Jackson Street BBQ Marks Juneteenth With East Texas African-American Tradition

This Sunday, June 19, Jackson Street BBQ is serving a type of barbecue that rarely gets the same glamorous recognition as brisket or ribs: East Texas links. The spicy beef sausages are also referred to as “garlic bombs” and “grease balls” thanks to the high fat content of the meat.

We got a crash course in the finer points of East Texas links yesterday thanks to award-winning author (and Houston Press restaurant critic for a decade) Robb Walsh. Jackson Street BBQ’s Bill Floyd and pitmaster Brandon Allen were also on-hand to go over the details.

Business partner and pitmaster Greg Gatlin (also of Gatlin’s BBQ) collaborated with Ruffino Meats in Bryan on the recipe. It uses USDA prime brisket (fat cap and all), garlic, salt and paprika, the latter of which tints the oil with its hallmark shade of red. When smoked, the rendered fat stays trapped inside the casing. While the fat-phobic might shy away, it’s the main reason why these sausages are so incredibly juicy and flavorful.

Spongy, white bread slices are absolutely essential for soaking up the red grease; a treat unto itself. The casing is a little tough so Walsh showed us how to strip it away (it’s really easiest to just use your hands) and fold the sausage, hot dog-style, into a slice of white bread along with dill pickle, white onion and pickled jalapeño. A bite releases more of the delectable juices into the bread. Gatlin’s recipe has led to one of the most flavorful sausages we’ve ever had.

One of the most notable places in Texas for “garlic bombs” is Patillo’s in Beaumont, which we just recognized as one of the must-visit places in our "Big Tex Road Trip" cover story. It’s the oldest African-American owned barbecue joint in the state. Barbecue expert Daniel Vaughn recently wrote an in-depth article about Patillo’s for the Southern Food Alliance publication, Gravy, and noted that, since Patillo's doesn’t serve brisket, the fallback measuring stick of barbecue, it has not received the level of recognition it deserves. Their East Texas links recipe has been the same for over 100 years.

When people think of Texas barbecue, many think of cowboys. What tends to be overlooked is that barbecue traditions evolved and spread because African slaves brought it with them. In a Texas Monthly article about that part of barbecue history, Vaughn wrote:

“Barbecue was a shared tradition among slaves, and unlike the distinct regional ‘cues we see today, the differences throughout the antebellum South only hinged on what type of wood and animal were available. So it’s no surprise that we’d see cooking methods that were cemented in the plantations of Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas make their way into East Texas with the influx of slaves just before the Civil War.” 

To get a taste of Gatlin’s recipe, head to Jackson Street BBQ on Sunday. They’re open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The East Texas links will only be available for Juneteenth—unless, of course, they turn out to be hugely popular, in which case we’ll see. 
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook