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. Today we’re featuring Gerald Birkelbach, 55, of City Meat Market in Giddings. For more info, visit their page on TMBBQ.com.
Photographs by Daniel Vaughn.
What is your heat source? Post oak. Who did you learn your craft from? I learned it right here with on the job training starting 37-and-a-half years ago to be exact. What’s your signature meat? I think our signature meat is the pork Boston butt and the pork ribs. Sauce or no sauce? It is offered, yes. I do it both ways though to be perfectly honest. It depends on how I feel. We also make a jalapeno pepper sauce that’s on the tables and if I want sauce I’ll use that over BBQ sauce. Slow and low or high and faster? Really it’s kind of in between. I can do it either way I wanna do it but I prefer to have a good, steady heat and if I need to turn it up I’ll put on an extra log or two. And I’m gonna be perfectly honest here—I do not cook with a temperature gauge. Never have. I do not know what temperature my pit runs, I just know how it cooks. What non-secret ingredients are in your spice rub? The ingredients I use in my spice rub are regular salt, medium ground black pepper, chili pepper and ground cayenne pepper. What’s your favorite barbeque in Texas other than your own? I have never gone to another BBQ place and bought and ate BBQ. I do it 6 days a week, why am I gonna buy BBQ? If I’m in Austin or something like that I usually go to a Mexican food place or seafood. Do you start a new fire everyday or keep the same one going? I restart it every day. Aluminum foil or butcher paper? I use the foil steam table pans. To me it’s a waste of time and paper to individually wrap your briskets or whatever. As the meat gets done we put them in the foil pan and then put another pan on top of it so it can continue to cook and dry. What should the home smoker look for when picking out a side of brisket from the market? First, and this is just my opinion, I use a smaller brisket when I cook. They are eight to nine pounds. We do a little bit more trimming on the briskets. Your cook time is a whole lot less and I think it cooks a lot better than the twelve to fifteen. What’s the one other piece of advice you’d give to someone smoking a brisket at home? If you’re doing it at home you just got to take your time with it. I’ve seen people cook on different type pits and it all takes a long time. 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? No. Strictly post-oak wood and that is it. I know some of them that have the gas jets and the electric and they buy the smoker chips or one piece of wood on a hot plate but I prefer doing it this way. Ever have any Texas barbecue outside of Texas? What did you think? No I have not. How many pounds of meat do you smoke in a week? It varies from week to week and day to day. On a good Saturday I’ll probably cook (and this is not including sausage and all) in the neighborhood of about 1100 pounds, and that’s just on a good Saturday. And on a weekday I’d say somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 pounds, and that just depends on what’s going on in town that week. (Questions by Jason Cohen, Andrea Valdez, Pat Sharpe, Katy Vine, Sonia Smith, Daniel Vaughn, Jim Shahin, J.C. Reid, @stewlevine&@JoePerryinTX.)