Stephen F. Austin State University

East Texas Food-Ways - A BBQ Crossroads (December 2012)

East Texas Food-Ways- A BBQ Crossroads
By Jeff Campbell

Jefferson and all of East Texas has one foot in the South and one foot in the West. This is reflected in our history, our culture and our food-ways. Food-ways, according to Webster's, "are the eating habits and culinary practices of a people, region or historic period". One of these most recognizable food-ways is barbeque.

Barbeque in the Southeast and Texas ranks right up there with college football as a passion. Everyone loves it but they believe wholeheartedly that theirs is the best. Just like the SEC and Big 12 argue about who has the best football, folks argue about who has the best barbeque. Some even argue how to spell it, is it barbecue or barbeque? There's lots to debate, from vinegar based sauces in eastern North Carolina to mustard based sauces in South Carolina, from wet ribs in Alabama to dry rub ribs in Memphis and from pork barbeque in the Southeast to beef bbq in Texas.

Why is it that pork barbeque is so popular in the Southeast United States and beef barbeque is so popular in Texas? It's all a case of geography. From the Piney Woods of East Texas all the way to Virginia the land is very heavily wooded. Heavily wooded areas are a much better places to raise hogs than cattle. Hogs do not require the grazing acreage that cattle require.

A good reference point for this would be the 20 Inch Rain Line, close to the 100th meridian, that separates the humid south from the dry west. It's referred to as the 20 Inch Rain Line because land west of the line receives approximately 20 inches of rain or less each a year.Whereas the Southeast United States, east of the line, receives from 32 to 64 inches of rain, annually. More rain means more trees.

Jefferson, along with the rest of East Texas sits just east of this line. Which places us not only at a geographical transition zone but also a cultural one that influences our foodways. This transition zone could also be referred to as barbeque heaven. Because here in Jefferson, and East Texas, we can enjoy the best of both worlds, pork and beef barbeque.

One of the best places to enjoy both of these barbeque staples is at Joseph's Riverport BBQ in Jefferson, Texas.Joseph's serves up beef brisket, pulled pork and pork ribs that would satisfy folks from Charlotte to El Paso. Access to these barbeque choices is one of the great benefits of living in Jefferson, Texas.

If you frequent a great barbeque joint in East Texas, please let me know. I'm always on the lookout for some high quality 'que!