"I started out in Illinois," celebrated cookbook author, barbecue genius and all-around food aficionado Cheryl Alters Jamison says, "and I had no idea what barbecue was—I thought it was a sloppy joe thing with sauce."

A family trip through Georgia and a stop at a roadside barbecue joint changed that perception.

"It was pork that had been smoked and had a vinegar kind of sauce to it," she recalls. "This completely blew my mind. I'd always thought beef when it came to barbecue, and on top of that, it had cole slaw that came IN the sandwich. It stuck with me—there was more out there."

Cut to today, and Jamison's just-released 20-somethingth book, Texas Q: 100 Recipes for the Very Best Barbecue from the Lone Star State, All Smoke-Cooked to Perfection. A veritable tour through Jamison and her late husband Bill's hard-won barbecue knowledge, the book features sections for equipment, rubs, sauces, starters, sides, desserts and even vegetarian options—it's like Jamison's love letter to a food she discovered as a kid and never got over.

"I never dreamed I'd end up writing about [barbecue]," Jamison says with a laugh. "When I moved to Santa Fe in 1980, there just wasn't much to be found, so I knew I needed to learn how to make it myself."

She and her husband bought a water smoker that resembled R2D2, but disastrous instructions made for disastrous results.

"I took it out to the dump," Jamison says.

Unphased, the Jamisons turned to Texas pitmaster Wayne Whitworth, also the manufacturer of industry standard smoker company Pitts and Spitts.

"It took us about a week of constant cooking to get us up to speed, but it was the most amazing week," Jamison says. "I had no idea my life was about to change."

At the time, Jamison explains, barbecue was a dying art. The pitmasters were aging, it was a boy's club and health concerns over roadside joints weren't helping matters.

"We kind of felt like we were chronicling something on its last legs," she says of their 1994 cookbook Smoke & Spice. That book, however, won them a James Beard Award.

Many other tomes have popped up between then and now, as have awards, but as it applies to this week, Jamison joins Texas Q photographer Gabriella Marks and Texas-based pitmaster Arnis Robbins for a Zoom brunch and discussion event hosted by local retailer Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse. Jamison was even kind enough to provide one of her favorite recipes from the book for y'all to try making at home.

Cheryl Alters Jamison has won James Beard Awards for her cookbooks, so listen to her.
Cheryl Alters Jamison has won James Beard Awards for her cookbooks, so listen to her. | Courtesy Stephanie Cameron

Pulled Pollo

Chicken can absorb a lot of spice as with this Tex-Mex chile-fueled rub here. After smoking, the chicken can be pulled and used as is or as a filling for tacos, sandwiches, burritos, and more.

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: About 3 hours
Serves: 6

Ingredients:

Chile Dust Dry Rub:

  • ¼ cup ancho chile powder
  • 2 tablespoons guajillo chile powder or New Mexican dried red chile
  • 1½ tablespoons kosher salt or coarse sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • Two 3½ pound chickens, trimmed of any excess neck skin or fat
  • 1 tablespoon melted salted butter

Preparation:

  1. The night before you plan to barbecue, combine the rub ingredients in a small bowl.
  2. Massage the chickens with the rub, inside and out, working the mixture as far as possible under the skin without tearing the skin. Cover the chickens and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Prepare the smoker for barbecuing, bringing the temperature to 275°F to 300°F.
  4. Remove the chickens from the refrigerator and let them sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
  5. Transfer the chickens to the smoker, breast side down. Cook for about 3 hours, turning each chicken breast-side up about halfway through the cooking time. When the chickens are done, their legs will move freely and the internal temperature of each should read 180°F to 185°F on an instant-read thermometer.
  6. Remove the skins, if you wish. Carve the chickens and serve hot.