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CentralTexas Gardener KLRUTV, Austin PBS, creates innovative television that inspires and educates. KLRU-produced programs that air statewide on Texas PBS stations include Central Texas Gardener, Texas Monthly Talks and The Biscuit Brothers. Check your local listings. kiru tv and beyond a tough cut of meat requiring low and slow smoke cookingit hardly seems BBQ at all. We could argue about that, I suppose. We probably will. People like to talk about this stuff, to know what you like and tell you where they’ve been, which is one of the finer things about BBQ culture, and a good reason we’ll probably never see another summer pass in Texas without some new book about the subject hitting shelves. ‘Tis the season. We can flap our gums all we want about Texas BBQ. \(Is it Bar-B-Que or barbecue or BBQ? Did The New Yorker really need to send Calvin Trillin all the way to Texas just to rewrite Texas Monthly’s Top-5o paean last summer? Sauce or While we’re smacking, let me submit a modest proposal: It’s jerky, not BBQ, that deserves top meat billing in this state. I’m chewing a chunk right now, the honey bison variety from the Texas Best Smokehouse outlet in Italy, south of Dallas. I could eat this stuff till I pop. Or I could if it weren’t twice the price of linecaught salmon. There are no jerky-related releases forthcoming from Texas’ university presses. There are no glossy food-porn photo essays foretold in the Chronicle Books catalog. Search for jerky on and you’ll find a few how-to pamphlets and some old Jerky Boys CDs. There are no social histories, no slaughterhouse exposs, no $40 art books. As something of a jerky connoisseur, this lack strikes me as wrong, and not just because jerky, the very essence of meat, is available at every single corner store and interstate pit stop in this great meat-loving state of ours. And I’m not talking about Jack Link’s, which is distributed by PepsiCo’s FritoLay division, of Plano, and thus dominates the racks in every grocery store and convenience mart in the land. Jack Link’s sells 15 jerky products, including beef, turkey, bison and ham, variously co-branded with Al or Tabasco or KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce. Link’s also sells dozens of varieties of Tender Cuts, Nuggets, Beef Steak, Deli Cuts, X-Sticks, Beef Sticks, Combo Packs, Jerky Chew, Lil’ Chub and “organic” beef jerky. This is what the company refers to as “highly differentiated meat stick and jerky products:’ Jack Link’s aims them at “young adults with action-driven lifestyles.” To reach more of those, Link’s and Frito-Lay announced their agreement this week to jointly launch a new line, “… supported by an integrated action sports platform and dedicated advertising campaign, including sponsorship of the Dew Tour and top athletes in BMX, skateboarding and snowboarding.” It’s called Matador by Jack Link’s, and it sounds like either a really awful cologne or a line of overprocessed meat scraps marinated in testosterone. There’s no good reason to eat that stuff in Texas. Not when you can buy genuine Texas-made beef jerky smoked with hickory, or mesquite, or pecan \(try Oma’s you can chew on farm-raised turkey, pork, venison and bison \(I prefer my turkey from Woody’s Smokehouse on 1-45 in Look around a little and you can find emu and alligator and elk jerkies, too, never mind fish and chickennot that any of those are strictly necessary. No jerky can be said to be strictly necessary. In fact, jerky as a meat delivery system exists purely in the realm of extreme luxury, as reflected in exorbitant between $16 and $40 a pound. That’s because a good amount of any meat is actually water, which is a nice wet reminder of the almost unconscionable quantity of natural resourcesland, grain, fertilizer, irrigationthat get sucked into the raising of cattle. Dry the water out of your meat, i.e. turn it into jerky, and you don’t have much meat left. Gary Zaludek, the meat guy at Woody’s, says it takes 6 to 8 pounds of beef to make a single pound of jerky. He makes nine varieties of just the beef. Hickory-peppered beef is his best seller, moving off the shelves at 600 to 800 pounds of finished product weekly. That accounts for 3,600 to 6,400 pounds of raw beef a week, for just that one style, at just that one store. Ubiquitous packaged convenience and low-fat protein aside, jerky is quite likely the most absurdly inefficient way to eat meat there is, and ultimately I figure that’s what I love most about it. The indulgence. In terms of sheer wasteful pleasure, jerky is the gustatory equivalent of driving all over creation in this stupid-hot summer weather with the windows down and the A/C cranked up to 11another favorite and increasingly inexcusable Texas-bred summertime vice. * JUNE 26, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29