Musings on Hill Country
As a North Carolina native, I fell in love with barbecue, not just the food itself, but the culture that surrounds barbecue as well. It melts demographics; race, gender, education etc. If you love barbecue, that’s reason enough to bond, become friends and break bread! It’s no wonder that politicians have always chosen barbecue to bring their constituents together. That is the thing that I love most about Hill Country Barbecue Market. Because we are celebrating the food and music of the hill country of Central Texas, the restaurant feels more like a destination and a family reunion than a traditional restaurant. And, I have tried to honor this feeling in all of the recipes that I create as the Executive Chef of the Hill Country Barbecue Market.
I want my food to feel like someone you love has just given you a hug when you take a bite of it. I get no bigger pleasure than cooking for people—whether it’s all of our customers or my friends and relatives—I want everyone who steps into a Hill Country restaurant to leave feeling like family! Since opening our doors in NYC nearly five years ago and in DC just six months ago, my family has grown and I welcome everyone who loves barbecue—and all the fixings! With open arms!
Our signature Texas-style barbecue is inspired by the grand old meat-markets-turned-barbecue-joints found throughout Central Texas with their distinctive style of pit-smoked, dry-rubbed beef. We are cooking our meat in the style that Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas, has perfected. If you’ve been to Kreuz and love it, you’ll feel right at home when you walk through the doors of Hill Country. It’s all about the meat! We use the best quality meat you can buy, a simple rub (kosher salt, butcher grind black pepper and enough cayenne pepper to turn the rub a light pink) and the distinctive Texas-grown Post Oak wood that we truck in from its native land.
The wood smoke and the simple rub combine to flavor the meat “just right” with a sweet smoky quality that enhances the “beefiness” of the beef and the richness of the pork. I love the simplicity of Texas barbecue and how it
Interestingly enough, Texas barbecue is very similar to my native North Carolina barbecue in that it is lightly seasoned and flavored by time and wood smoke—Hickory in Western North Carolina, Post Oak in Central Texas. Pork is indigenous to North Carolina and Beef is indigenous to Texas and thus the difference in the types of meat.
And our sides and desserts are as good as our meat. In fact, we have a lot of people come to the restaurant and make a meal of the sides. I always say, “Come for the meats and stay for the sides…and dessert!”
My other “can’t stop eating it” dish is an off-the menu item that we will make for anyone and our regulars know to ask for. It’s our own version of ChiliMac. This is not anything that I grew up with! When we first opened Hill Country Barbecue Market in NYC, our counter employees took a scoop of rich and gooey Longhorn Cheddar Mac & Cheese and topped it with a heaping spoonful of EAK’s Bowl o’ Red (Chili) (No Beans about it! Texas style!). At first, I was hestitant to dig in, but once I did, I realized that it was the perfect pairing of cheese and meat; the melted cheeses both cooling down and accentuating the heat of the spice in a soul-satisfiying combination that I always reach for during a long hectic day—it’s a must have! Put it on your list!
The sweets are all made from scratch and highlight Southern home-style desserts. It’s Texas with a twist—homemade banana pudding with chunks of banana and Nilla Vanilla Wafers, the Original PB&J cupcake with a dollop of grape jelly baked into the center and a light and fluffy peanut butter icing—it’s like the quintessential lunchbox favorite made into a dessert fantatsy! This cupcake put us on the map as much as our barbecue! In addition, we have a Five-Layer Red Velvet Cake, Blue Bell Ice cream, Sweet Potato Bread Pudding and more!
Come see me!
Cool as a Cucumber Salad
This simple salad beats coleslaw hands down as an accompaniment for barbecued brisket. The vinegar dressing and the fresh cucumbers cut through the richness of the beef in a sweet and savory salad that is as refreshing as the name sounds.
2 English (seedless) cucumbers
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
1 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
Wash and dry the cucumbers. Peel alternating strips of the green skin off the cucumber with a vegetable peeler. Slice very thinly with a mandoline-style slicer or a slicing disc of a food processor. Set aside. Peel shallots and slice at the same thinness as the cucumber. Mix cucumber and shallots. The shallot slices will un-ravel into small rings, which is what you want. Set aside.
Whisk sugar, salt and vinegar together until completely dissolved. Pour over cucumber and shallot slices and mix well, separating the slices to make sure none of them are sticking together. Put vegetables and all the liquid in a non-reactive (plastic or glass) container with a tight lid and refrigerate, turning occasionally for at least 3 hours or overnight before serving. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
Keeps for five days in the refrigerator—but they’ll be gone long before that!
Note: I like to put up the “cured” pickles in Mason jars for giving away and serving.
© 2011 Elizabeth A. Karmel, executive chef of Hill Country, recipe adapted from Taming the Flame: Secrets for Hot-and-Quick Grilling and Low-and-Slow BBQ