The Distinction of Noodles: An Investigation of Italian-American Noodle Cuisine (Tyler Herrod)

The United States has often been referred to as, “the melting pot” of culture. Due to its relatively recent discovery, colonization, and freedoms, the American society is best described by this term. With influence and immigrants from across the world, different aspects of culture like art, architecture, food, and customs have combined, adapted, and evolved into a morphology of multiculturalism that has highlighted our rich national diversity. Italy, for example, is one such influence as millions of immigrants over the centuries have re-established their homes in the land of liberty. Italian food culture, with pasta at the forefront, has travelled with these immigrants to arguably become one of the staples of American cuisine. Of course, changes have occurred since the first “Little Italy” was organized, so it is important to determine whether the differences in mainland Italian and Italian-American noodle cuisine are different enough to be appraised as separate bodies of culture.  This question will be investigated through a brief historical overview of Italian immigration with an analysis of ethnic centers such as Little Italy in Manhattan, an identification of evidence both for and against the continuation of noodle recipes, an analysis of American-based marketing of the noodle, and an identification of evidence for a reinvigoration of traditional Italian cuisine in the United States.

Historically, Italian immigration occurred in the largest numbers following the Risorgimentothat culminated in the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy on March 17, 1861 (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1998). While Italy was finally unified geographically, the people were not. “Decades of internal strife had left a legacy of violence, social chaos, and widespread poverty” (Library of Congress). After heavy taxation, newly titled citizens of the southern regions of Italy were often left with little choice but to emigrate. Word of prosperity from returning migrants quickly spread across the country, so America became a preferred place to relocate. As a result, between 1876 and 1930, 5 million Italians immigrated to America (Molnar, 2010). 4/5 of these migrants were from the southern regions of Calabria, Campania, Abruzzi, Molise, and Sicily.

Southern Italian cuisine has a greater focus on tomatoes, olive oil, eggplant, and peppers, so these ingredients, and the local dishes associated with them, took preference in the new world over the northern Italian items like risotto, gnocchi, and Florentine steak. The majority of Italian immigrants were contadini, or agricultural laborers, with less than 20% being craftsmen or higher status individuals (Molnar, 2010). Italians were the largest immigrant labor force to work in the mines, so many individuals who did not see an interest in that field decided to open small restaurants to make ends meet. Interestingly, around half of these immigrants ended up repatriating back to Italy. With such a promise for a return to their homeland, this suggests little motivation to assimilate into the greater body of American culture, thereby preserving the ethnic pasta recipes.

When foreign immigrants re-establish their homes in a new country, they often cluster together into ethnic centers. These large groupings of individuals tend to make the transition to a new way of life easier. The Italian-American ethnic group historically suffered through widespread discrimination as popular nativist theories marked Italians as outsiders. As a result, after passing through Ellis Island into America, many decided to group together into ethnic centers later known as “Little Italies” in an effort to preserve their language, culture, and food. More than 90 percent of Italian immigrants decided to congregate into urban areas in the northeast region, Midwest, California, and Louisiana (Pozzetta). Many of these centers, like the ones in New York City, Boston, Cleveland, and Chicago still exist to this day and are an excellent example of a flourishing Italian food culture. A walk down Mulberry and Mott Streets in Little Italy in Manhattan, for example, would show “shops selling fine Italian food products, ceramics, over two-dozen restaurants and cafes, and Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral” (Locker, 2012). It is clear that, at least in Little Italy, the culture surrounding the noodle has largely been respected over time. Menus at restaurants in these centers are mostly representative of southern Italian cuisine still found today, albeit with the tourist traps sprinkled in along the streets. As one example, a restaurant called Aunt Jake’s in New York City’s Little Italy has authentic handmade pasta in shapes like cavatelli, tagliatelle, pappardelle, and garganelli, with sauces like arrabiata, carbonara, and puttanesca. They also have the option to serve all of their pasta family style, which enhances the social aspect of the noodle that brings people together. Therefore, Aunt Jake’s is representative of traditional Italian dishes, suggesting that these ethnic centers have effectively preserved Italian noodle culture.

The preservation of southern Italian pasta across America can be seen through three dishes that are staples on the menus of most Italian-American restaurants: eggplant parmesan, spaghetti with marinara, and minestrone soup. The warm climate in southern Italy allows eggplants to thrive. In effect, parmigiana di melanzane, or eggplant parmesan, has become a classic Italian dish that can be seen across the world. This simple dish of battered and fried eggplant topped with mozzarella and parmesan over pasta has spawned various alterations like chicken or veal parmesan that also penetrated the American cuisine. In fact, eggplant has become so interwoven in the United States diet and agriculture, that New Jersey now grows 66 percent of the world’s yield (Bloom, 2015). Tomatoes are another important southern Italian crop. There are even specific breeds, like the San Marzano tomato, which are highly sought after and can only be grown effectively in the volcanic regions surrounding Naples. While there are countless sugo, or tomato-based sauces, from the southern regions of Italy, sugo di pomodoro, or spaghetti with marinara, is the most famous worldwide. Crafted with tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, and olive oil, it is, “cooked vigorously and quickly to retain the zest and brightness of the tomatoes” (The Story Behind 5 Classic Italian Pasta Sauces, 2017). The quick and relative ease of the sauce makes it a perfect choice to be represented across the American working class. Finally, minestrone is another southern classic that has been well established in America. This thick vegetable soup with small pastas like orecchiette, elbow, or small shells has come to be a popular starter at Italian-American restaurants. These three dishes are evidence for the continuity and preservation of Italian pasta dishes in American culture, however, there is significant evidence promoting the uniqueness of Italian food in the United States.

With the majority of Italian immigrants coming from impoverished backgrounds, America provided exciting new opportunities for food. After visiting America, Massimo Bottura, chef of one of the top 50 best restaurants in the world, said that, “the best ingredient I discovered in America was ‘freedom.’ The freedom to experiment in the kitchen and the freedom to be open to those experiments in the dining room.” These immigrants were used to feeling disenfranchised by their more privileged neighbors from their homeland who could eat a richer diet, so they jumped on the opportunity to incorporate ingredients that they could not normally afford in Italy. While cucina di povera, or peasant cuisine, is delightful in its own right, many of these new Americans decided to expand their diet simply because they could now afford to do so. With the cost of beef drastically cheaper and more readily available in the United States, meatballs became a widely accepted topping for pasta that most people could afford. This was, “evident in the baseball-size meatballs that came out of the era, which could only have been invented by someone extremely excited by the prospect of an abundance of meat” (Horowitz, 2016). This new excitement from meat was not limited to meatballs alone. The traditional eggplant parmesan got adapted into chicken and veal varieties, and “Sunday sauce” took the title of the best sugo.Vastly different than the sugo di pomodorothat can be seen in Italy, Sunday sauce is stewed all day with meats like pork sausage and meatballs. Being such a hefty sauce, the noodle itself becomes more of an afterthought.

However, when appraising the Italian-American food culture as a whole, pasta is still more represented on menus. Following a traditional Italian meal order, pasta is served as a primi. It is designed to be only one small course in the greater overall meal, whereas in Italian-American food culture, pasta is commonly served in large portions as the main dish. Many Americans associate Italian food with just pasta, even though there is so much more to Italian food culture. While most of these Americanized items like spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmesan, and Sunday sauce are not authentically Italian, they have come to be so instrumental in the greater American food culture that has incorporated ethnic cuisines and adapted items like the noodle to be representative of what the United States has to offer.

The culture and love of pasta in America has been enhanced and altered in response to marketing and industrialization of the noodle. While Italy is known as the birthplace of the Slow Food Movement, where local food and traditional cooking takes precedence, the United States takes the opposite approach. In working-class America, speed and ease of cooking are of the highest priority. With more full-time workers, both men and women, there is less available time to prepare dinners every night, so quick and simple meals have become lifesavers. Of course, noodle manufacturers and grocery stores have capitalized on this trend. An average trip to any grocery store chain in America will offer consumers with nearly 100 choices for pasta. Standard shapes like spaghetti, penne, and macaroni take up the most shelf space; however, it is never too difficult to track down the orecchiette, bucatini, or cavatappi that a recipe may request. The difference in America, however, is that most of these pastas are dried. Dried pasta is much more convenient to produce, has a longer shelf life, and can be stored at room temperature. Dry pasta can simply be thrown into a pot of boiling water, so there is little prep work required to have a pasta dish on the table for dinner. For example, boxed Kraft macaroni and cheese can be enjoyed a mere 30 minutes after starting, but the tradeoff is the loss of nearly all of the pasta’s cultural roots. The process of making pasta from scratch, while only using a few ingredients, is not convenient enough for the American lifestyle, so dry pasta has won outright.

To make pasta even more simplistic, companies have even found ways of developing canned versions of spaghetti with meat sauce that have become cult American classics. Hector Boiardi, an Italian immigrant, rose to fame as the head chef at the prestigious Plaza Hotel in New York City. After repeatedly being asked by patrons for a way to have his spaghetti at home, he decided to create, “take-out meal kits that included dried pasta, cheese and cleaned out milk bottles filled with marinara sauce along with instructions on how to cook, heat and assemble the meal” (Klein, 2015). These meal kits quickly surpassed dine-in revenue, so Boiardi decided to scale up his production. Capitalizing on the eagerness for quick meal options for Americans, Chef Boy-ar-dee outstripped Boiardi’s ability to run the company. After selling his business to American Home Products for six million dollars, the brand continued to expand and has become a mainstay on supermarket shelves in America and around the world.

Where fast and easy pasta dishes were saved for the home, Italian restaurants became a preferred dining spot to indulge in more time-consuming creations. Of the 800,000 restaurants in the United States in 2015, about 100,000 served Italian food (McMillan, 2016). In comparison to Chinese and Mexican restaurants that each numbered about 40,000, pasta definitely has made its mark on the American restaurant scene. However, with a much smaller subset of these Italian restaurants actually being authentic, the majority are run by big chains that have outposts across the United States. With 892 locations across the United States, Olive Garden is the largest chain of Italian-themed restaurants. Olive Garden prioritizes innovation and food trends in their menu creation, so they serve items like loaded pasta chips, sirloin over fettuccini alfredo, and chocolate brownie lasagna. They have also continued on the themes of indulgence that are present in American food culture. Servings are large and calorie ridden. Long gone are the days of the simple and healthy pastas with olive oil, garlic, and chili. Instead, Olive Garden serves their pastas as rich treats to the taste buds, likely being part of their marketing strategy as well. Fat enhances flavor and leaves people wanting more, so Olive Garden serves their pasta dishes laden with cheese and meat. However, they do still maintain a thorough understanding of the communal aspect that pasta creates. Their mission statement on their website reads that, “we believe that life is better together, and we know everyone is happiest when we’re with family. Whether that’s family by relation or by choice; traditional, blended or extended; neighbors, coworkers or teams; friends, groups or just “the gang.” We love everyone like family.” Pasta is a medium to connect people, and it is therefore the duty of Italian-American restaurants like Olive Garden to foster those connections around their dishes. While many of these Italian restaurants fall under the umbrella of Italian-American food culture, there has been a recent resurgence of authenticity in the United States.

With the turn of the century, Millennials kickstarted the foodie trend that has resulted in a reinvigoration of traditional Italian cuisine. This group of individuals, “love sharing experiences with their friends both in-person at the table and online” (Howe, 2017). With social media continuously on the rise, regional specialties of pasta like cacio e pepe or bucatini alla amatricianahave become mainstream and incorporated into the Italian-American body of food culture. Food photography has become an entire branch of social media, and as a result, new and exciting foods are sought out by this group. Regional specialties of pasta have filled this niche and the Italian food scene has become more authentic as a result. One such example is the Italian grocery market/restaurant complex called Eataly. The first Eataly opened in 2007 in Torino, Italy as, “a school, a market, a table to gather around: a place to learn about food and, through food, about life” (The Story of Eataly). At this one-stop shop, people can choose from a large selection of handmade pastas, cheese produced in Italy, beautifully selected produce, and end their experience with a scoop of gelato. With several locations in New York City and across the United States, this brand that emphasizes the Slow Food Movement’s tenants of quality ingredients and authenticity has become the perfect playground for foodie culture to flourish and be shared amongst individuals. The noodle has become rejuvenated and viewed as an art-form once again.

Noodles are a vessel for creativity that can be modeled and adapted to any nation’s agricultural availability, cultural preferences, or diet. The concept of the noodle is broad and open to interpretation, so the possibilities for a culture to take in the noodle as their own are endless. Southern Italians came to the United States in large numbers following the Risorgimento, and the greater body of ethnically diverse Americans took their classic Italian pasta dishes, kept some authentically preserved, and adapted others to this new and exciting land. With limited access to their homeland, Italian-Americans continued on in their new way of life, and as they changed as a people, the pasta did as well. Italian-American pasta has become a distinct entity with flavors and ingredients that are authentically American but still maintain the deep Italian roots. These roots are continuing to flourish as a more globalized and food enthused society has brought some of the classic Italian pastas to be cherished again in the United States.

Works Cited

Aunt Jake’s Menus. Retrieved from

Horowitz, G. (2016, December 7). The Illustrated History of Italian American Food. Retrieved from

Howe, N. (2017, July 20). How “Generation Yum” Is Stoking The Foodie Frenzy. Retrieved from

Klein, C. (2015, August 27). The Surprising History of the Real Chef Boy-Ar-Dee. Retrieved from

Library of Congress. Italian – The Great Arrival – Immigration. Retrieved from

McMillan, T. (2016, May 4). How Italian Cuisine Became as American as Apple Pie. Retrieved from

Molnar, A. (2010, December 15). From Europe to America: Immigration Through Family Tales. Retrieved from

Napolitano, P. (2015, July 14). New Jersey is eggplant capital of the world. Retrieved from

Olive Garden – About Us. Retrieved from

Pozzetta, G. Italian americans. Retrieved from

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (1998, July 20). Risorgimento. Retrieved from

(2017, March 27). The Story Behind 5 Classic Italian Pasta Sauces. Retrieved from

(2019, April 4). The Story of Eataly. Retrieved from


Tortellini en Brodo (Tyler Herrod)

Tortellini en Brodo


In the space of a breath

I think about what you could be


I envision a cottage

Underneath the Tuscan sky

Where you were loved

Kneaded with care

As the nonnas brought you to me

How beautifully you had come together


I think about the vibrant orange that kissed you

The same eggs that were gathered this morning

Hold everything together

Enrich the dough


I think about the harvested grains you took in

How many things have come

From that tireless mill

Sitting in the corner


Of families large and small

Who spend every Sunday

Filling the cases with ricotta and braised cuts


While I cook alone


So much dedication







In this opportunity

But instead

I purchase Buitoni for a dollar seventy-five


I chose to imitate the poem Zucchini by Jennifer Barone from her book, Saporoso. I chose this piece as it traces the history of a simple ingredient, zucchini, sitting on her plate and delves into what makes the process of agricultural truly remarkable. Her poem describes how factors like farming conditions, sunlight, and soil all impact our food systems that we take for granted each day. This makes the piece all the more enlightening when the narrator decides to pan out and appreciate the small details that culminate in the perfect piece of produce.

Through her poem, I learned that Jennifer has a special connection with food derived from her Italian heritage. She lives in a modern and well-off society where it is easy to not take special notice to food, and the beauty of it. It is clear from the first stanza of her poem which reads, “In the space of a breath I think about where you came from,” that Jennifer, like most people, lives a fast-paced life. Her life is not entirely driven by food, yet she still takes small moments like this one to appreciate the beauty of freshly grown produce and the ability it has to transform a dish into something culturally significant.

Taken as a whole, Zucchini is a piece that highlights many aspects of the Slow Food Movement that was mentioned in class. By paying particular attention to the quality of ingredients and by cooking meals from scratch, not only will the end product taste better, but each dish will have a story from the ingredients, making the dish all the more meaningful. I chose to draw on this theme when writing my poem. Through my cultural upbringing, I had little exposure to authenticity and innovation in cooking. Most of the meals that I ate as a child were the basic standards like frozen meals, fast food, and simple dishes that many American children tend to prefer. It wasn’t until relatively recently that I started experimenting with different cuisines and cooking more meals from raw ingredients. However, there is still a side of me that sees ready-made foods and discounts that drive my purchasing decisions.

Therefore, rather than focusing on the Slow Food Movement as is embedded in the cultural DNA of Jennifer in Zucchini, I chose to base my poem on the missed opportunities that I’m so used to seeing in food. The difference between freshly made tortellini and store-bought is so apparent, and I used this example as one of many that I am familiar with. On a recent trip to Florence, I tasted authentic tortellini en brodo and was left in awe. The flavor was outstanding, and it was so easy to see why this dish has such an important culinary heritage. Unfortunately, homemade delicious pasta dishes like this were never part of my cultural DNA, so I aimed to make that clear by ending the poem with, “I purchase Buitoni for a dollar seventy-five.”


Interpreting the Italian and Chinese Noodle (Tyler Herrod)

Noodles, although a humble product, are a loved staple food for many people throughout the globe. With evidence dating back at least 4,000 years, as uncovered by the Lajia archaeological site in northwestern China, the noodle’s cultural history has spanned millennia. However, like any aspect of culture, modifications do still occur. While the unearthed long thin yellow noodles made of broomcorn and foxtail millet may have been one of the first recipes, today the possibilities are endless. With varieties created from durum wheat, rice, buckwheat, or other grains; the ingredients of the noodles themselves are only one factor that can be manipulated by the chef. Then comes the shape, cooking method, sauces, stews, and other accompaniments that make each dish both special and unique.

While most pasta dishes are unique, a common theme in the production and consumption of noodles lies in the location of the cooking. The dish’s hometown often plays just as significant a role in its development as does the mind of the chef who first invented it. Xie Laoban from Chendu serves their Dan Dan noodles with Sichuan pepper, Brazilians top their pastas with feijoada, Japanese eat Tonkotsu ramen in a flavorful pork bone broth, and Ethiopians mix in Berberé. Each of these locations not only incorporate locally sourced and produced ingredients into their pasta dishes, but they have cultural and historical stories associated with the creation of the dish.

Take, for example, the long-life noodle. This dish, one of the most celebrated noodle dishes in China, is eaten on Chinese people’s birthdays. While there are variations to the ritual, often each person at the table will scavenge through their bowl to find the longest noodle and place it in the center for the person of the hour to eat. This is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. As a result, Chinese noodles, with this variety in particular, have become a cultural symbol for longevity in life. In Italy, pasta serves as a glue to bring people together both in eating and cooking. Ravioli, for example, is a labor of love and very time intensive to make if left to one person. Instead, families join together along large tables to create batches of ravioli that they later eat in good company.

With many differences in the preparation across cultures, one thing for certain is that people love pasta. According to the The Truth About Pasta, Oxfam conducted an independent survey in 2011, where pasta was named the world’s favorite food. Pasta is “sumptuous enough to grace the cover of luxury food magazines, yet accessible enough to be used in nutrition assistance programs and budget recipes, pasta is truly a food that brings people together.” Pasta dishes are simple to make, cheap, and nutritionally wholesome when prepared with fresh vegetables and healthy fats, so it makes perfect sense that noodles are so interwoven into China and Italy’s culinary history.

Being so wide-encompassing, it is difficult to truly define all of China’s and Italy’s noodles. Perhaps, a decent definition would read something like: a preparation of milled grains such as flour or rice mixed with liquids like water and/or eggs to produce a dough that is shaped, cut, and then cooked with other toppings and ingredients to produce a final dish that is best produced and eaten amongst family and friends. This definition aims to be broad enough to overlay all the regional varieties of noodle recipes that are seen in these countries as well as touch on the aspect of eating the noodle and what makes this process so meaningful. The noodle is so much more than just a simple dish of flour, eggs, and water. It is a tool to bring people together, symbolize longevity, harbor cultural flavors, and nourish the body and soul.


This image of soba dipping noodles represents the endless possibilities of what noodles can be. A noodle is a blank canvas, but still a work of art all to itself. They are delicious enough to be eaten plain or can be transformed into a greater dish when accompanied with other ingredients.

My Grandparent’s Kitchen Table (Tyler Herrod)

My grandmother has always been one for extravagance. She likes to host large dinner parties with her friends, buy fancy clothes, and broadcast her wealth in any way that she can. Her home, according to my father, falls into the interior design styling of “frou frou”, but to the well-trained eye, it is more Victorian. Either way, her home is artful, and her dining room is no exception. Large families, like mine, tend to have a designated house that they gather at for each holiday, and my grandmother willingly accepts the offer each season. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter are all done at her home, which is a short 20-minute drive from my own. At each holiday, we always eat at her dining table as a family.

This particular table has always been an interest of mine. It is made of solid dark wood, maybe eight inches at it thinnest. The corners and legs are all decked out in ornamentation that appropriately places the table in the styling of the rest of her home. The chairs, of course, match the wood of the table, but they are also upholstered with a beautiful beige paisley and dark brown leather design that seems like too much of a work of art to be sat on in the daily. I chose this table, as it is a solid piece of furniture with history within the family.

I explained the role of this reflection to my grandmother. “So you want to interview me about my table?” to which I responded “Yes, but more importantly, I want to learn about how where we eat has an impact on our food culture.” I dived into the Noodle Narratives course and defined concepts like food anthropology and cultural relativism to boost my credibility as an interviewer. I brought with me a quote from Eating Culture – An Anthropological Guide to Food by Gillian Crowther, which said that, “the activities surrounding food acquisition, preparation, and consumption, lead themselves to cross-cultural comparison, allowing us to conjure into existence others’ lives through a shared everyday experience of eating.” From this quote, I explained how the culture of food is made up of much more than just the meal that we eat.

The interview process would be a simple 20 minute conversation about the specific table, its history, and how it fosters community. My goal from using this anthropological method was to gain my grandmother’s perspective on family gathering and the table’s role as a cultural artifact. I would also observe the table for myself, including how it was set up, the design, and how a typical meal would run.

I learned that the table had been in her home since she retired and moved to Texas from California 11 years ago. She purchased the table from an antique refinishing company at the request of her interior designer. The table and chairs had been re-stained to repair any fading of the wood, and the chairs needed to be reupholstered after years of wear and tear. The end product was sent to her home and has not moved since. When questioned about its use, my grandmother said that “it is saved for special occasions. When it is just me and your grandfather, we eat at the kitchen table.” She wanted to protect the wood from any avoidable stains from daily eating, and she thought it was “a little weird” to eat at a table with seating for up to ten when there was only one or two. She did, however, still use the table daily, but just for a different purpose. When I first arrived at her home, I noticed an almost complete puzzle with the remaining pieces scattered across the wood surface. I helped her complete it while we were talking, and she explained that she’d frequently “set up shop” at the dining room table because it was the biggest open space. Beyond puzzles, she would also play cards or board games with her husband there. Even without joining for a meal, the table still worked to foster a gathering of people. Had I not been interviewing her about the specific table, I was still pretty confident that our chat would occur in the same place, as the dining room was a place for conversation.

During the meals that did occur there, she explained that it would always be served family style. The large roast, usually a turkey or ham, would showcase in the center, with different accompanying dishes flanking the sides. When asked why she chose to serve the meals like this, she explained that when she was going to use the dining room table, it would be for large meals that required the space. It is too laborious to have to dish out every side dish on every plate. Plus, she said, “when you are eating with family or a group of close friends, you can lose the pretense and just allow everyone to enjoy the food as they want to.” This statement reminded me of the introduction in Eating Culture, where the author was at a “fancy restaurant” and had “cutlery anxiety”.  My grandmother, similar to the author, Gillian Crowther, thought it was too proper to have everything served to you, and eating buffet style at the table incorporated more conversation about the food amongst friends. She mentioned that this conversation would often extend for close to an hour after the last fork had been laid to rest. It was not often that the whole family would be gathered together, so there would usually be a lot to catch up on. The table simply served as the foreground for that conversation.

In conclusion, I learned that this table’s main function is to be used as a gathering point for large meals that are served family style. The table is long in length, so it can seat many people who circle the main course that is placed as a centerpiece. The types of dishes that are served at this table are traditional American holiday recipes of roasted meats accompanied by several side dishes such as potatoes, salads, and breads. Regular meals are not eaten at this table due to its large size and expensive design that would be wasted on the daily breakfast of toast and coffee that is eaten by my grandparents. Instead, before meals, and when not entertaining guests, they use the table as a home for their board games and activities between a retired husband and wife. Even in these instances, the table is used as a cultural artifact to promote conversation about food and a gathering between people.

Tyler Herrod: Brisket

All over the globe, meat is treated as a celebratory food. Meats like Thanksgiving turkey and honey-baked ham carry special meaning as they are symbolic for the gathering of people that they entail. Being from Texas, smoked meats are part of our heritage. These can range from ribs to sausage to pulled pork to brisket. All are cooked in a wood-burning smoker and the meats are seasoned with a basic rub of little more than salt and pepper. At all holidays and special events, this type of meat becomes the central point that Texans, and any others from the “barbeque belt”, gather around. In my house, Fourth of July, Memorial Day, and even sometimes Christmas involves smoked beef brisket as the main event on our dining table. My dad will plan out his days and wake up early the night before to put a brisket on our makeshift Big Green Egg smoker and monitor it over the next 12-14 hours. The end product is always crisp from the bark, juicy from the rendered fat, and has adeep penetrating smoke flavor

Smoked brisket has become my favorite dish not only because of its mouthwatering taste, but because of the good times that it represents with my family. As much as I would love to, this dish is not something that can be eaten every day. It takes hours to cook, is not exactly something for the health conscious, and it tends to be expensive when purchased from a restaurant. As a result, brisket has become synonymous with celebration and family gathering. As for its taste, I enjoy brisket because of its depth of meaty flavor that is so unique and not really replicated in other culture’s cuisine. If trimmed correctly before cooking, brisket should have all of its fat rendered into a moist piece of meat that takes on the flavor of the wood that it is smoked in.



The earliest mention of brisket comes from a grocery store in 1910. This again emphasizes how brisket was, and still is, something to be cooked at home amongst family. Coming from the same part of the cow as Jewish Pastrami, brisket developed from the Jewish influence in the central Texas region. It wasn’t until the 1950s that brisket first appeared on the menu of Black’s BBQ in Lockhart, Texas. While brisket has spread in popularity across the country since then, it is still this central Texas region of Austin and Lockhart that is where the best is located. Restaurants like Franklin Barbecue, Kreutz Market, and Snows have become institutions, and their chefs are as famous as celebrities. The meticulousness of chef Aaron Franklin, and his dedication to perfecting the meat have led him to be known as the king of brisket. While brisket stems from this region of Texas, each part of the “barbecue belt” of the United States is known for their own take on southern barbeque. Memphis is known for dry rub ribs, the Carolinas for pulled pork, and Kansas City for burnt ends. Each of these places across the United States have pride in their product and have the same love for barbeque as I do for brisket.



Recipe for Texas Smoked Brisket




  • 1, 10-12 pound “full packer” brisket
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh ground pepper, finely ground
  • Oak wood, chunks or chips, for smoking.


  1. Trim the fat layer on the “flat” section of the brisket to 1/4 inch. Trim all the thick, hard fat around the “point” section. Trim any super-thin sections of the meat that will burn during long-cooking.
  2. Mix the salt and pepper in a bowl and lightly cover all the brisket with salt and pepper. Keep mixing the salt and pepper as you go, to keep even distribution. Avoid clumps or spots of extra rub. You do not need to use all the rub. Set brisket aside.
  3. Set up your smoker to smoke at 225 to 250 F degrees (Franklin runs closer to 250 F). Add your wood and then add the brisket. Add water pans. Cook for 6 hours, adding wood as needed. Check the brisket (internal temp will probably be 130-150 F). Wrap the brisket in butcher paper or foil and cook another 5-7 hours (finish in the oven, if you like). Look for an internal temperature of about 195 F. Or see if all (both “flat” and “point”) of the meat is soft and “jiggles” to the touch. Remove from the heat and rest, in the paper or foil, 45-60 minutes.
  4. To serve, slice the “flat” section of the brisket, across the grain, in pencil-thin slices. The grain for the “point” section runs in the other direction. Rotate the “point” 90 degrees, cut it in half, and then serve in pencil-thin slices. Look for, and find, the grain before you slice.
  5. Serve with slaw, white bread and some sauce, if you like.