Our first letter this month comes from Dave. Dave writes:

Dave: Lets start off with the description of a typical Texas barbecue pit. There is no such thing as typical. Everyone has his own idea of what works best. There are a lot of standard backyard grills around Texas. The "Big Boys" have the trailer-mounted pits for cooking large amounts of meat. These were originally made from discarded propane tanks. The first ones had a door cut in one end to put the fire in. Doors were cut in the top to access the cooking area and a smokestack was added on the far end for draft. The fire was built near the door end of the tube and the meat was placed on the other end under the smokestack. This provided indirect cooking heat.

Somewhere along the way, someone added a fire box to the end of the tube. The fire was contained here and the whole tube was then available for indirect heat cooking. The fire was regulated by a damper on the door of the firebox and a damper on the smokestack. Nearly all your new shop-built pits follow this pattern.

Here in the Texas Hill Country, a barbecue pit is a simple box built of sheet metal. The bottom is open to the ground. There is a lid that fits on top to contain the heat and smoke. A hardwood fire is built nearby and the coals shoveled into the pit as needed. The grill sits about three feet above the coals. Very simple and very efficient. Only drawback is it tends to kill the grass where the pit sits. Which may not be bad if you like mowing grass as much as I do.

Get on the Internet and look at what the professional pit builders have in stock. (I sent Dave some sites to inspect.) This will give you an idea of the size and placement of the various components.

Now back to the steaks. I would have my pit built so as to have a removable fire tray under the grill. The tray should be four to six inches under the grill. It can be made adjustable without a lot of difficulty. Then when you want to cook your steaks, you just slip in the fire tray and you're in business.

When you are looking for a metal fabricator to build your pit (that is if you are not a welder) look for a fat one who likes to eat. He will be interested in seeing how your creation works and, if you invite him over for a trial run, you might get him to work for a discount.

Hope this information helps your project.

Peggy wants to know how to make White Country Gravy.

ith the description of a typical Texas barbecue pit. There is no such thing as typical. Everyone has his own idea of what works best. There are a lot of standard backyard grills around Texas. The "Big Boys" have the trailer-mounted pits for cooking large amounts of meat. These were originally made from discarded propane tanks. The first ones had a door cut in one end to put the fire in. Doors were cut in the top to access the cooking area and a smokestack was added on the far end for draft. The fire was built near the door end of the tube and the meat was placed on the other end under the smokestack. This provided indirect cooking heat.

Somewhere along the way, someone added a fire box to the end of the tube. The fire was contained here and the whole tube was then available for indirect heat cooking. The fire was regulated by a damper on the door of the firebox and a damper on the smokestack. Nearly all your new shop-built pits follow this pattern.

Here in the Texas Hill Country, a barbecue pit is a simple box built of sheet metal. The bottom is open to the ground. There is a lid that fits on top to contain the heat and smoke. A hardwood fire is built nearby and the coals shoveled into the pit as needed. The grill sits about three feet above the coals. Very simple and very efficient. Only drawback is it tends to kill the grass where the pit sits. Which may not be bad if you like mowing grass as much as I do.

Get on the Internet and look at what the professional pit builders have in stock. (I sent Dave some sites to inspect.) This will give you an idea of the size and placement of the various components.

Now back to the steaks. I would have my pit built so as to have a removable fire tray under the grill. The tray should be four to six inches under the grill. It can be made adjustable without a lot of difficulty. Then when you want to cook your steaks, you just slip in the fire tray and you're in business.

When you are looking for a metal fabricator to build your pit (that is if you are not a welder) look for a fat one who likes to eat. He will be interested in seeing how your creation works and, if you invite him over for a trial run, you might get him to work for a discount.

Hope this information helps your project.

Peggy wants to know how to make White Country Gravy.

Peggy: Here in Texas, it's referred to as Cream Gravy. One of the best things ever invented. Here's how to go about it.

After you have fried something, chicken, steak, pork chops or whatever, remove the meat from the pan. Scrape the bottom of the pan to get all the sticky stuff loose. Pour off all but about three tablespoons of the grease (shortening if you prefer) and keep the sticky stuff in the pan. Add about two tablespoons of flour. (A precise recipe would call for equal amounts of shortening and flour, but people tend to use heaping spoons of flour and level spoons of shortening) Stir it real good over medium heat so it doesn't burn. When the flour just begins to brown, add about two cups of milk. Stir the heck out of it. Add at least a teaspoon of black pepper. Taste for salt. When the mixture begins to bubble and thicken, keep stirring. If it gets too thick, add more milk. If it's too runny, cook it longer.

If you want a richer gravy, use cream. The very best is made with condensed milk. I read a long story about a lady famous for her cream gravy. Her secret was to put just a little cinnamon in it. You might want to try that.

If you use water instead of milk or cream, you get brown gravy. For brown gravy, you want to brown the flour just a little. This has kept a lot of Texas folks alive for many years. The brown gravy doesn't need quite as much black pepper as the cream gravy. I like to put a little Lawry's Seasoned Salt in my brown gravy. Just be careful not to get it too salty.

Put any of them on a biscuit and enjoy.

The Doctor is always in here at texascooking.com. Fire them questions his way. He'll take a shot at anything in the food line.