Editor’s Note: The Texas Monthly BBQ Festival is almost here! Each day until then, we’ll be talking to one of the featured pitmasters, with questions from TM staffers, esteemed BBQ experts, Twitter followers and you, the readers of this blog (fire away in comments section).Today it’s Angela Ashley, 54, of Casstevens B-B-Q & Catering, which is tucked inside a Diamond Shamrock “Cash and Carry” in the town of Lillian, just southeast of Fort Worth. For more info, visit their page on TMBBQ.com.
What’s your heat source? We use mesquite on two pits that are ancient! They are old. We’ve been cooking in those things for as long as I’ve been there and before. And we repair the ones that we have because we get much better service. When it develops a few holes, we get the welder to come out and fix it. Harold Casstevens, the founder, he had these two pits built for his specifications. He started the business in 1976, and was considered the “mayor” of Lillian. He had it up until six years ago, and he sold it to his son-in-law, and then he turned around and sold it to [current owner] Jameson Titus. Who did you learn your craft from? I’ve been here for 13 years. So either you got good at it or you weren’t there anymore! Harold Casstevens taught me everything that I need to know about the pit, and the quality of meat and everything. I worked for him for a lot of years. And he basically taught me how to build a fire, how to tell how hot the pits are, how to get them hot. Because we have one [pit] inside and one [pit] outside. We used to have both of ‘em that sat right on the street because I tell ya, that’s the best advertising that you can have. The pit sitting out front with the mesquite smell coming out… I mean, he taught me that from the very beginning. Instead of going and paying lots of money for your advertising, just keep those pits going all day with that smoke and that smell coming out all day. And he was right. But it’s been so dry, the fire chief from down the road, he said ‘Look. I’m not gonna give you a hard time about the pits…but can you please just move one of ‘em inside?’ So that’s what we did. What’s your signature meat? I will tell you, people come from miles around for our all-beef smoked bologna. I mean, I am not kidding you! You would not believe…it’s crazy. Cass [Casstevens] from the very beginning, he used nothing but all-beef bologna. And that stuff gets hard to find. And so we use all-beef bologna and we smoke it on the pit and we slice it ourselves. And it just hangs off the bun. And these guys come in, and they will have one or two a day. We’re also very well-known for “Old Ike” hot links.* And when we don’t have ‘em, these guys get upset. And they love the black-brown crust on our brisket. And it really is the best I’ve ever had, and I’m not just sayin’ that. Sauce or no sauce? We make our own barbecue sauce. And lots and lots of customers come just because of the barbecue sauce. We’ve even thought of packaging and selling our barbecue sauce just by itself. It’s a little on the sweet side. Not sweet-sweet. But just a little. And it’s a little spicy, but nothing that nobody or anybody elderly or anything like that wouldn’t be able to handle. And it’s thick. At times we’ll water it down because it will be so thick. Do you start a new fire each day or do you keep the same one going? Sometimes we don’t have to cook every night anymore, but mainly yes, they are always going. Because even if we don’t have to cook, we gotta keep that advertising going! I have had people tell me that they can smell that mesquite on the (highway) bypass. What non-secret ingredients are in your spice rub, if you use one? We season ‘em with garlic salt and pepper. It’s no big secret how we do it. We just use these old pits. We use mesquite wood. We cook it all night. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, trust me. Aluminum foil or butcher paper? The very first thing that we do in the morning when we get there is we go out, we check ‘em, and if they are the right color, cuz they have to be that dark, crusty brown, then we wrap them with foil. And then we put them back on the pit for them to finish. What should the home smoker look for when picking out a side of brisket from the market? Is grade important? I will tell you, the grade of meat that you buy is always important. The quality of meat, I’m telling you right now. I don’t care what you cook it with, I don’t care what you do to it, if you start out with a poor selection of meat, it matters. You can have USDA Choice or USDA Select. The USDA Choice is the highest you can get. The Select is still a good grade of meat. What’s the one other piece of advice you’d give to someone smoking a brisket at home? DO NOT TRIM THE FAT OFF OF IT! That’s where all the flavor and taste is. And when you cook it you put the fat side up so the juices go down through the meat. Do you use or have you considered using a gas- or electric-fired smoker, such as a Southern Pride, Ole Hickory, or J&R, for any of your meats?’ Absolutely not! No, no, no! We use wood. Real wood. And you cook it on a pit! That’s just not barbecue. Favorite BBQ in Texas other than your own? There is a barbecue place that makes their own sausage. At Longoria’s in Fort Worth. It’s this little hole-in-the-wall just like we are. Anytime that I’m in the vicinity I go by and I get it. It is fantastic. Ever have any Texas barbecue outside of Texas? What did you think? I have been to other places, but if it’s not originated in Texas, it’s just not as good. Who would have thought one particular cuisine could be so popular? Texas is the founding father of barbecue. Now I’m sure there are some wonderful barbecues everywhere, but that’s my opinion. – EMILY MITCHELL (Questions by Jason Cohen, Andrea Valdez, Pat Sharpe, Katy Vine, Daniel Vaughn, Jim Shahin, J.C. Reid, @stewlevine & @JoePerryinTX). *correction: as noted in comments