I don’t mean to pour charcoal lighter on the fire, but Gary is indisputably correct about gas versus wood: No one who cooks with gas belongs on a list of Texas’ best barbecue joints, any more than grape Nehi belongs on a wine list. (And the offense isn’t pardoned just because the gas cook throws on, as Marshall Cooper puts it, “a couple of sticks of wood for perfume.”)
Texas Monthly, more than most, ought to realize this. Indeed, in the introduction to the magazine’s last Top 50 issue (published in June 2008), the editors described their vaunted list thusly:Our quintessential, quinquennial review of the fifty best barbecue joints in Texas, with special attention paid to the top five (one of which you’ve probably never heard of), the cherished components of the classic barbecue meal, and the pits in which our meats are smoked, seared, or (Lord help us!) gassed. (Emphasis added.)

Patricia Sharpe, Monthly’s superb food writer, wrote that the 2008 list differed from the 2003 list in at least one important way:[T]he biggest change over the past five years is that the gas-burning commercial smoker is gaining ground. …To give the devil his due, this contraption has brought acceptable barbecue to areas where it hardly existed, like the Rio Grande Valley. The danger is that it will replace traditional pit-smoking, as fewer and fewer people are willing to get up at three in the morning to sustain this labor-intensive craft. The smoker has also enabled giant, mediocre chains … to proliferate like houseflies. With so many children cutting their teeth on institutional barbecue, one fears for the future.All of which leads one to ask: If the thought of cooking with gas instead of wood makes you gasp, “Lord help us!”, if the nicest thing you can say about gas is that it’s made “acceptable” barbecue more widely available, if there’s a danger that it will drive true wood-smoking into a small corner of the barbecue world, if it’s to blame for the success of “giant, mediocre chains,” and if it threatens to produce a generation of Texans who know nothing but “institutional barbecue” – then why can’t you people find 50 top joints in the Great State of Texas that cook brisket the way God meant it to be cooked: With wood?
Photos by Chris Wilkins & David Woo

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Anonymous

6 years ago

Research it for yourself Texas Monthly!

Here are a couple of statements regarding Mercaptan, a chemical that is added to natural gas:

About.com says, "What Is the Worst Smelling Chemical?… methyl mercaptan (C2H5SH)
This man-made molecule is toxic. Inhalation can cause nausea, headaches, lack of coordination, as well as kidney and liver damage….."

"This is a natural molecule, produced by skunks. Skunk spray is bad, but modern science has produced odors that are even more vile…."

JRManufacturing.com says, "The most important thing to know about mercaptan is that it stinks. It doesn't smell slightly. It stinks. In a concentrated form, its smell is almost unbearable. And it takes only a few parts per million of mercaptan for the average person to wrinkle a nose and say, "what is that smell?" That is precisely why it is added to natural gas. You see, natural gas is both odorless and colorless. If mercaptans were not added, it would be hard for you to know that unlit natural gas was coming from your oven if you had a malfunction or leak. And leaks from ovens, furnaces, and water heaters would be nearly impossible to detect without expensive equipment. So mercaptan's smell is a very valuable safety feature. Mercaptans contain sulfur. That's what makes them smell. There are other uses for mercaptans in industry, including pharmaceuticals, jet fuel and livestock feed additives. They are used in many chemical plants. Mercaptans are similar to corrosive and toxic sulfur compounds found naturally in rotten eggs, onions, garlic, skunks, and, of course, bad breath. You know, things that stink. While there are many good places to use mercaptans, having them in contact with our beloved barbecue is not one of them- so in order to spare you their bitter flavor, we keep them OUT of our pits."

ChevronPhillips describes various uses and applications such as dry cleaning plants, performance fuels, … also offers an MSDS data sheet!

Anonymous

6 years ago

this blog is truly awesome, past due, let the people know, give um the truth and let us all make an informed decision. A big relief. About time. And a big plug for the great pit-masters of Texas.

Also, does it make you wonder just how the silicone & gas machine companies (Southern Pride, Cook Shack & Smokin Tex) are able to market their contraptions so aggressively to all of the chains as well as even the small operators, like flies on s***

Like this blog says, I guess these gas contraptions not only save the BBQ joint labor, but I've heard that some of the true wood and also brick pits will actually burn all night without labor. Maybe the gas pit makes the owner more money by kicking up production & installation is cheaper …..

Anonymous

6 years ago

The United States material safety data sheet (MSDS) lists methanethiol as a colorless, flammable gas with an extremely strong and repulsive smell. At very high concentrations it is highly toxic and affects the central nervous system. Its penetrating odor provides warning at dangerous concentrations. An odor threshold of 0.002 ppm has been reported. The United States OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit is listed as 10 ppm.




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