It’s been said many times that America’s food culture reflects its history as a melting pot culture. Hamburgers, hotdogs, apple pie; all these stereotypically “American” dishes were brought over from distant countries. If one is too look at the one true American addition to the world’s food cannon, no doubt it would be barbeque. While every pitmaster might have their own opinion about wet or dry rubs and vinegar or mustard base sauces, the two magic words agreed upon by everyone regardless of geographic orientation is low and slow. Though the tempting wafts of smoke and seasoning always draw a crowd, for those keeping halal, we are often shut out from tasting these treats as pork ribs and pulled pork sandwiches typically dominate the menu. Yet down in Texas, one food truck in particular has managed to make barbeque accessible to the halal crowd.
Chopped and Smoked, a weekend only food truck in Houston, serves up delectable and authentic barbeque. Co-owned by Robert West, a convert to Islam, and Jason Bones, West set out to recreate the authentic barbeque experience he was used to before he found Islam for the local Muslim community. With a story like this and rumors of good food to boot, I had to check these guys out while I was in town.
Upon arriving at their black shiny trailer off of Highway 6, I didn’t know what to make of Robert and Jason as they greeted us adorning their white and black cowboy hat shouting “Asalamu’alaykum! How ya’ll doing!” As we stood around the trailer and as Robert and Jason talked about the philosophy behind the truck, I realized I was being tortured as I could smell the divine product of low and slow cooking in the smoker a mere 10 feet away from me. Either sensing that it was time to eat or noticing that I was drooling over myself in anticipation of the meal, Robert suggested that he put together the two most popular items for us so that we could experience the flavors of authentic Texas barbeque on beef.
No more than 5 minutes later, I was presented with a glorious platter of chopped brisket sandwich and a beef rib plate with sides of coleslaw and beans. Not caring about utensil etiquette—is there such a thing in barbeque—or the mess that was about to be made, I grabbed the chopped brisket sandwich in earnest and took a big New York bite. In just one bite, everything that I had thought I knew about good barbeque went away. The meat had great char to the outside, had the fat melting right in your mouth and maintained an impossible level of tenderness that can only be achieved by smoking the brisket for 12 hours. Though the bun is rarely the star of any sandwich—this time included, it deserves an Oscar for best supporting feature as the light toast prevented the sandwich from becoming soggy and falling apart in my hands.
Even though the brisket sandwich was still calling my name, I knew I had to tackle the beef rib plate before my stomach closed up shop. Grabbing a Fred Flintstone sized rib with my sauce covered fingers, I barely had to take a bite of the meat in order for the beef to peel away from the bone and disintegrate into a tangy smoke filled party in my mouth. After finishing my rib, a somber mood fell upon me as I knew I would not find better barbeque once I returned home north of the Mason-Dixon.
Though I still might not know what “real” Texas barbeque might be, if Robert’s version is as authentic as he says it is, then I can see why Americans go “cow” wild for this stuff in the first place.
Editor’s Note: Sameer Sarmast is the President and Executive Producer of Sameer’s Eats, the first and only Halal food review web blog and video channel on YouTube. Sameer has been recognized by local and national media outlets as well as the U.S. State Department for his efforts in highlighting Halal cuisine. Sameer resides and works full time in New Jersey as a Vice President in Wealth Management for a major financial institution. When he isn’t working, he loves to travel and spend time with his friends and family. Follow him on twitter @SameersEats. The views expressed here are his own.