Friday, July 29, 2011

BBQ Book Review: LBJ Barbecue Cook Book

Title: Walter Jetton's LBJ Barbecue Cook Book
Author: Walter Jetton with Arthur Whitman
Published: 1965, Pocket Books, Inc.

Fort Worth native and self-proclaimed 'Barbecue King' Walter Jetton (pronounced ji-TAWN) made his way into the national spotlight as the pitmaster of choice for President Lyndon Johnson. In 1959, the LBJ Ranch (the Texas White House) hosted its first of many barbecues, and Walter Jetton was manning the pits.

A 1959 barbecue at LBJ Ranch. BBQ action begins at 4:00 mark

Mr. Jetton would be the cook of choice for several more of these LBJ Ranch BBQ events, and eventually would make his way to the actual White House for a D.C. barbecue. All of this exposure made the man deservedly famous and he parlayed that fame into a published cookbook in 1965, just three years before his death in Fort Worth. While no longer in print, I was lucky enough to borrow a copy from local restaurateur Amy Severson who keeps a small personal library of historic cookbooks. I was grateful to receive such a historic book with no questions asked.

The book opens with a somewhat fanciful idea of the birth of barbecue on Texas cattle drives and an accurate portrayal of its rise in the meat markets of Central Texas. Here he also wisely proclaims that "Barbecue is the meat, not the gravy and not the sauce." and that "To barbecue, you need a pit". This introduction is followed by many of the recipes you'd expect to find like brisket, spare ribs and a signature barbecue sauce whose recipe is preceded with the proclamation "This is the secret of the ages I am giving you here, and I would not be surprised if wars have been fought over less." Mr. Jetton was a showman in his duties. Always impeccably dressed, he also had an entertaining sense of humor which really comes through in the book. On utensils and atmosphere "there is no reason why they can't stir their coffee with twigs or popsicle sticks. You will find that people love eating barbecue in this way." Then, on venison "if you start cooking it over the fire without nursing it quite a bit first, it will be about as tender and appetizing as a dry board, which few people have any natural taste for." Besides the standards, you can also find oddities like calf fries, Comanche beef heart, vinegarron rice and barbecued spiced bananas which I wasn't expecting to find alongside all of that meat.

To see scanned images from the book, this blog has all of the recipes along with other historical photographs of Mr. Jetton, and for more information on Walter Jetton and his connection with the LBJ Ranch, the Amazing Ribs website has a great profile of Mr. Jetton along with detailed accounts of LBJ's exploits in barbecue diplomacy.

- BBQ Snob


Perry P. Perkins said...

Great review! I just went and picked up a used copy on Amazon...I can't pass up historic bbq books, lol, and this one sounds fascinating.

FYI...they have used copies of the original, as well as a later "pocket book" edition.

Great minds must think alike...I woke up early and did some cookbook reviews, as well!

Thanks again,


Perry P. Perkins
“La Caja China Cooking”
“La Caja China World”

Jennifer Brehm said...

I am VERY glad to see that the vinegarroon rice doesn't actually use vinegarroons... Those are some nasty looking bugs. They are pretty common in El Paso - I'll have to send the recipe to my Dad.

Anonymous said...

Jetton's chopped brisket bbq sandwiches were 5 for a dollar in the 1960s which fed our family of 5 on many occasions.

One Thanksgiving someone sent us a smoked turkey from Jetton's. My dad was deathly ill at the time and we were probably going to have bologna sandwiches or something.

Amy Severson said...

Who knew a bug was called a vinegarroon. Thank you Jennifer! Daniel, this was delightful and delicious. Amy S.

smokinronniesbbq said...

"To barbecue, you need a pit". yuuup.


Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.