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The 10 Do's and Don't's of Texas Food

One of my hobbies is taking jingoistic photos of our state flag. God bless Texas!
One of my hobbies is taking jingoistic photos of our state flag. God bless Texas!
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt

After seeing the dialogue back and forth on Lennie Ambrose's post about sweet tea and its availability in Texas, my colleagues and I began discussing our own caveats about eating in Texas.

Like other states or cities who are very particular about their cuisines, Texas has its own little set of rules when it comes to eating. In Chicago, for example, putting ketchup on a hot dog is slightly worse than trampling on the American flag after setting it on fire using the Eternal Flame from John F. Kennedy's gravesite. And in Germany, putting a slice of orange or lemon into your hefeweizen is akin to ordering a beer and then pissing straight into the mug before drinking it. Refreshing!

Over the course of an afternoon, we came up with the 10 irrefutable rules of Texas food, the do's and don't's that any self-respecting Texan must abide by while eating and drinking in the Lone Star State.

Notice how the ketchup is close to but not on the burger. Keep it that way.
Notice how the ketchup is close to but not on the burger. Keep it that way.

10. No ketchup on burgers. We don't have too many rules when it comes to burgers, but this is one line that can't be crossed. Ketchup is for French fries only. Mayonnaise and mustard are for burgers. Just ask Barry Popik, chronicler of food-related jargon, whose compendium lists "Yankee Burger" as a Texan (and Oklahoman) term for any burger with ketchup on it.

9. No sugar in grits. This should be a given -- corn and sugar don't go together unless you're talking high-fructose corn syrup -- yet some people insist on putting sugar in their grits for breakfast. I'm looking at you, Dad -- a lifelong Houstonian and confused grits-eater -- who uses Equal packets, which is even worse. Stop it. Grits can accommodate many ingredients (salt, butter, cheese, paprika, bacon, shrimp, etc.) but never sugar.

Sure, those fried Oreos sound nice. But where are the corn dogs?
Sure, those fried Oreos sound nice. But where are the corn dogs?

8. It's not a fair without corn dogs. It doesn't matter if it's the State Fair of Texas, the Renaissance Festival or a fly-by-night operation with a rickety Tilt-a-Whirl set up in the parking lot of Greenspoint Mall: If there aren't corn dogs for sale, it's not a real fair. Leave. Now.

7. No sweet tea. I think this one has been discussed to death recently, but it bears inclusion on this list because it's still true. Texans don't drink sweet tea. That's a Southern thing. And what are Texans not? Southern. We're Texan.

I suppose you can put tits and/or tails into your chili, as long as it doesn't contain beans.
I suppose you can put tits and/or tails into your chili, as long as it doesn't contain beans.

6. No beans in chili. What's the saying? "If you know beans about chili, you know chili ain't got no beans." There are few things that are fought over more bitterly than the addition of beans into traditional "Texas red" chili. As this article in Texas Cooking puts it, "When we say chili, we really mean chile con carne, which means, literally, chile peppers with meat." Nothing else. Certainly not beans.

 

Chicken fried steak at Moonshine in Austin: one of my personal favorites.
Chicken fried steak at Moonshine in Austin: one of my personal favorites.

5. CFS and BBQ are the only two three-letter acronyms you need to know. Every [meat-eating] Texan should have a favorite place for CFS (chicken fried steak) and BBQ (barbecue). Kudos to you if you've found that elusive place that is your favorite for both delicacies. Even greater kudos to you if your very own CFS and BBQ are the best around. Either way, these are two foodstuffs that every Texan should know and appreciate.

4. Tex-Mex is sainted and holy. It doesn't matter what Diana Kennedy says about Tex-Mex food, as sainted and holy as she may be south of the border. Here in Texas, Tex-Mex is not a cuisine to be trifled with. Other than Creole/Cajun food and the somewhat laughable "California cuisine," what other state's food has traveled far and wide across the nation and has seen acceptance from coast to coast? You can't even travel across the Atlantic without encountering "Tex-Mex" food. It's not a "gloppy mess." It's comfort food to the nth degree.

A few of my cousin Bobby's cattle. Little do they know...
A few of my cousin Bobby's cattle. Little do they know...

3. Cattle is king. We like chicken and pork here. Even lamb and certainly venison. But beef is where it's at. Without beef, there would be no chicken fried steak, no barbecue, no fajitas, no chili. (And without the famous King Ranch, there would be no King Ranch casserole. Think about that travesty.) Tip your hat to the next pasture of noble cattle you pass and thank them for their contribution to our cuisine.

2. It's always a coke. It doesn't matter if it's a Dr Pepper, a 7-Up, a fancy carbonated beverage you bought from Central Market or a can of Grape Crush. It's a coke. When a Texan offers you a coke, the proper response is, "Sure. What kinda coke you got?" Not, "No, thanks. But I'll take a Diet Sprite." Just take a look at this map of generic names for soft drinks by county for further illumination. (And, no, I have no idea what the hell is wrong with people in Lavaca or Fayette counties. Just avoid those places at all costs.)

Sausage, brisket and ribs: the holy trinity of Texas barbecue.
Sausage, brisket and ribs: the holy trinity of Texas barbecue.

1. Barbecue is not made on a grill. Nothing makes me angrier than some yahoo from Maine trying to tell me he "barbecues" fish (FISH!) back home during the summer. NO YOU DON'T. YOU ARE NOT BARBECUING. And God help you, you are certainly not barbecuing fish. Barbecue is made with beef -- preferably -- or pork. Those cuts of meat that require long cooking times to break down and become soft, messy tangles of pork butt or fall-off-the-bone tender pieces of ribs. You do not grill a brisket. You smoke it, with wood chips and mop sauce and the sweat of your brow. That is real barbecue. Anything else is just some poor guy fooling himself over a Coleman and a sack of charcoal.


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