How do you think Texans tamed the wild frontier, pulled oil from the ground, and helped put a man on the moon? Great food, and lots of it. Cajun, German, Native-American, Mexican-you name it, it's all here. So bring your biggest appetite, and be ready to loosen that belt a notch.
When planning your adventure to Texas, remember two things: Come ready for an exciting time and come hungry. Texas cuisine offers the best of more than 20 nationalities, including mixtures of Native-American, Spanish, Mexican, African, German, and good old-fashioned Southern home cooking. They're all uniquely Texan, since through the generations they've been flavored with Texas charm. And because no one enjoys great food as much as Texans, no other state has as many cook-offs, fry-offs, festivals, jamborees or any other celebration of food-from Turkey Trots to Watermelon Thumps to Peach Jamborees, Chili Cookoffs, and our famous state Jalapeño Eating Contest.
Here's a sample of some of the foods considered authentic Texan cuisine. We suggest you not read this on an empty stomach.
· Down Home
· Fine Dining
Barbecue, sometimes referred to as BBQ, is a staple of the true Texan's menu. Invented here in the Lone Star State, you simply can't visit us without trying it. It began in the back rooms of meat markets in Central Texas at the turn of the century, and has grown into a global phenomenon. Today, it's treated as a serious source of pride. With cookoffs held annually all over the state, you can get your share of amateur and professionally prepared barbecue ribs, brisket, sausage, chicken and a lot more. The International Barbecue Cookoff, held in Taylor, brings in cooks from all over the world. But we don't worry; Texans usually keep the honors here at home.
You can find barbecue joints all over the state. According to Texas Monthly magazine, the top three are still found in the birthplace of the craft, Central Texas. Number-one ranked Kreuz Market in Lockhart is one of the oldest around, and with good reason. Patrons are treated to choice cuts cooked the way they've done it for generations. There are no side orders, except a slice or two of bread. And with the juiciest sausage and the most tender beef ever cooked over Post Oak wood, there's no need for sauce. So they don't serve any. Plus, it's still served on a big sheet of butcher paper. Next on the list, is Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Q in Llano. Cooper's barbecue is cooked cowboy style, that is, directly over the smoldering hardwood coals. There's usually a line, and you'll want to get in it twice. The bronze goes to Louie Mueller's in Taylor. The only seasonings they use are salt, pepper and smoke. And that's how they've done it for almost 60 years.
You also can try the hundreds of other places in Texas, each with their own secrets and processes. In fact, you could eat barbecue every day all year and never eat at the same place twice. But you'll want to.
Chili. Whether it's mild, hot or three-alarm, chili is Texas. In fact, chili is the official state dish. But, there are as many variations of it as there are Texans. The definition of "real" chili depends on the interpreter's taste buds. In some circles, adding beans to chili is almost sacrilegious. Yet, as far as the origins of chili, no one is sure. Some believe transplanted Canary Islanders in San Antonio invented it in 1731. Other signs point back to the chuck wagon days, where early cowboys used it to liven up the taste of Longhorn beef. What we do know is that it gained universal popularity in the mid-1800s when the "chili queens" of San Antonio stirred up vats of succulent stew to sell at the military plaza. The world was first introduced to chili in the 1893 Chicago World's Fair in a booth simply called "San Antonio Chili."
Once a year, on the first Saturday in November, thousands of "chili heads" converge in Terlingua for the International Championship Chili Cook-Off. The first was held in 1967 as a contest of both wit and chili between humorists Wick Fowler of Texas and New Yorker H. Allen Smith. It has become a Texas tradition. The contest site was chosen because organizers figured none of the "yankees" would show up in tough-terrained Terlingua. They were wrong, of course, and the rest is history.
Tex-Mex is truly the best of two worlds. Rich with Mexican flavors and ingredients, teamed with Texas flair, Tex-Mex is only found in the Lone Star State. In fact, some of the dishes you won't find anywhere in Mexico. Or if you do, they'll look entirely different. But the idea of using cornmeal (or "masa") and flour to make tortillas, and all of the main Tex-Mex ingredients are found in Mexican cuisine. Rice and beans are also found on both sides of the border. In fact, rice and beans are the staple sides in Tex-Mex and true Mexican fare for great reasons. First, their tastes and textures blend perfectly with the beefs, sauces, cheeses, and corn or flour tortillas used in almost every recipe. And when combined together, they make a more complete protein structure-more beneficial than either beans or rice alone. Of course, not all Tex-Mex involves those basic ingredients alone. Menudo is a very special stew, made with vegetables (most notably, hominy) and "tripas," or cow stomach. Developed out of ingenuity to not waste any part of a cow, menudo is to Tex-Mex as chili is to the rest of Texan cuisine. You can get great Tex-Mex all over the state, but get closer to the border and the South Texas Plains for what is considered to be the best.
Down Home Cookin' is what we like to call everything else. A blend of American fare, cowboy recipes, German cuisine and just plain food, it's the rest of the dishes made famous in Texas. Recipes include stews, casseroles, breads and pies and were invented out of necessity and ingenuity by chuck wagon cooks and farmers. In the beginning of cowboy cuisine, beef was preserved "on the hoof" until slaughtered for meals. In most cases, the entire cow was used in various recipes. With the right amount of spice, curing and cooking, chuck wagon cooks could turn any cut into a meal that would bring a smile to the toughest hand. Then there's the steak. It doesn't matter which cut you pick. In Texas, you can get a steak any day of the week, anywhere in the state. Naturally, Texas steakhouses are considered among the best in the nation. Take Pappas Brothers in Houston, where you can add shrimp remoulade and Maine lobster to your three-peppercorn steak. Or Fort Griffin General Merchandise, recently voted best small town steakhouse by Texas Monthly magazine. The Albany restaurant is a favorite of patrons like Clint Eastwood and Robert Duvall. And who's going to argue with them? Then there's the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo. You can eat there free any night of the week, provided you finish a 72-ounce steak dinner plus the fixins' in less than an hour. They'll even add your name to the list of successful 72 ounce diners posted at the door. Who can resist a great steak and fame in Texas?
It's true, Texans do love our steak. But we really love it chicken-fried. Chicken-fried steak is considered the "national dish of Texas" by many. And rightly so. Invented back in the chuck-wagon days of early Texas, over 800,000 of them are served in our state daily. Yet unlike most other Texan fare, the recipe is not a closely guarded secret. Take a steak, bread it, fry it, smother it with country gravy and eat it. You'll find, however, that everyone does it a little differently. For a taste of what Texans consider the best, visit the restaurants deemed the best chicken-fried steaks by the readers of Texas Monthly magazine; The Cottonwood Cafe in La Grange, Goodson's Cafe in Tomball, Bluebonnet Cafe in Temple, and Rogers' Round Top Cafe in Round Top. It'll be worth the drive.
Texas is also known for its fine dining. Chef Dean Fearing has created a national reputation for the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas. It was voted one of the top five restaurants in the country for its southwestern cuisine. Specialties include a crisp chipotle-and-wild-boar flauta with lime sour cream and pomegranate. Also located in Dallas and quickly gaining a reputation for its southwestern creations is Star Canyon. Famed Chef Stephen Pyles heads up the kitchen and oversees preparations of dishes like coriander-cured venison. Chef Robert Del Grande is also creating southwestern cuisine masterpieces of his own such as grilled redfish in a subtle red-chile salsa at Cafe Annie in Houston.
So how does a Texan wash it all down? That's an easy one --with a tall glass of ice tea. See, in the Lone Star State, we like our tea "cold and clinkin'." So expect to cool off on a hot summer day with a glass of our favorite beverage. For that matter, it works just the same during the winter too. It's just the way we like it in Texas.
Rest assured, there's plenty to do here between meals. To find out more about all the activities in Texas, just use the our search feature. If you're looking for specific information on other Texas activities, try the other active links listed above. And we'll be sure and save a setting at the table for you.
To enjoy Texas cuisine at home, whenever you want, try these Texas Treats recipes and make your next gathering a Texas-style meal. You can also send these recipes to your friends or kinfolk. Just click on the recipe you like and we'll send it for you.