It was the smoke that stopped me. The juice and fat from fifty-some-odd chickens mixed with mesquite charcoal to form a steady stream of smoke high above the roof line of Pollos Asados Los Norteños in San Antonio. I was scouting another barbecue joint and had stumbled upon the popular spot…
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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 bring you Cliff Payne, 58, of Cousin's Bar-B-Q, which has six locations around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, including two nestled inside DFW Airport. Cousin's sausage and beef ribs both won People's Choice at last year's festival. For more info, visit their page on TMBBQ.com. What kind of wood do you use? Green hickoryWho did you learn your craft from? My dad started in the restaurant business in 1967 when we opened a seafood restaurant in San Antonio. My dad would work about one hundred hours a week so we’d go to the restaurant to visit him, and if we went to the restaurant we had to work. I started when I was twelve. I went from scrubbing floors and peeling potatoes to helping cook. We did that for about fifteen years, then we decided in 1982 to get into the barbecue business. Dad learned it from Walter Jetton, he was the big barbecue man, and my dad worked part time for him. In ‘83 we opened in Fort Worth and have been doing it ever since.What’s the best thing you smoke? Well, brisket is our biggest seller and everyone loves our ribs, but each one of our products has something special about it. We’ve got the best chicken in Fort Worth and we make our own sausage that won in Austin last year. So probably brisket, ribs, chicken and then sausage.Sauce or no sauce? We put sauce on the side. All the barbecue I eat there’s no sauce on it though.Do you make your own sausage? Yes, in two styles, smoked German sausage and jalapeno pepper sausage. About twenty years ago we brought over a young man from Germany—a sausage master, and he got us in the right direction with the German sausage with some trial and error. Our other kind is a hot link, with jalapeno and cheddar in it, which won at the festival last year. People were really talking about that. We make everything in small batches because it is all hands-on. We don’t have the big equipment to mass produce it.
A bright red sign outlined in neon lights screams CHICKEN as you approach Ms P’s Electric Cock, a large silver trailer on a quieter part of South Congress Avenue. As you may have guessed from the attention-getting name, Ms P’s is not a place for subtlety. It is, however, a place for really good fried chicken. Or should I say fried CHICKEN! Owner Perry Ray (a.k.a. Ms P) was inspired to open the trailer because she didn’t feel there was a place in Austin focused on putting out great fried chicken and southern comfort side dishes. Growing up in Tahoka, TX, Ray learned how to make fried chicken from her great grandmother, who she called “Big Mama.” (Awesome-sounding nicknames appear to run in the family). Ray says her great grandmother “was a self-taught cook and a baker and was really good at both. Since I could stand on a stool to reach the cabinets she was teaching me how to cook.” Big Mama made her fried chicken in a cast-iron skillet, but to make larger quantities to order, Ray had to learn how to make it taste just as good in a fryer. She developed a two-step brining process and amped up the spice level of the original recipe. I stopped by Ms P’s on a Friday night to sample the goods. Funky music blasted from the trailer’s window. Official t-shirts featured a proud rooster sporting a hip pompadour and radiating electric sparks. Slogan on the back of the t-shirt: Good Cluck’n Chicken. The chicken earned its star billing. Juicy meat was encased in a crispy coating that tasted just-the-right-amount of spicy. A three-piece platter was served with soft rolls and topped with big fresh jalapenos that just about dared you to bite into them. The fries, called Farm Frites, had an extra jolt of flavor from an unexpected sprinkling of thyme.
Cockfighting is probably cruel and certainly illegal, which are only two reasons that attract its aficionados.