Saturday, February 11, 2017

Barbecue on the Brazos

The old Rancher stared at the coals in the grill.  Half of the briquettes were still as black as tar, while the other half had turned completely gray, having obviously burned too much to still be useful.  The best he could do was stir them around a little and hope the rest caught fire.  It was too late to wish for evenly burning coals.

"Kent!  Bring me another Tecate, would you?"  Kent, who was over by the back door with the wives, smiled as he grabbed two cans of beer from the cooler and the salt shaker from the table, then walked over to the grill.  Handing one to Mike, he popped the top on his beer and sprinkled the edge with salt before giving the shaker to his friend. 

"I hate cooking with these briquettes, but we don’t get as much mesquite as we used to," Mike said.

"No.  The damn salt cedar is choking the mesquite trees out all along the river."

"Yep.  Forty years ago, when I was working down in Mexico, I helped make charcoal one time.  We dug a big pit in the ground, stacked it full of mesquite wood, and set fire to it.  When the fire was going hot as hell, we covered the top of the pit with corrugated roofing iron, then covered that with about two feet of sand.  The fire was still hot, but was smothered by the lack of oxygen.  When we dug out the pit the next day, we had over 100 pounds of good mesquite charcoal."

"You try that today and I suspect some government agency would arrest you for something or other," Kent said.

"True enough.  'Course, the drought's been so bad lately, this is about as big a fire as I dare start.  It's been so hot and dry….yesterday, I saw a tree chasing my dog."

"You think that's bad?  My neighbor has started a sideline selling barbecue to tourists out of a stand on the highway.  He just hoses his stock down with steak sauce and sends them out to stand in the sun.  Twenty minutes later, the brisket is piping hot and ready to eat.  He's got restaurants all over Fort Worth crying foul about the unfair competition."

"Humph," Mike snorted.  "The first liar ain't got a chance around here."

"I'm looking forward to that steak.  Ruthie's got me on a low cholesterol diet.  I've eaten so much chicken lately, I'm afraid of growing feathers."

"You and me both!  Have you noticed lately that chicken and tomatoes taste like cardboard?  Corn is tasteless, and it seems like nothing has the flavor it used to.  About the only thing that still has flavor is beef, and now I don't get to eat as much as I used to."

"True enough," Kent agreed.  "But to be honest, most of what we used to eat wasn't very good for us.  Most of what we ate was more or less an oily salt lick covered with butter."

Mike carefully turned the steaks over and answered his friend,  "You're right," he said.  "But, I don't know if you've noticed that it's a little too late for us to die young.  Sooner or later we have just got to reach an age where it doesn't matter any more what we eat.  I just hope we reach that age while there's still something worth eating."

Kent took a hit on his beer and asked, “Why were you down in Mexico, anyway?”

“When I was younger and dumber, for a while I thought I might want to be a cattle buyer, so I got a job as a stock handler with a buyer out of Amarillo and went with him to Zacatecas.  I learned a lot on that trip!"

“Such as?”

“Besides how to make charcoal, I learned I really didn’t want to be a cattle buyer.  And I had a great lesson on Mexican food,” Mike said as he tried to evenly distribute the burning coals under the black coals that had yet to catch fire.”

“We were staying in this little hotel next to the old bull ring.  There’s a new and bigger bull ring now, and the old one has been turned into an expensive hotel.  These days, people pay big bucks to spend the night in a former cattle stall.”

“Well, we went to the bull fight and later that night, we ate at this little hole in the wall restaurant next to the bull ring.  While we were sipping our tequila, my boss noticed a sizzling, scrumptious-looking platter being served at the next table. Not only did it look good, the aroma was wonderful, so he asked the waiter, ‘What is that you just served that guy over there?’ " 

“Now the waiter told my boss that this was a special dish, barbecued bull testicles, fresh from the bullring.  Now that cattle buyer just had to have some, but there was only one serving a day, because there was only one bullfight per day.  But, the waiter said that if my boss wanted to come back the next day, he promised to reserve the order for him.”

“My boss agreed,” continued Mike.  “So the next day, after we got finished inspecting the local cattle for sale, we headed back to the restaurant and they brought him a steaming platter, piled high with steaming onions and peppers surrounding a pair of ‘cojones barbacoa’.”

“My boss, loved them, and pretty well demolished that platter.  But as he finished, he waved the waiter over and asked why his dish had seemed smaller than the dish he had seen the day before.”

“The waiter shrugged his shoulders,” Mike said, “and replied, ‘Si, Señor, sometimes the bull wins’.” 

Humph,” Kent snorted.  “The second liar does just fine.”


  1. It seems almost impossible to go to Mexico without coming back to a story. My Valley Grande Academy (a Seventh-day Adventist parochial boarding high school) went down to Horsetail Falls Park for the Junior-Senior banquet that year. My first time in Mexico, we crossed the border in a rented bus and headed cross-country. When we got there we had about 6 hours before the banquet, so a bunch of us paired up and headed out to see the sights. I'd picked up this cute Junior (I was a mighty Senior that year) and was walking around with her hoping to strike up a spark of some sort. We found ourselves at the horse rentals and I spent the last of my cash on a pair of seedy looking oat-burners. It was a strange horseback ride. The Mexican who rented the horses followed us on foot the whole length of the trail - I suppose to make sure these gringos didn't run off with his horses. I doubt he could have caught us if we'd made a run for it, but then he probably had them trained to come back to a whistle or something. Anyway, after we'd finished our ride through what had to be the most boring scenery in the park, we climbed down and prepared to leave. The horse-guy took me aside and whispered conspiratorially in my ear in broken English, "That joor girl friend?"

    "No," I answered, a little confused.

    His eyes brightenend. "Joo want a young girl?"

    "Whu?" I spluttered. With a little more warning I might have told him I was a good Christian, but "Whu" was about all I was able to muster in response.

    "I have a cousin in town. He can bring joo a little girl like dees one, no problemo..." he pressed.

    By then my guardian angel (the good one) had arrived on my shoulder and was prompting me to flee....

    "No," I laughed nervously. "She's my date," I explained as I commanded my feet "Don't fail me now!"

    I caught up with the girl I'd been working up the nerve to make a move on (I was terrified of females at the time - actually I still am, but I hide it better). I'd actually come to the banquet dateless as had she. Rumor had it she was dating one of her classmates' fathers. Anyway, I was relieved when she suggested I sit at her table. On the bus ride home late that evening, our pastor/chaperone made a little speech about how we were juniors and seniors and how he knew we could be trusted. Then he turned around and sat down and never looked back again. I was sitting with my new friend (the girl, not the Mexican guy)and having nothing better to do, we smooched all the way home. She had kissing down to an art form. Next day she gave me the old speech about it being one magic night but that was all and left me crushed and despairing on the steps of the classroom building.

    A trip to Mexico is definitely not anything like our senior trip to Athens, Texas. The only proposition I got in Athens, was a suggestion that we short sheet Jacinto Cobos' bed. He was our history teacher and it seemed like the thing to do. Everybody was in on it and we all chickened out. This was not, after all, any place like Mexico.

  2. Sometimes you are the windshield, sometimes you are the bug.