Some of Texas' Barbecue Kings Sound Off on Why They Smoke

In honor of Sunday's sold-out Meat Fight, we're celebrating smoked animal flesh all week long in our inaugural Meat Week, in which we celebrate the procuring, cooking and face-stuffing of dead-animal flesh.

We recently asked some of Dallas and Fort Worth's best pitmasters, meat slingers and pork pullers (plus this one dude from Austin) a simple question: Why do you smoke? Here's what they had to say:

Will Fleischman, Lockhart Smokehouse, Dallas I smoke because the other activities I perform are criminal.

Relative to the whole renaissance surrounding barbecue culture, the practice of barbecue makes sense. It's appealing. People fight email wars, submit reports, and schedule meetings; that sounds like a slow death to me.

But it's not a bunch of guys standing around and drinking beer, talking about tires. It's a lot of work and lot of long hours. I've had a handful of people come in and be borderline aggressive wanting to know how to do this, saying, "I've always wanted to do what you do." We've hired guys who find themselves between work and their personalities fit, so we take them on as an apprentice. They soon realized that it's really involved. It's all about consistency and there's a lot more that goes into it than just throwing a piece of wood into a fire. Nothing I've done in my professional life has really prepared me for this. I haven't really done it for a while, and I have no idea what I'm doing, but I appreciate getting a paycheck to do it.

Aaron Franklin, Franklin Barbecue, Austin We smoke because we enjoy it and we enjoy making people happy; it's pretty rewarding. When I first started out, I figured it would be busy on Saturday, but I didn't expect this to happen. It's still pretty shocking. Before this I was playing music, remodeling houses and drinking beer. At this point, there's really nothing else I'd rather be doing.

Jack Perkins, The Slow Bone, Dallas I don't even think of it as smoking. It is more accurate to think of it as transforming with time and heat, using wood. The smoke flavor on the meat is simply a byproduct. Most of the time when you are cooking meat it's simply about seasoning and reaching a temperature. With slow cooking in general, and with traditional barbecue cuts specifically, you are changing the nature of the meat. Connective tissue is broken down. Fat is rendered. Grain is separated. I do it because that product that you taste at the end is the reward of patience and proof of the process. The method is scientific, but the wood makes it art.

Travis Mayes, Meshacks, Garland I smoke because I really enjoy cooking barbecue. I can cook other things, but barbecue is my specialty. When I first got married, I had this little frying pan and I used to smoke chicken on it. But now, I do it for a living and the money is pretty good. Right now, at my age, if I wasn't cooking barbecue, I'd just be hanging around. I'm too old to take orders from youngsters.

Justin Fourton, Pecan Lodge, Dallas
I smoke meat because it's the path that God led me down. I cook from the soul, to provide a life for my family that allows me to be present and to be with them when they need me the most. I cook to spread some joy to the folks that come to eat with us every day and to honor the traditions passed down from those who have gone before us.

Aaron Odom, Odom's BBQ, Duncanville We were brought up doing this. My father used to own a barbecue place and we came from Louisiana in 1959. It's all I can remember; we would run out of the house and fix a BBQ sandwich before school. My mom had nine kids so as soon as were of age, we ran away from barbecue. We didn't want anything to do with it. When we got older and we learned about life, we eventually came back. I worked for AT&T for 10 years and got laid off more than once. Now I'm 57 and I'm doing what I know. I'm able to pay my bills and take care of my family. Other than winning the lottery, there is nothing else I'd rather do.

David Longoria, Longoria's BBQ, Fort Worth We smoke because of the flavor and a love for what we do. It's not only a technique, it's an honor and a blessing. This is what my dad wanted to do and generations before us have always done this in their backyard. Not the front yard, just the backyard. The rings and the color we're able to produce, it's all something to be admired.

Cliff Payne, Cousin's Bar-B-Q, Fort Worth We smoke because it's a Texas thing; it's a passion for good barbecue. We're a family business and we've been together for 47 years. We were in full service seafood business for 15 years and my dad and I looked at each other one day and said, "These lobster tails and king crab legs... they're getting expensive." We know where the cows are and where the pinto beans and potatoes are, so we opened Cousin's in 1983. We love what we do and it's not work for us. I've got some of the best people in Texas doing this with us and we're just family.

Todd David, Cattleack BBQ, Dallas I smoke because I love it and it's fun. I've been doing it all of my life strictly as a hobby, but this is my retirement project now. I knew if we ever got recognized, it would be just because it's great. I'm doing the best I can and I don't worry about cost issues, so I'm able buy best cuts of meat. I've been all over the country, to schools and competitions, but I don't desire to compete, just want to see and learn. I've do this as a hobby rather than business. I still have to show a profit, but it's not my livelihood. The other guys out there are working their tails off and they're very dedicated, so we have that in common. For me, it's pure passion. My kitchen is my sanctuary. I have fun and it's exciting work... if you want to call it work. If it becomes work, I'll walk away.

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Sara Blankenship
Contact: Sara Blankenship