2013 Boudin Cook-Off in Lafayette, Louisiana

2013 Boudin Cook-Off in Lafayette, Louisiana
2013 Boudin Cook-Off in Lafayette, LA. Click above for larger image, then scroll left-right to see it all.

One of the very nicest things about living in Houston is that you can jump in the car, drive a few hours in any direction, and feel like you’re in a totally different place with a totally different cuisine. An hour south and you’re in Galveston with a comfortable-if-not-quite-picturesque coastline and a diverse selection of Gulf seafood. A couple of hours northwest and you’re approaching the Hill Country and Central Texas barbecue. And three hours due east, “on the other side of the Sabine River” as my Southeast Texas friends call Southwest Louisiana (SWLA), is an endlessly fascinating place called Cajun country, with a highly prized dish known as boudin.

Boudin is, of course, a type of sausage or link made of more-or-less equal parts pig, rice and various vegetables, herbs and spices. It is a throwback to the sausage-making skills of the French/Acadian ancestors who settled in this area. It is very much a part of this place which is historically poor, and limited to an abundance of a few basic ingredients, especially pigs and rice (seafood too). Like other “peasant” dishes, boudin was a way to use the less-desirable parts of the animal – organs, offal, etc. – in an economical and delicious way. It is one of those special dishes that is simple yet complex – anybody can make it, using innumerable permutations of a few ingredients, to their own taste or to their family’s tradition.

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Clarence Pierson is Back

Clarence Pierson
Houston Pitmaster Clarence Pierson

More than two years ago, when Clarence Pierson closed his celebrated Acres Homes barbecue joint due to health reasons, he promised that someday he’d re-open. There have been several false starts over the years – mainly due to continuing health reasons – which piqued the interest of Houston barbecue hounds, but ultimately the reopening of Pierson & Company Bar-B-Que was delayed. Until now.

“We just got our permits and are beginning the process of reopening,” Mr. Pierson told me today as I toured his newly painted and spiffed-up barbecue joint on T.C. Jester (same location as before). The scent of burning post oak soaked my clothes as I stood in the small dining room listening to Mr. Pierson’s travails over the last couple of years. Twenty pounds lighter and with two brand new titanium knees, he feels great and the health issues associated with double knee replacement have been overcome.

The last year has been particularly challenging with ongoing physical therapy and, more recently and tragically, the sudden death of his wife of over thirty years. Today was the first day in two years he presided over a smoker filled with brisket, ribs, homemade links, and boudin. By all appearances, he is happy to be back.

Pierson BBQ smoker
Pierson’s upright, all-wood-burning, Klose-built smoker: Cleaned, re-seasoned, permitted and smoking away.

Technically, Pierson’s will be in a “soft opening” for the next couple of weeks. He’s just fired up the smoker and will be producing a limited quantity of barbecue for sale during lunch hours starting Tuesday of next week. I suggest most Houston barbecue hounds wait a couple of weeks to make the pilgrimage to Acres Homes. But if you must get a taste of the classic Pierson’s Bar-B-Que, get there early (11am is the nominal opening time) and be prepared for the occasional snafu as he gets back on his feet (literally). The phone number is the same, and it may be worth a call before trekking out that way. Mr. Pierson’s sister and niece will be manning the order counter, just like the old days. Please be patient and considerate.

Also note that parking will be a challenge for the short term as he gets more space arranged. Parking on the adjacent neighborhood streets may be necessary.

Welcome back to Clarence Pierson, a true gentleman and scholar of barbecue. Houston barbecue just got a whole lot better.

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Traditional fried crabs at Benno's
Traditional fried crabs at Benno’s

“There’s just nothing coming up out of the water,” explained Tracy Deltz, owner of Benno’s in Galveston, when I asked why he’s had trouble keeping crabs on the menu this summer. It’s a refrain I’ve heard a lot lately – there’s a historic shortage of blue crabs on the Texas Gulf Coast. Other’s have noticed too. At least one reader of the Houston Chronicle seems to have assumed that Benno’s has gotten out of the crab business entirely (not true of course).

Robb Walsh recently wrote a great piece about how Texas blue crabs have all-but-vanished from Houston restaurant menus. Most Houston restaurants go through wholesalers to get their seafood, and the local crabs most likely to be supplied to Texas wholesalers are instead being shipped east to Maryland where they fetch top dollar. Walsh claims that “…nearly all of the more than three million pounds worth of crab harvested annually in Texas goes to Maryland,” (that seems like a lot!) but also notes that “Old-time barbecue crab shacks on the coast and restaurants that have long-standing arrangements with crabbers might get some local crab…”

So I made a few calls to a few of Texas’ best-known crab shacks to see how things are faring on the front lines. The news isn’t good.

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Meatopia & Sipping from the Spring at Broken Arrow Ranch

Meatopia TX
Meatopia TX

“What’s one piece of advice you’d give about hosting a meat-centric festival in Texas?,” I imagine someone asking me. “Just don’t schedule it on the same day as the Texas Monthly Barbecue Festival,” I’d reply. As someone with a long history of attending meat-centric festivals in Texas, and more recently of organizing them, my only real recommendation is don’t hold it on the same day as Texas’ premier barbecue/meat extravaganza. Oh, and for the love of g– don’t hold it anytime between June and September (well maybe the end of September is OK).

So when New York food writer and meat-centric festival organizer Josh Ozersky announced last week that he scheduled his first Meatopia event in Texas on the same day as the Texas Monthly Barbecue Festival, I thought, “That’s a dumb thing to do.” Or maybe not. Conspiracy theorists might suggest this was a shot-across-the-bow of the established TMBBQ festival, considering Ozersky espouses the “New Barbecue” vs. the “old,” “stale,” barbecue of (presumably) traditional BBQ joints in Texas and beyond.

But the festival organizer in me realizes that sometimes there’s only one good date to schedule an event in Texas – especially in the fall when festivals are everywhere and you have to schedule around your favorite football teams, be it college, pro, or – for the people of Odessa – high school.

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Gary Burns Returns to the Family BBQ Business

Burns Original BBQ
Left to right: Steve Burns, Sharon Burns, Tommy Burns, Gary Burns, Ricky Burns, Roy Burns Jr. and Andre Burns. Photo courtesy Burns Original BBQ/Facebook

Houston pitmaster Gary Burns has closed his BBQ joint on Antoine and rejoined the family business at the original Burns location on DePriest St. The DePriest location was where Burns’ father Roy Burns gained notoriety for his classic style of East Texas ‘Q. After the elder Burns died a few years ago, the original location closed. Gary’s brother Steve re-opened it a year ago as “Burns Original BBQ.” Gary rejoined the family business this past May. He attributed the closure of the Antoine location to a dispute with his business partner there.

Considering how labor intensive the barbecue business is, it makes perfect sense for Gary to return to the family fold. There’s a big staff at Burns Original BBQ and Gary has a lot of support there. Great to see the Burns family coming together again. Of course Roy Burns’ daughters Kathy Braden and Lisa Jordan still have their Burns BBQ location on Shepherd that is still going strong.

That said, there’s a turnkey BBQ facility on Antoine if anyone is interested. One of the best steel, all-wood-burning smokers I’ve seen in Houston.

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