em></p> Another trailer where orders were taken and fulfilled was parked back in the shade. A small crew bustled about inside. One stopped to open the window and greeted me with a smile and a notepad. A few minutes later, my combo plate and I were headed to the car. The box contained the most thoroughly average Texas barbecue meal I’ve had in recent memory. This isn’t an admonition. The cost for this large meal and dessert had barely slipped into double digits. What else could I really expect, and what more could they really deliver for that price? This was a portrait of the middle ground in Texas barbecue. The brisket didn’t shimmer like a thick slice of <a href="http://www.texasmonthly.com/restaurant/la-barbecue/">La Barbecue</a> beef, nor was it too dry. It had been smoked with all wood thankfully, but the fire was putting out some acrid smoke. The meat needed the sauce (which came from a bottle) to cover the smoke a bit rather than provide some additional flavors. The ribs were better than what I’d get at most <a href="http://www.dickeys.com" target="_blank">chain barbecue concepts</a>, but the meat was overcooked and under-seasoned. There was nothing markedly bad about these ribs, but little that was memorable. <p style="text-align: center"><a href="http://www.texasmonthly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Hannahs-BBQ-03.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-530213 aligncenter" alt="Hannah's BBQ 03" src="https://www.texasmonthly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Hannahs-BBQ-03-e1373941571211.jpg" width="300" height="228" /></a></p> The side might tell the story even more clearly. “It’s all about the meat.” This it what many in the barbecue world preach, myself included. Many barbecue joints don’t need the reminder. The sides across this state are usually fair to poor. Beans straight from a can are considered good enough. In the case of Hannah’s they could have at least added some salt. Homemade potato salad? It’s hard to spend the time on that when the pitmaster is also the prep cook. Both of those duties have an overlapping timeline in the morning. Which one do you think will suffer? Probably not the meat. Besides, there are plenty of pre-made potato salads offered by food service companies or grocery stores and they all taste the same. Small chunks of potatoes, a little red pepper for color, some mayo to bind it and some mustard to brighten it up. This what I got at Hannah’s. You can probably taste it right now. <p style="text-align: center"><a href="http://www.texasmonthly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Hannahs-BBQ-04.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-6478 aligncenter" alt="Hannah's BBQ 04" src="https://www.texasmonthly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Hannahs-BBQ-04-e1373941545142.jpg" width="300" height="226" /></a></p> Banana pudding is a favorite of mine, but I’m aware of how easily it can all go wrong in just four words. <a href="http://www.jello.com/product/pudding-mousse-desserts/banana-cream" target="_blank">Banana Flavored Instant Pudding</a>. This is a common mistake that seems logical until you’ve tasted banana flavored instant pudding. It’s terrible. Far less offensive is vanilla flavored pudding from a box which is what Hannah’s uses. It will never match the richness or supple smoothness of a scratch made pudding, but it’s a start. You’ve no doubt heard food described as “not terrible”. It’s a tongue-in-cheek way of saying a meal or a dish wasn’t offensive, but you’ve had better. Maybe it even beat your low expectations. I go into every barbecue joint (especially one very visibly burning all wood) with high hopes, but it’s meals like this that set my expectations of the average Texas barbecue joint. The effort that doesn’t go into the sides or sauce is saved for the meats, but effort and patience by themselves are not enough to overcome aiming for average. The target for quality is lofty for some, but for most customers and those who tend the pits, shooting straight for the middle is just fine. It’s easier to hit and better than not aiming at all. As for Hannah’s, it wasn’t terrible.

The Austin Food & Wine Festival has officially commenced, and hoards of cooks, chefs, boozers, and devourers have descended upon the up-and-coming foodie city. This morning was off to a sizzling start with Tim Love‘s 200+ grilling demo, but off to the side, another famed chef was demonstrating her version of light Texas cuisine, sans the meaty New York strips and savory skirt steaks.

Meat from Tim Love's demo

Driving around the south side of Lake Texoma, I was in search of the <a href="http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ays02" target="_blank">Shawnee Trail</a>. It’s an old cattle trail that crossed the Red River about five miles west of where Highway 75 crosses it now just north of Denison. The cattle trail followed an even older path called the <a href="http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/exo03" target="_blank">Preston Road</a> that connected Cedar Springs, Texas (larger than Dallas when the road was built) with Preston, Texas on the Red River. Driving north on the modern-day Preston Road I was thwarted by a dead end at a gated community, so I veered west up the road towards the tip of Preston Bend. Having almost reached the tip of the peninsula I spotted an active smoke stack alongside the road. “Hannah’s BBQ” was painted on the side of the trailer that housed the smoker. I pulled in. <p style="text-align: center"><em id="__mceDel"><a href="http://www.texasmonthly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Hannahs-BBQ-02.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-6479 aligncenter" alt="Hannah's BBQ 02" src="http://www.texasmonthly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Hannahs-BBQ-02-e1373941597946.jpg" width="300" height="216" /></a></em></p> Another trailer where orders were taken and fulfilled was parked back in the shade. A small crew bustled about inside. One stopped to open the window and greeted me with a smile and a notepad. A few minutes later, my combo plate and I were headed to the car. The box contained the most thoroughly average Texas barbecue meal I’ve had in recent memory. This isn’t an admonition. The cost for this large meal and dessert had barely slipped into double digits. What else could I really expect, and what more could they really deliver for that price? This was a portrait of the middle ground in Texas barbecue. The brisket didn’t shimmer like a thick slice of <a href="http://www.texasmonthly.com/restaurant/la-barbecue/">La Barbecue</a> beef, nor was it too dry. It had been smoked with all wood thankfully, but the fire was putting out some acrid smoke. The meat needed the sauce (which came from a bottle) to cover the smoke a bit rather than provide some additional flavors. The ribs were better than what I’d get at most <a href="http://www.dickeys.com" target="_blank">chain barbecue concepts</a>, but the meat was overcooked and under-seasoned. There was nothing markedly bad about these ribs, but little that was memorable. <p style="text-align: center"><a href="http://www.texasmonthly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Hannahs-BBQ-03.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-530213 aligncenter" alt="Hannah's BBQ 03" src="http://www.texasmonthly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Hannahs-BBQ-03-e1373941571211.jpg" width="300" height="228" /></a></p> The side might tell the story even more clearly. “It’s all about the meat.” This it what many in the barbecue world preach, myself included. Many barbecue joints don’t need the reminder. The sides across this state are usually fair to poor. Beans straight from a can are considered good enough. In the case of Hannah’s they could have at least added some salt. Homemade potato salad? It’s hard to spend the time on that when the pitmaster is also the prep cook. Both of those duties have an overlapping timeline in the morning. Which one do you think will suffer? Probably not the meat. Besides, there are plenty of pre-made potato salads offered by food service companies or grocery stores and they all taste the same. Small chunks of potatoes, a little red pepper for color, some mayo to bind it and some mustard to brighten it up. This what I got at Hannah’s. You can probably taste it right now. <p style="text-align: center"><a href="http://www.texasmonthly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Hannahs-BBQ-04.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-6478 aligncenter" alt="Hannah's BBQ 04" src="http://www.texasmonthly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Hannahs-BBQ-04-e1373941545142.jpg" width="300" height="226" /></a></p> Banana pudding is a favorite of mine, but I’m aware of how easily it can all go wrong in just four words. <a href="http://www.jello.com/product/pudding-mousse-desserts/banana-cream" target="_blank">Banana Flavored Instant Pudding</a>. This is a common mistake that seems logical until you’ve tasted banana flavored instant pudding. It’s terrible. Far less offensive is vanilla flavored pudding from a box which is what Hannah’s uses. It will never match the richness or supple smoothness of a scratch made pudding, but it’s a start. You’ve no doubt heard food described as “not terrible”. It’s a tongue-in-cheek way of saying a meal or a dish wasn’t offensive, but you’ve had better. Maybe it even beat your low expectations. I go into every barbecue joint (especially one very visibly burning all wood) with high hopes, but it’s meals like this that set my expectations of the average Texas barbecue joint. The effort that doesn’t go into the sides or sauce is saved for the meats, but effort and patience by themselves are not enough to overcome aiming for average. The target for quality is lofty for some, but for most customers and those who tend the pits, shooting straight for the middle is just fine. It’s easier to hit and better than not aiming at all. As for Hannah’s, it wasn’t terrible.

Canadian-transplant Gail Simmons‘ cooking demo Cowgirl Cookin’ featured Texas-friendly cuisine with a focus on lighter foods, including mussels and biscuits. She started off her demonstration with a heavy-bottom pan steaming seven-minute mussels with Shiner Bock, shallots, garlic, lemon zest, orange and lemon juice, and fresh thyme. The Top Chef judge provided tried-and-true cooking tips, such as using wooden utensils, how to detect a “dead mussel,” and the difference between a light sizzle and a detrimental burn. Her soft cheddar, chive, and maple bacon biscuits and bread-pudding-esque peach skillet pudding finished off the one-hour cooking demo. Simmons sat down with TEXAS MONTHLY after her demo to talk about the her cowgirl cookin’, her new book, and how she stays so fit as a “professional eater.” What was the inspiration for your cooking demo? Today’s demo was called Cowgirl Cookin’, and even though I ain’t no cowgirl, I have spent some time in Texas and was really inspired by the food I saw when I was shooting Top Chef. I knew this weekend there would be a lot of men and a lot of meat, and I honestly didn’t want to follow Tim Love. I was thinking of how I could use the flavors of Texas but make it a little more feminine and lighten it up a bit.
Cowgirl Cookin' Demo
How did you go about planning the dishes? The recipes were variations of things I’ve cooked before that I liked to cook. I wanted to make them home-cook approachable, and I wanted it to be really light. You get enough of the heavy, big meats in Texas. I wasn’t going to make Texas barbecue and ruin three-hundred years of tradition. I wanted to make it my own. I wanted to get Texas in there, though, like using the skillet for the peach pudding. You mentioned at the end of your demo how you get asked about not gaining weight. Tell me about that life as a professional eater. It’s weird to have to eat for a living and do it publicly on television. Women are so judged and there is so much pressure to be thin, but I have to eat for a living; so the question is how I do my job but also feel good about myself especially when there are thin models on the covers of magazines and on the screens of televisions. The first thing is not to think too much about what other people think. The second thing is to learn how to take care of yourself. And, of course, exercising and eating healthy. I eat a lot of food, especially when we are taping, but I do tastings. I don’t clean my plate. I take two to three bites and that’s it. I love to eat food, but I do it with my health in mind, and if that means I need to work out and eat small portions, I’ll do that. I love what I do too much to give it up.
Gail Simmons
Explain your book Talking With My Mouth Full and why you decided to do a memoir instead of a cookbook. When I started thinking about writing a book, a cookbook came to mind because that’s what everyone does for their first book. But then I started thinking, “What do people want to hear from me?” I started gathering questions that people would ask me, but what I realized were these questions weren’t about what to make for dinner. There were plenty of books about one-hundred recipes, ten dollars or less, or twenty dollars or less. The questions I was asked were “How did you get here? Why are you on my television? How did you learn to cook? How did you get on Top Chef?” So that’s why I decided to write a memoir and this is how Talking With My Mouth Full came about.
Talking With My Mouth Full
Did you look to other culinary memoirs for inspiration? A little bit. I tried not to read too many because they’ll be stuck in your head, and you want to tell your own story. I read modern memoirs from women I admire, like Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter, Tina Fey’s memoir, Ruth Reichl‘s books, and obviously, M.F.K. Fisher’s books, which set the stage for food writing.