“Ya’ll are from Kansas City? Ain’t that where they burn meat with hickory and drown it in sweety sweet tomato sauce? Never had any, but I ate some Kansas City barbecue flavored potato chips once.”
Chef Paul Kirk and I got that remark from a Texas pitmaster during a recent five-day barbecue roadtrip in central Texas. As he kept jiving us, we realized it was tongue-in-cheek. He continued with a friendly discussion of pits, woods, rubs and sauce. Turns out he knew what he was talking about.
Most Texas pitmasters and customers were welcoming and friendly. Pitmasters let their barbecue speak for itself. No bragging, just pride in their product and appreciative of honest feedback, which in most instances was positive.
A few constants we noticed are worthy of note.
Raw onions and pickles
Every time we go to Texas, we welcome the tradition of getting raw onions and pickles, and in many places, jalapeno peppers, on the side with the barbecue. You needn’t ask for it. It’s there, take it or leave it. We took it. We loved it. After all, it doesn’t hurt to eat some veggies with your barbecue.
Why, we wondered, is this so prevalent? We get pickles in most Chow Town barbecue joints, but not raw onions unless requested.
The explanation that made most sense to us was that it harkens back to when Texas meat markets first started smoking tough cuts of meat into tender smoky morsels as a barbecue side business.
Pickles, pickled jalapenos and onions, already on hand at the market, were a cheap and easy add-on. We took such a special liking to it that we asked for pickles and raw onions on our return home through Topeka atBoss Hawgs
. Most Chow Town barbecue joints offer pickles. If you ask, you’ll get some raw onion. Try it. You could get hooked.
Maybe it reflects the influence of cowboy and Mexican culture. Pinto beans, often with a hint of chili seasoning, were always available, usually free with your barbecue order. Tootsie Tomanetz atSnow’s
in Lexington made the absolute best I’ve ever eaten besides my late Aunt Maude’s. Tootsie knows barbecue for sure. She also knows beans.
Bread or crackers?
Like in Texas, Chow Town barbecue joints give you white sandwich bread. I’m told that locals in Texas ask for crackers. My advice is to get both: bread for sopping and crackers to enjoy with your onion and pickles as you eat barbecue.
Finally, there’s the question of sauce or no sauce. Texas is typically thought of as a no sauce state. On this trip, however, sauce was everywhere. Most places made it available on the side, in keeping with the Texas attitude that the barbecue is so good it needs no sauce.
We even noticed some sweety sweet Kansas City-style barbecue sauce in some places. I won’t be surprised to find Texas style barbecue potato chips in supermarkets soon.
Ardie Davis is an iconic figure in the barbecue community. He founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS’s Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on numerous food shows and writes for a variety of barbecue-related publications. He is also the author of a number of barbecue books, His most recent release book is “America’s Best BBQ Homestyle: What Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”