Texas Barbecue Recipes

Joan Nathan shares Texas barbecue recipes from the Koontz family HK Ranch Fourth of July celebrations.


Joe Padilla (right) and one of his helps ministering to a Texas-sized collection of sausage. The grills are made from 50-gallon oil drums.


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Joan Nathan of AMERICAN COUNTRY magazine shares the Koontz family HK Ranch Fourth of July barbecue recipes with MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers. 

Texas Barbecue Recipes

When Texans say barbecue, they don't mean cooking on a hibachi or gas grill. Cowboys like beef stew; Indian and Mexicans like spice. Tex-Mex chili is the result. Enjoy these true Texan barbecue recipes from the Koontz family of the HK Ranch in south Texas.

Joe Padilla's Chilipetin Sauce Recipe

"For toughies only," says Mary Sue Koontz.
1 cup green chili pequin peppers
1 medium onion
1 clove garlic
1 green tomato
1 teaspoon flour
1 cup vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Grind fine or chop the peppers, onion, garlic and tomato. Add the flour.

Bring the vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil. Pour over the pepper mixture and stirring occasionally, boil, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until it thickens slightly. Seal while hot in sterilized jars. The sauce will be thin, but it thickens with age.

Serve as a condiment at your next Texas barbecue with fajitas, camp bread, venison chili, pinto beans and coleslaw. Makes 1 pint.

Calabaza con Polio Recipe (Squash with Chicken)

This is Maria Padilla's recipe for a Tex-Mex chicken dish.

1 large fryer, cut into eighths
¼ cup oil
½ teaspoon cumin powder, or to taste
½ teaspoon garlic powder, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 medium zucchini, chopped into 2-inch chunks
1 small onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 15-ounce can tomatoes
½ cup water
1 8-ounce can corn (optional)

Brown the chicken in oil in a Dutch oven or heavy frying pan. Season with the cumin, garlic, salt and pepper. Add the zucchini, onion, green pepper, tomatoes and water.

Cover and simmer about 30 minutes, or until the zucchini is soft and the chicken cooked. Just before serving, add the corn and heat until warm. Serves 4-6.

Braised Quail, Squab or Cornish Hen Recipe

Wild doves are the favorite in the Southwest.

3 slices bacon
8 quails, 4 squabs or 4 Cornish hens
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon crumbled dried rosemary
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into eighths
¼ cup flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, or more as needed
1/3 cup Madeira wine or sherry
½ cup chicken stock or water, or more as needed

Choose a casserole that has a tight-fitting lid and is large enough to hold all the birds. In it, fry the bacon over moderate heat until crisp. When the bacon is done, remove it, chop it fine and reserve. Pour off most of the bacon fat in the pan, leaving a generous film.

While the bacon is cooking, prepare the quails. Wash and dry the birds carefully. Sprinkle the cavity of each with salt and pepper, plus a pinch of rosemary (more for squabs and Cornish hens than for quails), and 1 or 2 segments of the onion. Secure each bird in a compact shape, either with toothpicks or by tying with string (wrap a length of string around the wings, trussing them behind the back; turn the bird over, bring the string around to the legs and tie them).

Place the flour on a plate and season it with salt and pepper. Heat the butter in the casserole just until the foam dies down. While the butter heats, coat the birds with the seasoned flour; shake off the excess.

Brown the birds in the hot fat, turning them with tongs until they are browned on all sides. This should take about 10 minutes. Remove the birds to a plate.

Pour most of the fat out of the casserole. (If it has become too brown, you may wish to pour it all off, then replace it with about a tablespoon of fresh butter.) Add the wine and, over high heat, scrape up the browned bits in the pan. Add the stock or water and boil for 1-2 minutes. Lower the heat to a simmer, return the birds to the pan and sprinkle them with the reserved chopped bacon. If the liquid does not come about 1/3 of the way up the birds, add a little more stock or water. Cover the casserole tightly and simmer the birds—about 25 minutes for quail, 45 for squab and Cornish hen—until they are tender. (You may also do this final simmering in a preheated 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven.)

Place the birds on a warmed platter, skim off any excess fat from the sauce, pour the sauce over the birds and serve them at once. Serves 4.

Fajitas Recipe (Marinated and Grilled Skirt Steak)

The Koontzes prefer this dish to the more common Texas chicken-fried steak.

4 pounds fajitas (skirt steak) or, if unavailable, tenderized flank steak
Juice of 8-12 Mexican limes
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 onions, sliced
2 serrano chili peppers, minced
1 handful coriander, stems removed and leaves chopped
Mexican beer
Salt to taste

Trim off the excess fat from the meat and remove the muscle fiber. Each fajita should be ½ to ¾ inch thick in order to cook evenly. If using flank steak, cook it whole and slice against the grain in narrow strips not more than ½ inch thick.

Place one layer of fajitas in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Pour the lime juice over it. Add some of the garlic, onion, serrano peppers and coriander. Add another layer of meat, and continue until all ingredients have been used.

Pour enough beer over the fajitas to fill the pan halfway. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 6 hours, basting occasionally.

Build a mesquite fire in your grill and let it burn until the coals are extremely hot but not flaming. Lay the meat across the grill and cover. Turn the meat only once as it cooks. When done, remove the meat from the grill and sprinkle with salt to taste. Serves 6-8.

Roast Filet of Venison Recipe

1 venison filet ("back strap")
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
3-4 tablespoons butter, softened Bacon strips or thin sheets of salt pork, as needed
1 thick slice of onion

Trim excess fat and all tendons from the meat. Sprinkle lightly with salt, pepper and rosemary. Rub with half of the butter. Wrap slices of bacon or salt pork around the filet, covering it completely. Tie with string in several places to hold the larding fat on.

Cowboys like beef stew; Indians and Mexicans like spice. Tex-Mex chili is the result.

Place a roasting pan over 2 burners of the stove and heat the remaining butter in it. Cook the onion over low heat for several minutes to flavor the butter, then discard the onion. Raise the heat, put in the filet and brown it on all sides.

Using the same pan, place the venison in a preheated 400 degrees Fahrenheit oven and roast it for about 15 minutes, or until the meat tests medium-rare (140 degrees Fahrenheit on a meat thermometer); at this stage it will be slightly springy to the touch, but not yet firm. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes. Remove the larding fat before carving, and serve hot. Serves 3-4.

Camp Bread Recipe

This is the Texas version of traditional hoecakes. On the range they were molded less delicately, grabbing a lump of dough at a time, and cooked in a Dutch oven over an open fire.

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking powder
¾ cup vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into small pieces, plus a little additional shortening for the skillet
1-¼ cups buttermilk

In a mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Add the shortening pieces and rub them into the dry ingredients with your fingers until the mixture is crumbly and uniform. (This step may also be done in a food processor.) Using a spoon, mix in the buttermilk until the ingredients are blended. Do not overmix—the dough should be just springy.

Flour a work surface lightly and roll the dough out ¼ inch thick. Cut into 2-inch rounds, using a cookie cutter or a glass of that diameter. Gather the scraps, reroll them and cut more rounds until all the dough has been used.

Heat a large, heavy skillet, then grease it lightly with vegetable shortening. Bake the rounds over medium to medium-high heat until the bottoms are brown, then turn and brown the other side. Total cooking time is about 15 minutes.

Repeat until all the bread rounds have been baked, keeping the finished camp bread hot. Serve hot, with butter or gravy. Serves 12.

Venison Chili Recipe

Make this as hot as you can stand it. Texans speak of "two-alarm," "three-alarm," or "four-alarm" chili. If you grind seeded dried chilies instead of using prepared chili powder, increase the quantity of cumin and add about a teaspoon of dried oregano, well crumbled.

A dish of the prairie, chili is basically a simple beef stew seasoned with what was available: capsicum (chili) peppers; cumin, brought with the Moors to Mexico and then to Texas; oregano, a Mexican herb; and onions. The word chili comes from the Aztec term for the capsicum peppers.

Modern chili (stew) is a perfect example of culinary synthesis. The western frontiersmen liked beef stew; the Indians and Mexicans liked hot spices. Ergo, a Tex-Mex concoction called chili was created. Especially popular on the frontier, it could be made one day and eaten day after day because the tastes improve on sitting. The chili stew eaten in New Mexico is probably closer to what was eaten in the Southwest before the Tex-Mex combination. California chili with beans is definitely later.

2 pounds venison or chuck, coarsely ground
Vegetable oil, if necessary
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano, if needed
1-½ teaspoons salt
2 heaping tablespoons flour
1-3 tablespoons chili powder, to taste (use the lesser amount if you grind your own dried chilies)
2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
1-½ cups water

In a large, heavy casserole, brown the meat in its own fat. (If the meat is quite lean, you may wish to begin with a spoonful of oil to prevent sticking.) Stir the meat as it cooks, breaking up any lumps.

When the meat has browned moderately, add the onion, garlic, cumin, oregano (if used) and salt. Cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes, until the onion has softened. Stir in the flour and chili powder, blending well. Stir in the tomato sauce and water.

Bring the chili to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until the meat is tender, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Taste and add more salt or other seasonings if needed. Serves 6-8.

HK Ranch Famous Pinto Beans Recipe

2 pounds fresh pinto beans
2 ham hocks or 1 ham bone
5 bell peppers, chopped
5 large onions, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
½ cup sugar, or to taste
4 tablespoons chili powder, or to taste
3 chili peppers, diced

Spread the beans on a table and look for any small rocks. Put the beans in a sieve and run cold water over them to wash. Then place them in a large pot and cover with cold water overnight, or for at least 12 hours.

Add enough water to the soaked beans to cover them. Heat in a black iron pot or heavy casserole on top of the stove. Add all the remaining ingredients. Stir well and simmer, uncovered, very slowly for 5-6 hours, stirring from the bottom to prevent sticking. If the beans seem to become too dry, add a little water. Serves 20.

Jalapeño Corn Bread Recipe

1 cup yellow cornmeal
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup milk
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 onion, grated
2 eggs
1 3-ounce can cream-style corn
¼ cup bacon drippings
1 pound American cheese, grated
2-½ large jalapeño peppers, finely chopped, or to taste

Mix together the cornmeal, baking soda, salt, milk, garlic, onion, eggs, corn and bacon drippings. Spread half the batter in a well-greased 8 inch pan. Sprinkle with the cheese and peppers. Cover with the remaining batter. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Makes 12 slices.

Joan Nathan is a freelance writer and a contributing editor to AMERICAN COUNTRY magazine.