Smoke up a taste of Texas’ vaquero-inflected barbecue tradition.

Central Texas-style barbecue has come to define the smoked-meat tradition of the Lone Star State. And the lines (sometimes hours long) have come to define Central Texas barbecue and its popular practitioners.

Davila’s BBQ in Seguin, Texas, stands apart from the rest in the region, not just by serving such specialties as lamb ribs, a rarity at Texas barbecue joints, but also for its embrace of the Davila family’s Mexican-American roots. Third-generation pitmaster Adrian Davila says what his grandfather and father and, now, he offer vaquero barbecue, a style of ’cue that weaves Texas’ Mexican foundation more openly with the food’s European elements (e.g., brisket and sausage). Perhaps the most obvious example is lamb barbacoa, which Davila makes in the traditional pit-cooked manner on his ranch and which was also served at a watch party for his appearance on the Food Network’s Man Fire Food. Of course, there’s his choice of wood: mesquite.

This is explained fully and engagingly in Davila’s new cookbook, Cowboy Barbecue: Fire & Smoke From the Original Texas Vaqueros (The Countryman Press, 2018). The tome also includes dishes and preparations characteristic of the Argentine cowboys, the gauchos. There’s the sprawling parrilla (assorted grilled meats) tradition and there’s chimichurri, a bright, herbaceous condiment. There are plenty of standards too. Yes, brisket makes a prominent appearance, as do sides and accompanying dishes such as potato salad, borracho beans, and smoked Gulf oysters.

The recipes that follow include Davila’s take on chimichurri and his signature lamb ribs. Pick up the book for other options sure to make you the neighborhood’s top barbecue cowboy.

Davila’s Signature BBQ Rub

In Texas, most BBQ purists let the meat speak for itself by only seasoning with salt and pepper. We add cayenne for a natural Latin kick. In the restaurant, we use this to enhance the robustness of lamb or beef, complement inherently sweet pork, or lend a flavor boost to milder chicken recipes.

(Makes 2 cups)

1½ cups salt
⅓ cup freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons cayenne pepper

Thoroughly mix the salt, black pepper, and cayenne together in a bowl. Rub on any meat to add a kick of flavor. Store in an airtight container.

Mesquite-Smoked Lamb Ribs With Chimichurri

You’ll rarely find lamb on barbecue menus in Texas and throughout the United States; in fact, the only state that can call lamb a barbecue “mainstay” is Kentucky. But at Davila’s, barbecued lamb has been embraced by our customers for more than six decades. The origin of chimichurri sauce is unclear, but one theory is that the Basque settlers from Spain, who arrived in Argentina as early as the 19th century, named it. I enjoy these Old World flavors because the tang and bite of the sauce cuts through the fatty, smoky, savory ribs, and it goes well on any meat: beef, poultry, and/or fish.

(Serves 3 ­– 4)

¼ ­– ½ cup Davila’s Signature BBQ Rub
1 (2½- to 3½-pound) lamb breast
Davila’s Original BBQ Sauce, for serving (recipe follows)
Adrian’s Roasted Red Bell Pepper and Serrano Chimichurri Sauce, for serving (recipe follows)

Rub the BBQ Rub thoroughly into the meat, covering all crevices of the lamb breast. Cover and refrigerate to marinate for 12 – 24 hours. Thirty minutes before you want to cook, prepare a mesquite indirect fire in a barbecue pit or grill to achieve an even mix of smoke and heat, reaching 275 degrees. Put the lamb breast in the middle rack of your barbecue pit, over indirect heat. Cook until the meat is fork-tender, 3 – 3½ hours. Remove the lamb breast from the pit and allow to rest for 25 ­– 30 minutes before slicing the ribs into individual portions. Serve with Davila’s Original BBQ Sauce and my special serrano chimichurri sauce.

Davila’s Original BBQ Sauce

(Makes 1 quart; 12 – 15 servings)

My grandmother proudly attests that this Texas-style, tomato-based barbecue sauce is the original recipe that my grandfather created. Davila’s BBQ has been serving it since we opened our doors in 1959, and over the decades, we have produced countless gallons. While it has some similarities to other tomato-based sauces, the cumin and oregano bring in the Latin flavors that make the taste unique. We slather it on top of everything, as it pairs well with chicken, pork, beef, lamb, and even fish, such as salmon.

1½ teaspoons margarine
½ cup tomato paste
½ cup ketchup
½ cup tomato juice
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons dill pickle juice
1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ teaspoon garlic powder
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon salt

Melt the margarine in a large stockpot over medium-low heat and stir in the tomato paste, ketchup, tomato juice, and Worcestershire sauce.

Combine the sugar, cornstarch, pickle juice, mustard, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, oregano, and salt in a large bowl. Mix well, until the sugar and salt are dissolved, then stir the mixture into the stockpot.

Cook over low heat until the sauce thickens, 10 minutes. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Adrian’s Roasted Red Bell Pepper and Serrano Chimichurri Sauce

(Makes 3 cups)

1 red bell pepper, roasted and peeled
3 ­– 4 serrano peppers, roasted and peeled
1 cup olive oil
1 cup packed chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1½ teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Blend all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth, then transfer the mixture to a bowl.

Cover and let stand at room temperature until serving. The sauce can be made up to 2 hours ahead.

Grandpa Davila’s Potato Salad

In the early 1950s, at the beginning of the Davila BBQ legacy, my uncle Adolph had a gasoline and goods store with a barbecue restaurant inside. The establishment was called Magnolia Food Market as it was on Magnolia Street in Luling, Texas. My grandfather and his brother served this potato salad at their restaurant, but they most likely formulated this recipe long before then. In their prior life, before being involved in a business, they were cooks and always cooking with their families. It’s not served hot so you wouldn’t call it quite German, but the pickle and the touch of mustard bring some tanginess to the Davila style of potato salad.

(Serves 12 – 15)

3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled
1 large egg
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
¼ green bell pepper, diced
¼ medium yellow onion, diced
¼ cup sweet relish
¼ cup diced sweet pepper
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard

Bring the potatoes to a boil in a large pot of water and boil until soft, 25 – 30 minutes. Drain the potatoes, mash them a bit (you want them to remain slightly lumpy), and set them aside to cool.

Meanwhile, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil and boil the egg for 15 minutes. Allow the egg to cool, then peel and finely chop it. Stir together the egg, celery, bell pepper, onion, sweet relish, and sweet pepper in a medium bowl. Stir the sugar, salt, and pepper into the cooled, mashed potatoes. Stir the vegetable mixture, mayonnaise, and mustard into the potatoes. Mix thoroughly and serve.

Cowboy Barbecue: Fire & Smoke from the Original Texas Vaqueros (The Countryman Press, 2018) is available on Amazon and at bookstores near you. For more information on Davila’s BBQ, visit the restaurant’s website. All images courtesy The Countryman Press.

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