"You just can't throw meat in an oven and come back 24 hours later. You gotta sweat and inhale a lot of smoke. You gotta cook right over the coals where the meat can drip down - then the flavor can come back up through it. You can't be lazy if you want real Texas barbecue, you gotta do the work."  

- Steve Kapchinskie, 52, pit master 29 years, Martin’s Place

Traditionalist purists will argue that Texas barbecue should only be cooked low and slow. The pit master digs a hole in the ground and burns the hardwood down to coals, just like the cowboys did in the old days.  The meat cooks directly over the coals for 18-24 hours, with temperatures averaging 200-250°F.

In modern times, health food inspectors frown on hole in the ground operations. Health laws in many Texas counties do not allow restaurants to cook meat outdoors. Many barbecue joints build elaborate facades (tin roofs, screen doors) to bring the outdoors indoors in order to work around this limitation. So although they no longer cook in a whole in the ground, they do still apply the low and slow cooking discipline.

The hot and fast method is also popular. Keep in mind that hot and fast isn’t what the general public would consider fast, we’re talking 4-8 hours cooking time. The cooking temperature averages 500°F but can reach 900°F. 

Whether low and slow or hot and fast, Texas barbecue is the ultimate slow food.

Barbecue culture is not only divided between these two cooking disciplines, but also between all the other barbecue variables including but not limited to the following.

Dry rub
(wet) Mop
No sauce
Served with sides
No sides
Outdoor pit
Indoor pit
Brick pit
Steel pit
Square pit
Cylindrical pit
Open pit
Closed pit
Wood for heat
Wood for smoke
Direct fire/smoke

Indirect fire/smoke

There is a multitude of influences that shaped and continue to affect Texas barbecue, which result in no hard and fast rules when it comes to cooking it. There are arguments over cooking time; cooking methods; using the right type of wood (mesquite, pecan, hickory, or post oak); and the correct design of the smoker. Texans like to argue anyway and considering Texas barbecue is the amalgamation of so many different styles, the distinctions or traditionalist views are slowly being lost over time. On the other hand, this is what makes Texas barbecue so interesting: it’s the controversy, the passion, the rebelliousness and the devotion to cooking the best meat possible (but in who’s view and how much do they know about Texas barbecue anyway?).

Speak to any true Texas barbecue pit master or joint owner and they will argue that they make the best barbecue in town. This, along with secret recipes and the small distinctions and techniques the pit masters hold on to, is what keeps the culture alive.