Why do Eu­ro­peans love Texas bar­be­cue?

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Texas-style bar­be­cue joints con­tinue to open around the world, and that’s good news for ex­pa­tri­ate Tex­ans or those who travel in­ter­na­tion­ally. If you’re in Lon­don, you can drop by Texas Joe’s for a taste of le­git­i­mate Texas bar­be­cue. Melt and The Beast in Paris of­fer sim­i­lar smoked-meat ex­pe­ri­ences just across the English Chan­nel.

On a re­cent trip to Como, Italy, I found a new out­post of Texas bar­be­cue called Blacket. As I sat down to a plate of the Texas trin­ity — brisket, ribs and sausage — I again pon­dered the ques­tion, “Why do Eu­ro­peans love Texas bar­be­cue?”

Based on my ex­pe­ri­ence trav­el­ing abroad and talk­ing to Euro­pean pit­mas­ters and din­ers, I’m cer­tain that at least part of the an­swer can be found in the in­gre­di­ent that de­fines Texas bar­be­cue —Amer­i­can-made beef.

Eu­ro­peans have a com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with beef, both in its con­sump­tion and pro­duc­tion. In most Euro­pean coun­tries, eat­ing beef is an af­ter­thought — the tra­di­tion of steak­houses that is so preva­lent in the U.S. does not ex­ist in most parts of Europe (Spain is some­thing of an ex­cep­tion).

If you’ve ever or­dered a steak in Europe, you quickly re­al­ize the ex­pe­ri­ence is quite dif­fer­ent from the U.S. The most no­tice­able dif­fer­ence is how it is cooked — the steaks I’ve had are in­vari­ably ex­tra-rare. Euro­pean beef also lacks the high fat con­tent — mar­bling — of Amer­i­can beef. This is be­cause much of the beef pro­duced in Europe is grass-fed, rather than the grain-fed or “grain-fin­ished” beef that makes the Amer­i­can prod­uct much fat­tier, and there­fore more fla­vor­ful.

In­deed, beef pro­duc­tion in Europe is highly reg­u­lated, mainly be­cause of con­cerns about sus­tain­abil­ity, an­i­mal wel­fare and food safety. The de­bate over beef pro­duc­tion is com­plex, but clearly Europe as a whole has de­cided that these con­cerns are more im­por­tant than pro­duc­ing, ar­guably, more tasty beef us­ing the less reg­u­lated Amer­i­can ap­proach.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, the fla­vor and tex­ture of Amer­i­can beef is bet­ter than those of Euro­pean beef. I think that many Eu­ro­peans feel the same way. And that’s a big rea­son Texas bar­be­cue has be­come so pop­u­lar there.

One of the com­mon fea­tures of Texas-style bar­be­cue joints in Europe is that they all pro­cure im­ported Amer­i­can beef. At Blacket in Como, when my brisket or­der ar­rived I knew im­me­di­ately that it was Amer­i­can beef. The gen­er­ous mar­bling and fat cap were un­mis­tak­able. Pit­mas­ter Vin­cenzo “Enzo” Cuc­caro con­firmed that he im­ports Creek­stone Farms-brand beef from Kansas, when he can get it.

Un­for­tu­nately, Euro­pean bar­be­cue joints can’t al­ways ac­quire Amer­i­can beef. Im­port­ing beef into the Euro­pean Union is a com­plex process. First, there is a quota for the to­tal amount of tar­iff-free beef that can be im­ported from all non-E.U. coun­tries. Amer­i­can beef rep­re­sents just a small sliver of that over­all quota.

Ad­di­tion­ally, beef im­ported to Europe must ad­here to the stan­dards of sus­tain­abil­ity and other re­quire­ments pre­vi­ously men­tioned. For Amer­i­can beef, this mainly means that it must be hor­mone-free. Hor­mones are of­ten used in Amer­i­can beef pro­duc­tion to help the cat­tle grow faster. Euro­pean reg­u­la­tors have de­ter­mined that the use of hor­mones is un­healthy and un­sus­tain­able and bans the im­por­ta­tion of beef made this way.

Amer­i­can beef im­ported to Europe is thus la­beled “all nat­u­ral,” mean­ing it was pro­duced with­out the use hor­mones or an­tibi­otics. Creek­stone Farms is one brand of Amer­i­can beef known for its all-nat­u­ral prod­uct that sat­is­fies Euro­pean re­quire­ments.

This, of course, cre­ates a prob­lem. The de­mand for high-qual­ity beef in Europe is in­creas­ing, and the quota, mea­sured by quar­ter, is be­ing ex­hausted sooner. Euro­pean pit­mas­ters have told me that it is of­ten hard to find im­ported Amer­i­can beef to­ward the end of each quar­ter be­cause the quota has been reached.

That’s start­ing to change. Amer­i­can and Euro­pean reg­u­la­tors are ne­go­ti­at­ing for larger quo­tas of im­ported Amer­i­can beef.

That’s good news for Tex­as­style bar­be­cue joints in Europe be­cause there is clearly an in­crease in de­mand for the tastier, more ten­der style of beef pro­duced in the U.S. For Eu­ro­peans who crave Amer­i­can beef, they know that Texas-style bar­be­cue joints are guar­an­teed to have that beef, cooked in a proper and tra­di­tional way (not too rare!).

To para­phrase an Amer­i­can mar­ket­ing slo­gan: “Beef. It’s why Eu­ro­peans love Texas-style bar­be­cue.”

Pho­tos by J.C. Reid / Con­trib­u­tor

Those across the pond can sate their grow­ing de­sire for Amer­i­can smoked meat with brisket and beer at Texas Joe’s, a Texas-style bar­be­cue joint in Lon­don.

Steaks in Europe, by and large, are lean and served rare.

J.C. REID

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