Food & Drink | January 2019

By Abby & Kevin Tankersley

Learning the Pit

On a recent Saturday morning, Patrick Coulter sat in a folding chair in the back parking lot of the Bell County Expo Center in Belton. In a large square area set off by pink plastic tape, three students from Bruceville-Eddy High School were busy cooking — preparing ribs, chicken, brisket, beans and cobbler.

And while Coulter was available to offer advice and answer questions, if he stepped over that pink tape, that team would be disqualified.

The event was a regional high school barbecue cook-off, sponsored by the McGregor Lions Club. Seven teams were competing for an opportunity to advance to the state championship cook-off next May in Burnet. Coulter, who teaches agriscience at Bruceville-
Eddy, is the sponsor for his school’s team, which consists of sophomore Kade Illian, who was the pitmaster and in charge of brisket; sophomore Issrael Rosas, who was over beans and chicken; and junior Chance Allen, who handled ribs and dessert. The Bruceville-Eddy team used a pit that belonged to Coulter’s grandfather.

“My grandad used to barbecue all the time,” Coulter said. “He competed, and he won a lot. I barbecued with him until I was about 16. When I heard about the high school barbecue teams, I thought, ‘What a great thing.’”

This was Bruceville-Eddy’s first competition, and they were still in learning mode. During a practice session, Coulter said the team cooked a big brisket at too low of a temperature and ended up with meat the consistency of rubber. “It was like chewing on a tire,” he said.

“Now, these guys are working hard to make sure they get the temperature up,” he said. “You’re learning your pit too. We’re learning how this pit works. We use hot coals, a very old-school method. We shovel them in there when it gets low, and we have wood in there to kind of smoke it. It’s labor intensive.”

Illian got interested in competition barbecue after he built a pit as an ag class project.

“I really wanted to use my pit,” he said. “I talked to some friends over the summer and just did a lot of reading and research online, and here we are.”

Prior to Saturday’s competition, students from the seven schools took part in education sessions Friday at the Expo Center. One of the presenters on Friday was Corey Mikes, who cooks professionally as part of the Fat Boys BBQ team out of Temple. His father, Danny Mikes, opened Fat Boys BBQ restaurant when Corey was a youngster.

“I’ve been cooking barbecue since I was in the sixth grade. I’ve been around barbecue pits and trimming meat and seasoning even before then,”Corey said. Cooking as a team “is near and dear to my heart,” he added, which is why he offers his expertise to the high school students.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for them to learn,” he said. “Barbecue is the complete opposite of instant gratification. The brisket that I just pulled off — and I cook hot and fast — took seven hours. It’s great to pass on these traditions.”

Coulter said Corey and his team, as well as the Lucky Charms BBQ team from Sour Lake, all checked in on the Bruceville-Eddy team after Friday’s session and again Saturday morning.

They were beyond helpful,” Coulter said. “They’re in it to help these guys.”

Mike Olson of McGregor’s Lions Club, who promoted the event, said the competition is a way for the students to make friends from other school districts as well as learn some life skills.

“These kids came out here at 5 o’clock this morning and started their fires. At 6 o’clock I gave them their meats,” Olson said. “They’re out there trimming, making their beans, making their desserts. They’re making sauces and mixing ingredients.”

Olson, whose full-time job is director of community development for the city of McGregor, said he hopes next year’s competition will feature 10 to 12 high school teams.

Recipe notes: We don’t have a smoker or a barbecue pit, so when we make brisket, we use the Oven Brisket recipe below. For the photo with this article, we wanted to capture the beautiful smoke ring that can only be accomplished using a pit, so we bought a couple of pounds of cooked brisket from Guess Family Barbecue at 324 South Sixth Street in Waco.

The Recipes

Oven Brisket

  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 beef brisket (6 pounds), trimmed
  • 1 bottle (10 ounces) Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tablespoons liquid smoke

With a mortar and pestle, or using the flat side of a large knife, crush together the garlic and pepper until you have a paste. Rub the paste liberally over the brisket. Place brisket in a large roasting pan.

In a bowl, add the Worcestershire and liquid smoke. Whisk together and pour over the brisket, turning to coat well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 to 10 hours.

Heat oven to 450 F. Bake the brisket, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

Remove brisket from oven, cover the pan tightly with foil, and reduce the oven temperature to 225 F. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 1 hour per pound of brisket.

Remove the pan from the oven. Place the brisket on a double sheet of foil and let cool to room temperature. When cooled, tightly wrap the brisket in the foil and place in the refrigerator for 8 to 10 hours. Pour the juice from the roasting pan into a mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

When ready to serve, heat oven to 350 F. Remove brisket from refrigerator, slice the brisket against the grain and arrange the slices in a baking dish. Pour a little of the reserved pan juices over the brisket to keep it from drying out. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes or until heated through.

Makes about 6-8 servings.


Barbecue Sauce

  • 1 1/2 cups beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 can (15 ounces) crushed tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons liquid smoke
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown mustard
  • 2 tablespoons honey

Pour the beef broth into a saucepan, place over high heat and reduce to about 1/2 cup. Pour the broth into a small bowl and set aside. Place the pan back over medium-high heat and add the butter. When the butter melts, add the onion, garlic and celery and sauté until tender.

Add the reduced beef broth, tomatoes, liquid smoke, tomato paste, vinegar, mustard and honey. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. Pour the sauce into a blender, or use an immersion blender, and puree the sauce until smooth. Add more beef broth if the sauce is too thick. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Makes about 3 cups.


Stovetop Barbecue Beans

  • 1 pound dry pinto beans
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 jalapeno or serrano pepper
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • Small ham hock or a slice of bacon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 cups chicken, beef or vegetable broth

Pour beans into a large bowl or pot. Sift through and pick out any small rocks. Cover beans with water by at least 3 inches over the beans and let sit on the counter overnight.

Drain and rinse the beans. Place in a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. Add onion, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro and ham hock or bacon. Then add salt, pepper and paprika. Pour in the broth and enough water to cover the beans by at least 2 inches.

Put the lid on the pot and place the pot over medium-high heat. Boil the beans for 1 minute, then turn the heat to low. Simmer for 2 to 4 hours or until the beans are tender.

Makes about 10-12 servings.


Apple Crisp in Foil

  • 4 apples, Granny Smith or Honeycrisp, peeled and chopped
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/4 cup butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven or grill to 375 F.

In a large mixing bowl, add the apples, lemon juice, cinnamon, brown sugar and salt. Toss to coat the apples.

Tear either one large sheet of foil or 6-8 smaller ones for individual servings. Lightly spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray. Place the apples in the foil packets. Sprinkle the oats over the top and dot with butter.

Place another piece of foil over the top and fold up the edges to seal tightly. Place the foil packets on a baking sheet. Transfer the packets to the grill or the oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the apples are tender.

Remove foil packet from the oven or grill and set aside to cool slightly before carefully opening to release the steam inside the packets. Cut open the packets and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Makes 6-8 servings.