I’ll be touring Texas-inspired barbecue joints in the United Kingdom starting January 8th. Here’s some background.
The export of Texas barbecue – or more specifically the culture of Texas barbecue – is a fascinating story. As recently as six years ago there were no legitimate Texas-style barbecue joints outside of Texas. Sure, there were innumerable “Texas BBQ” joints all over the U.S. But they mostly just paid lip service to true Texas BBQ by serving roast beef drowned in bottled barbecue sauce. True Texas BBQ, which for our purposes is primarily beef cooked using smoke at relatively low heat for long periods of time to tenderize and flavor the meat, simply did not exist outside our great state.
I would argue that the export of real Texas barbecue began with the opening of Hill Country Barbecue in New York City in 2007. This was (and still is) a Manhattan barbecue joint that used the same techniques of real Texas joints while also paying homage to the traditions and culture of Texas barbecue.
From there, the 2008 issue of Texas Monthly’s Top 50 Barbecue Joints had a big influence in the media coverage of barbecue. It was around this time that food media – blogs, cooking shows, the Food Network – really took off. Texas barbecue and its tradition and personalities were tailor-made for the expanding national interest in food.
The export of true Texas barbecue popped up on my radar at 10:28am on 21 January 2011.
Very interesting. RT @thejgold: Isn't it time to read about some barbecue? http://bit.ly/g8H55Y
— J.C. Reid (@houston_foodie) January 21, 2011
This tweet linked to a review of a barbecue joint in Los Angeles. Up until this time, I’d visited many barbecue joints throughout Texas. And since the 2008 Texas Monthly issue, I’d begun taking regular road trips throughout Texas to visit as many as possible. I had also lived in Los Angeles for six years back in the 1980s and doubted that there were any legit Texas barbecue joints there now.
But this review was by a respected critic who wrote knowledgeably about Texas barbecue. Within a year I was back in Los Angeles visiting Smoke City Market as well as several other legitimate Texas barbecue joints.
Additional research showed the export of Texas barbecue accelerating across the U.S. In 2012 I had the good fortune to publish a piece about this phenomenon in the New York Times in association with Texas Monthly. Since then, Texas barbecue has become even more popular, especially in New York City, where numerous legitimate Texas barbecue joints have opened up in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
During this arduous nation-wide barbecue research, I stumbled upon another review of note.
Real Texas barbecue found in the UK by @jayrayner1. BBQ run, anyone? http://bit.ly/r1tsjF
— J.C. Reid (@houston_foodie) July 23, 2011
Here was respected British food writer Jay Rayner knowledgeably reviewing a Texas barbecue joint. A Texas barbecue joint in England. And it’s not an exaggeration to say that since then, Texas barbecue has taken the United Kingdom by storm. Though most of the barbecue joints that have opened in the U.K. in the last couple of years bill themselves as “American” barbecue joints, they are all clearly influenced by the Texas tradition. At least two places – The Bar-B-Q Shack in Brighton and Texas Joe’s in London, wholeheartedly embrace the Texas barbecue tradition.
This is even more impressive because in the U.K. the term “BBQ” has traditionally meant “grilling.” But most if not all of the new traditional barbecue joints use smokers rather than grills to cook the meat. A list of the brick-and-mortar U.K. barbecue joints I’ll be visiting is below.
View 2014 UK Barbecue Tour in a larger map
There are many additional trailers and food stalls not on this map that sell barbecue, whose opening times and locations change, and I’ll try to visit those also.
Note that I call this a “UK Barbecue Tour” when in fact all of the barbecue joints are physically located in England. I’m not aware of any barbecue joints of this type in other parts of the U.K. Still, “UK Barbecue Tour” sounds more appropriate than “English Barbecue Tour.” Plus, if I used “English Barbecue Tour,” I’d never hear the end of the question, “What’s English Barbecue?”
All that said, a final question might be, “Why go all the way to the U.K. to eat Texas barbecue?” Indeed, when describing my trip to almost everyone, the invariable response is, “There’s barbecue in the U.K.?!” Even my most earnest explanations fail to assuage the skepticism. “He just needs an excuse to go to Europe again,” they whisper (I heard you!).
No, as someone who has followed the culture of Texas barbecue for many years, to see it exported nationally and internationally is indeed fascinating. Some of the greatest insight into our own culture is gained by understanding how other cultures view and assimilate it for themselves. This cultural exchange is usually manifested in areas like music, film, and television. More recently food traditions have made the jump across the pond (both directions).
Barbecue holds a special place in this exchange; after all, applying fire and smoke to meat is an ancient tradition. Texas has just brought it to a higher art form, worthy of sincere imitation.
Lastly, every discussion I have about Texas barbecue inevitably leads to a discussion about the people who make it. They are invariably the most accommodating, friendly, and dedicated people you will ever meet. I expect that to translate across the pond, too. As much as I want to taste the barbecue in the U.K., I also can’t wait to meet the people who make it.
Some general U.K. barbecue coverage:
Jay Rayner U.K. barbecue coverage:
Simon Majumdar U.S. barbecue coverage: