L. Cargill, Medical Laboratory Scientist, ASCP. Retired blood banker and laboratorian. Loves to write about a wide range of subjects. Enjoy!
This article explores the top 10 best Texas dishes based on my mother's recipes. These meals are easy to prepare, but will definitely not disappoint.
My Mother's Best Texas Food Recipes
- Home fries
- Chicken fried steak
- Spare ribs
- Frito pie
- Pecan pie
1. Easy Chili con Carne Recipe
- Cut up as much beef, pork, or wild game as you think you will need in pieces about the size of a pecan.
- Put it in a pot, along with some marbled suet (enough so that the meat won't stick to the sides of the pot), and add a good amount of wild onions and garlic.
- Add seasonings as desired: oregano, salt, chili powder.
- Stir it from time to time and cook it until the meat is as tender as you think it's going to get.
- A Crockpot works just fine for this dish. Use your Crockpot according to its directions. I recommend low and slow.
Texas Has a State Dish!
The Texas legislature officially proclaimed chili the official state food of Texas "in recognition of the fact that the only real 'bowl of red' is that prepared by Texans. 1977
There are some interesting facts about Texas Chili. Mostly the fact that real Texans would never, ever put beans in their chili! It's ok to make a pot of chili and in another pot, make some beans. But they are served separately.
Kidney beans are never to be used in chili or on the side! Kidney beans are outlawed for Texas chili! In fact, I think Kidney beans are some kind of northern plot to eliminate the Pinto bean which is the correct bean to use at all times in Texas cooking.
Jesse James had a favorite chili parlor and refused to rob a bank in McKinney, Texas because he wouldn't be able to eat there again. It is rumored that a famous celebrity said on his deathbed:
I wish I had time for one more bowl of chili.
— Kit Carson
I learned how to make cornbread when I was a child and I know my mother's recipe by heart:
The Choctaw (Native American Tribe) invented a heartier variation of regular cornbread called Crackling Bread. Sometimes my mother would make this kind and sometimes we just had regular cornbread which we ate almost every night of the week.
Cornbread goes well with chili and it goes especially well with a big bowl of Pinto Beans with some home fries on the side. I grew up on the poor side and we ate beans and cornbread often. Now I miss it terribly because nutritionists will tell you that this good filling home-cooked food is bad for you. I have a theory that they're wrong. When I ate most of my meals home cooked in my Texas youth I had no problem with my weight. Now that I try to eat healthy foods, I've found quite a few pounds over the years that stubbornly won't come off. Maybe I should go back to eating like I did when I was young.
If you want to make the "Indian" Crackling Bread, just use the recipe to the right for regular cornbread and add some well done pork skins before baking. You can use commercial pork rinds, but they tend to be softer than home fried skins.
Adding fresh corn is also an option and will really lend authenticity to this recipe. Just get some fresh corn on the cob and scrape off the kernels until you have a cupful or so and add them to the mix. The recipe is very versatile and can be made the day before even. But it is best when fresh out of the oven and mixed with juicy beans and/or slathered with real butter (never eat fresh cornbread with margarine!) and eaten hot!
My grandpa used to eat leftover cornbread mixed with a glass of buttermilk for dessert! He loved the stuff. Hey, he was never overweight! That does it, I'm going back to eating cornbread, chili and beans again.
My Mother's Recipe for Corn Bread
Melt enough bacon fat in the iron skillet to keep the cornbread from sticking and to flavor the crust. Place the skillet in the 425 degree F. oven to heat the whole skillet while mixing the batter.
In a bowl stir together the dry ingredients:
- a cup of flour
- a cup of yellow cornmeal
- 2 to 4 Tablespoons of sugar to taste
- 4 teaspoons of baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon of salt
Make a well in the center of the mixed dry ingredients and add:
- two eggs
- a cup of milk or buttermilk
- 1/4 cup of oil or bacon fat (for best flavor)
- a can of creamed or fresh corn if desired
- some chopped green chilies if desired
Stir until mixed well. Pour into the preheated skillet. You should hear a sizzle. Bake the cornbread for 20 to 25 minutes until brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
3. Pinto Beans (The Best Thing to Eat With Cornbread)
Even before the invention of crock pots, my mom made a pot of beans nearly every day. They simmered on the stove and smelled wonderful.
We used to sit at the table in the morning with our breakfast and sort out the beans. They had rocks in the bags! We had to make sure no rocks made it to the colander where we put the dried beans to be washed. We would sometimes have quite a little pile of rocks to throw out after the sorting. Mom said the farm workers would put the rocks in the bags because it was easier than sorting them while picking and they got paid by the weight so a few rocks just increased their meager wages.
After the beans were washed, maybe two to four cupfuls of the spotted dried beans, she put them in the pot to soak. This soaking was sometimes done overnight, but mom had a trick up her sleeve. Bring the beans and enough water to cover the beans to a boil, then turn the heat off and let the beans soak for a couple of hours. Rinse and drain the beans Cook with fresh water. This method worked just fine.
After the soak, pour off the water (and hopefully the gas causing ingredient of beans in general), then cover the beans with fresh water and bring to a slow boil. Add some salt pork which flavors the beans. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Add a whole chopped up onion. Texas onions are very flavorful and my mom said I used to eat them like most people eat apples - raw. She said I would rather eat a whole onion than candy! I must have been a very confused child. I also wondered if Pinto beans came from Pinto horses.
Add garlic too, fresh pressed. We like a lot of garlic. Some people add sugar to their beans. This was supposed to reduce the gas causing ingredient, but I think they just liked the sugar. My mom did not use sugar in her pots. Simmer the beans all day or at least for four hours. Check and stir as needed. More water may be needed if the beans start soaking up all of the water. These steps are no longer needed so much if you use a crock pot. You set it and forget it.
When the juice turns brown and thickens a bit, and the beans are soft and smelling good, they're done! Serve in a bowl with fresh cornbread and home fries on the side.
4. Home Fries
If Texans ever needed another recipe for bacon drippings and onions, that recipe has to be home fries.
My sister taught me how to peel potatoes at a very early age, probably because she got tired of that chore long before I grew up enough to be able to use a knife without cutting my fingers off. We had home fries often. They were a favorite of my Irish dad. I guess there is a potato craving in their genetic code.
Here's how we did it. First find a child capable of using a potato peeler or a small paring knife to peel three or four or ten Idaho potatoes. You can use Texas potatoes, but the Idahoans seem to grow the best taters around. After peeling them, an expert potato cutter must slice the washed potatoes into "fries". I think food processors are used now that cut beautiful squared up fries, but irregular pieces work great too. For variety, you can use slices instead of the typical sticks, but I like the regular cut the best.
Heat the bacon drippings up in the cast iron skillet. You have to have two of these - one to make the cornbread in and one to do frying duty. Use bacon grease generously as the more you use, the better the flavor. When the bacon grease is hot, add the rinsed and dried potatoes. Add a whole chopped up onion too. Stir everything around and add salt and pepper. Keep a close eye on the taters and stir them around until they are done. You will end up with crusty potatoes and onions that will rock your world.
5. Chicken Fried Steak and Cream Gravy
Once you have had a real honest to goodness Texas style Chicken Fried Steak, you will never be able to eat those frozen breaded things they call food again.
It takes a couple of hours to prepare the very best Chicken Fried Steak dinner! But it's some real fine vittles. Start with the steak. Round steak is what my mom used. It was a big piece of meat that would be cut up to make four or five steaks.
First, bring the steak to room temp. Then you will either need a very sturdy unbreakable plate or a heavy meat mallet. Before we got our mallet, mom would use the edge of a plate to pound the meat to tenderize it. After we got the meat mallet, we had many more dinners of Chicken Fried Steak, so I recommend the mallet.
Pound the steak until it is tenderized. Turn it over and do the other side. This will also spread out the meat and make it bigger. Cut the steak into meal sized pieces. You should be able to feed at least four people from one steak.
Dredge the pieces, one at a time, into a pan of flour plus salt, pepper, garlic powder and any other seasonings you like. Then dip the meat into an egg and milk mixture. Then back into the flour mixture. After the second coating of flour, put the meat into a frying skillet with about an inch and a half of hot oil. Brown on both sides and place on paper towels to drain. Fry only one or two pieces at a time.
After making the steaks, pour off the hot grease from the pan leaving about two or three tablespoons in the pan. Add an equal amount of flour. Mix the flour and oil together and pour in two or three cups of milk. Stir and cook until thick. Serve the gravy over the Chicken Fried Steaks!
6. Barbecue Spare Ribs!
I always wondered how a pig could "spare" his ribs, but I was always glad that he could! This is the very easy way to make barbecue ribs, not out on the grill as most Texans prefer, but in the oven! You will swear that these are the best ribs you ever ate.
I use a 13 X 9 X 3 inch oven safe pan. Fill the pan with pork spare ribs. Salt and pepper (coarse ground pepper) the ribs to your taste. I use very little salt and a lot of black pepper. Turn the ribs over and do the other side. The side with the most fat should be on the up side when you get ready to cook them. But that's not essential.
Now add enough water to the pan to bring the water level up about halfway. Tightly cover the pan with heavy duty aluminum foil. Place the ribs in a moderate oven (350 degrees F.) and bake for two hours. This will steam the ribs to the falling off the bone stage.
Remove the foil and carefully pour off the liquid. Now pour on your favorite barbecue sauce and spread it over the ribs. My favorite sauce is Stubb's Barbecue Sauce. Return the ribs to the oven for another 30 minutes or until the sauce starts to thicken and dry out a bit. That's it! Serve with some potato salad, bread and beans on the side.
Barbecue brisket is definitely cooked on the grill or smoked in a smoker. There is no other way to cook it. You can smoke a brisket on Sunday and eat great sandwiches all week long.
I love a good brisket, but I am not particularly good at cooking the darn things. They're big, heavy and require a lot of patience which I do not possess.
- Find a nice sized brisket.
- Cover it with a black pepper, salt, and garlic powder rub.
- Put it in your smoker and cook at 225°F. for one hour and 15 minutes times the number of pounds your brisket weighs. Example: a 5 pound brisket needs to smoke for 6 hours and 15 minutes. Turn half way through this cook.
- When brisket is pliable and looks done, wrap in foil or heavy butcher paper.
- Smoke for a couple more hours or so.
- Remove and allow to set for 30 minutes to an hour before slicing and serving.
8. Frito® Pie
I think the only place in the world you can get real Frito® Pie is in Texas! Maybe you don't even know what it is! You could be living in Cincinnati, for instance, and think you have some real chili. But you don't and you know you don't. Why do you even try?
Frito® Pie uses real Texas Chili! None of that wimpy liquid tasteless dishwater you guys in Ohio call "chili". Just thinking about that stuff makes me want to cuss.
To make real Frito® Pie with real Texas Chili you need:
- A bag of Fritos®
- A cupful of Texas Chili on top of them (see recipe at the top of this page)
- A handful of chopped Vidalia Onions on top of that
- A handful of sharp cheddar cheese, grated on top of that
- A big spoon!
9. Enchiladas and State Fair Corn Dogs
I really had two choices here that I couldn't decide on. Tex-Mex food is really good, and homemade enchiladas are an excellent choice for the ninth best Texas food. But it's a terribly complicated recipe and unless you watch someone do it right, you'll never learn. So that is why I have added the video. It's pretty close to Tex-Mex enchiladas, but I noticed he is using flour tortillas. I learned to make enchiladas with corn tortillas, but I guess it's up to whoever is doing the cooking.
The Other Contestant for Number Nine...
Corn dogs! They were invented at the State Fair of Texas held in Dallas every year. It's also a favorite of Texas kids everywhere and even quite a few grown ups. I had to include them. Texas is famous for State Fair fried foods and this is one of the easiest fried things to prepare. But save yourself the trouble and go ahead and buy the frozen ones and bake them in the oven. Just as tasty and less mess.
10. Pecan Pie!
I hear cute little cupcakes may be on their way out as a fad food and that pies are going to be the next big thing in bakery treats! Well, you don't have to go far to find the very best pie ever invented, the Texas Pecan Pie!
It's the most calories you can pack into a spoonful, but you only live once so you might as well eat the best!
Start With the Dough
- 2 cups of all-purpose flour
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup of corn oil
Mix the flour and salt together, then add the oil and mix until you have Lima bean sized lumps.
- Add exactly 5 tablespoons of cold tap water
Mix the dough until it is consistent. Divide it in half and roll out the crust and place in the pie pan. Flute the crust edges by pinching the dough around one of your fingers as you go around the pie tin. Freeze the leftover dough or make two pies.
Now Make the Filling
- 1/2 cup of melted butter (use real butter, not margarine)
- 1 cup of brown sugar
- 1 cup of light or dark corn syrup
- 3 lightly beaten eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla (use the good expensive kind)
- 1 and 1/3 cup of chopped Texas pecans
Put the pie tin on the oven shelf, then pour in the mixture. Bake at 425 degrees F. for 10 minutes, then turn down the heat to 350 degrees F. and bake for another 40 to 45 minutes. If the crust browns too quickly and looks like it might burn, cover the edges with foil. Remove from the oven and allow to cool at room temperature for an hour at least. May be refrigerated if it lasts that long!
This pie is perfect for holidays and with proper packing, may even be shipped as a gift. It's a sturdy pie that will stay fresh if shrink-wrapped and sealed.
Some people like to add a little rum or bourbon instead of vanilla. Other people like to add 3 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate to the mix for chocolate pecan pie. Well, whatever floats your boat!
The Pecan is the State Tree of Texas!
Author: State Symbols, USA.org; Sunday, October 14, 2018; Texas State Dish | Chili; State Symbols USA | Official State and National Symbols, Emblems, Icons; Place and publisher: © State Symbols USA; URL
© 2011 Lela