Beef Barbacoa: A Texan Delight

They say everything is bigger in Texas, from their wide-open plains to their bold flavors. And one iconic Texan delicacy that captures the essence of this larger-than-life state is beef barbacoa. Picture succulent, tender meat slow-cooked to perfection, packed with smoky flavors that transport you straight to a taco stand in El Paso. But here’s the catch: beef barbacoa calls for a very specific ingredient – a cow’s head.

Now, if you’re picturing yourself strolling through a New York grocery store, casually tossing a cow head into your cart, think again. In the bustling city, the sale of cow heads is illegal. But for a determined Texan barbacoa lover like myself, no obstacle is too great. So, armed with a craving and a phone, I set out on a quest to make this Texan favorite a reality in the concrete jungle.

My journey began with a series of phone calls to local butchers, each met with shock and disgust at my unusual request. The USDA regulations prohibiting the sale of cow heads due to concerns over mad cow’s disease further dashed my hopes. It seemed like an impossible mission. But where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and my relentless pursuit led me to an unexpected friendship that would change everything.

Elizabeth Karmel, America’s leading female grilling expert, and the genius behind New York’s renowned Hill Country barbecue joint, entered the scene. When she heard of my predicament, she graciously offered her expertise and set out to help me obtain a cow’s head. With her guidance, a small group of us gathered at Hill Country, ready to embark on an extraordinary culinary adventure.

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In Texas, traditional barbacoa involves slow-cooking a cow’s head in the ground, a practice largely extinct due to health regulations. Elizabeth aimed to recreate this ancient art by wrapping the cow’s head in banana leaves and placing it in two hotel pans. With the skull carefully seasoned inside and out with a simple yet tantalizing rub of black pepper, salt, and cayenne, we added a couple of beers for moisture and flavor. And just to push the limits of our culinary exploration, we decided to smoke the tongue alongside the cow’s head, a departure from the conventional method.

The process itself was surprisingly straightforward. The sheer size and weight of the cow’s head required a few helping hands, but apart from a minor mishap with a smoker shelf, there was little drama. The restaurant patrons who observed our preparations were a mix of curiosity and astonishment. One pit master even expressed interest in the teeth for personalized dentures, while another swore off beef forever at the mere sight of the cow’s head. The most intriguing observation, however, was that those involved in the cooking and consumption of the cow’s head were all women, exuding strength and fearlessness, while the men recoiled in horror. We were a force to be reckoned with!

After two days of slow cooking, the moment of truth arrived. As we unraveled the deliciously fragrant creation, the aroma of smoke and tenderness embraced us. Each succulent bite, packed into warm flour tortillas and adorned with vibrant salsas, cilantro, and onions, transported us to the heart of Texan flavors. It was a delicate treat, bursting with the rich taste of dedication and tradition.

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As a self-proclaimed “cow-head-cooking virgin,” I couldn’t resist the temptation to try the eyeball and the brains. The eyeball, although squishy and unassuming, added a unique texture to the experience. And the brains, with their smooth and delicate sweetness, lent a whole new dimension to the flavors of barbacoa.

So, if you find yourself with the time, inclination, and access to a cow’s head, I urge you to embark on this extraordinary culinary adventure. While the sight of a cow’s head may appear savage, the result is a culinary masterpiece that will transport your taste buds to the heart of Texas. And remember, when it comes to Texan barbacoa, it’s all about the journey, not just the destination.

Cow head barbacoa | Homesick Texan

Cow head barbacoa | Homesick Texan

Cow head barbacoa | Homesick Texan

Cow head barbacoa | Homesick Texan

For more information on barbacoa and other Texan delights, visit the Rowdy Hog Smokin BBQ.