Dylan Thomas has a religious relationship with barbecue. The Texan started out as a small town barbecue aficionado and is now the pitmaster at one of Austin’s most famous joints, La Barbecue. These days, Dylan literally dreams of barbecue.
On our recent trip to SXSW, CONVICTS caught up with Dylan and in between sinfully dank mouthfuls of brisket, we got the nitty gritty on all things ‘cue.
Hey man. So tell us who you are and how long you’ve been in Austin?
I’m Dylan Taylor and I’m the pit master at La Barbecue. I moved to Austin right after high school with plans of playing music and going to school. I’d never had central Texas BBQ, so this was a whole new way of cooking that I was unaware of.
How long have you been cooking barbecue?
I’m 21 and I’ve been cooking barbecue for about two years now.
Tell us about La Barbecue.
La Barbecue is a central Texas barbecue spot. We’re big on our beef, brisket and beef ribs. We’re also kind of breaking the rules a little bit with traditionally Southern sides. We’re not too bound to our central Texas traditions, but we’re also keeping them there with the meat.
Have you always been into cooking?
I always loved to eat, but honestly I wasn’t too into cooking. I come from Arlington where there’s not a big restaurant scene, but when I moved to Austin, I discovered this whole culinary scene, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is really badass!’
How did you learn the tricks of the trade? I imagine Texas bbq is a fairly subtle art…
I started out working at Terry Black’s BBQ and got my foundation there: I learned how to work with fire, control temperatures. I came to La Barbecue and was at the disposal of Esaul Ramos and John Lewis – those guys showed me the tiny yet very crucial details about cooking barbecue.
Let’s start with the basics, tell us about the fire.
I build what we call the Lincoln log fire – you get three logs on the bottom for a good base. We use post oak, a member of the white oak family.
What’s preferable about post oak? Are there other types of hardwood you could use?
The woods used for BBQ are post oak, pecan, hickory and mesquite, from least smokey to smokiest. Post oak is the cleanest burning hard wood. It’s also really abundant around central Texas.
How do you prepare the meat?
You wanna trim the meat and pre-plan how it’s gonna render down. We start with the trimming, shape the meat up, and get a nice aerodynamic shape on it to make sure there’s nothing sticking that’s gonna char up.
Could you explain the smoker to us?
There’s essentially three components: the cooking chamber, which is a thousand gallons; a two hundred and fifty gallon firebox; and then grates welded together in the middle of the cooking chamber to hold the meat. It’s pretty simple but there’re a lot of tiny details and measurements that go into those three parts which can make or break your smoker.
What are some of those little details?
You want your smokestack pulling all the smoke, but you don’t want it too fast, but you don’t want it too slow. If it’s too fast it’s gonna dry your meat cause it’s hot wind blasting through it and moisture’s not gonna stay in your pit too long, so it’ll be a dryer cooking environment, which is definitely not what you want.
Tell us about the bark on the brisket. Sounds like that’s your key to fine barbecue.
The bark’s the thin black layer on the outer side of the brisket. It takes care of the saltiness and the texture. If it’s rendered out properly it’s gonna melt in your mouth and be super delicious. Under that, you have the fat, which is also a little salty and rich. That’s where you get your beefier flavor from. Also, a little bit of smoke.
Do you ever mix it up and use sauces?
I appreciate somebody who can create a sauce that goes well with their barbecue. It just shows how good they are, as far as the creative side of things. But it is kind of sacrilegious to put sauce on your barbecue around here. I cheat every now and then, just to try it out.
Thanks, mate and keep the killer ‘cue coming.