Lettering In BBQ

Most of the varsity teams in American high schools involve sports that have been around for a long, long time.  Baseball, football, basketball, wrestling, and swimming, among others, have all been around for decades.  Now some high schools in Texas are introducing a new varsity team to the mix:  barbecue.

30629807_346739375833962_402609782687286108_nThe high school BBQ teams in Texas sound like a combination of vocational education, home ec, and shop class, with a little rah-rah school spirit thrown in.  Students on the team build and weld their own metal barbecue cooker, design and create their own team t-shirts, and work with teachers to come up with recipes and techniques and develop their pitmaster capabilities in the competitive cooking categories.  At cook-off competitions, the teams are judged on best beef brisket, pork ribs, half chicken, best beans, dessert, best pit, most school spirit, and best t-shirt.

High school barbecue teams sound odd, at first, but I think they’re actually a pretty good idea, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more schools in other states adopting the concept.  The BBQ teams have got to be a lot of fun, and they offer a chance for boys and girls to be on the same school squad, competing together for their alma maters.  The modern world is a lot more about inclusion, and a varsity BBQ team would have room for anyone who likes to cook — regardless of their physical condition, height, weight, coordination, or general athletic ability.  And every kid who letters in BBQ will end up being pretty deft with a grille and smoker and probably can make a pretty mean sauce, besides.  It would be a nice skill to have as you move into adulthood.

Varsity barbecue has been rapidly growing in popularity, especially in north Texas.  One annual tournament drew teams from more than 100 high schools.  I bet it drew a lot of hungry fans, too.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XIX)

Sometimes, you only need to look at a menu to determine whether a place is likely to be good, or bad.  When it comes to a BBQ joint, you’re looking for a menu that is brief, and preferably written on the wall rather than on laminated menus that are handed out to patrons.  That’s because, if you’re turning out the highest quality barbecue, it’s got to be the exclusive focus of your efforts.  You can’t be wasting time worrying about creating new salads, special soups, or other, lesser items.

Yesterday we ventured out of the downtown area to try the offerings of Smoked on High.  I’d heard about SoH from several friends and the word of mouth was very strong, so when the Red Sox Fan suggested yesterday that we give it a shot I was all for it.  We drove, because it was pelting down rain — a daily occurrence this August — and SoH is located just south of downtown on High Street, in a converted house located on the border between German Village and the Brewery District.

SoH passed the BBQ menu test with flying colors.  According to the options posted on the wall on the entrance to the order area, you can choose from brisket, pork, chicken, or ribs, a handful of sides, and three sauce options.  Oh, and yesterday chili was available as a special.  It was a visible demonstration of commitment to barbecue, and nothing but.

Of course, I went for the brisket sandwich, with mac n’ cheese and cornbread as sides.  When I ordered the brisket the cook pulled a virgin slab out of the oven, glistening with a great char, and sliced it up for my sandwich.  I was given my food, had decided to try the spicy and mustard and vinegar sauces, had paid for the combo, and was headed to my seat in a few seconds.  The speed was appreciated, because after looking at the meat I was definitely eager to dig in.

The sandwich was terrific — the meat was awesome, and the Red Sox Fan aptly noted that the bun was appropriately substantial to hold up against the weight of the meat piled on it — and the mac n’ cheese and cornbread were delectable, too.  Although it was a very close call, I decided I prefer the mustard and vinegar sauce.

Smoked on High is a short drive from downtown, but it’s also just a short walk from our house in German Village.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to become a regular.

Down-Home BBQ

I’m in Houston for work. When you’re a visitor to a town on a working trip, it’s nice to get away from the hotel scene and hit one of the local joints and, if possible, enjoy some true regional cuisine — like authentic, wood-smoked barbecue.

Last night I hit the mark when the Tattooed Cyclist and his lovely wife took me to Gatlin’s BBQ, one of their favorite hangouts. There we feasted on ribs with an excellent bark, venison sausage, spicy sausage, and some succulent brisket. I added to that a few heaping spoonfuls of mac and cheese and, at the insistence of Mrs. Tattooed Cyclist, some fried okra. Me, eating fried okra! It was good, and proved that pretty much anything fried is palatable. And, of course, when you’re attacking a platter of BBQ, a local brew is essential.

Some people argue about which kind of barbecue is best — Texas, Memphis, Kansas City, Carolina, or wherever your favorite may be found. I think that’s pointless, really. It’s like debating whether Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Renoir, or Jackson Pollack is the best artist. Each should be appreciated for their mastery of their own styles and the masterpieces they produced. When it comes to BBQ, I’ll gladly sample the different offerings of anybody who treats the production of smoked meats as an artistic endeavor, and consume their creative output with relish.