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Smoking with the Pitmaster at Texas BBQ

Jonathan Brannon's the master of the pit at Northborough's Texas BBQ Company.

He was born into barbecue. Not literally. He wasn't smothered in hot sauce upon birth. But for Jonathan Brannon, pitmaster at , he was destined to at least know how to barbecue properly, if not do it for a living. He's now doing the latter, as the fulltime pitmaster (yup, that's what he's called) since the beginning of the year.

It's a family thing.

His grandfather, Billy, owned two barbecue restaurants in Arizona and Texas. Brannon's family moved to Massachusetts from Arizona in 1997, when his dad David's high-tech company relocated him. After 9-11, when his industry took a hit, Brannon's dad figured, "It's in the blood. Let's open a restaurant." David Brannon opened Texas BBQ company in August of 2006, and worked the pits full time until Jonathan took over. 

With no formal culinary training, Brannon graduated from Oklahoma State with a degree in business management. After graduation, he headed back to Massachusetts to bartend at Texas BBQ Company. Following a brief stint of living in Texas, he returned to Massachusetts. His dad was looking to retire from cooking, so Brannon took over. 

They approach the barbecue differently out west, he says, and he and his dad brought it with them. It differs from New England barbecue in a few different ways.

"It starts way back to when we prepare the meat and prepare the fire for the smoker," Brannon said. "There's no propane. It's a match and firewood. And the meat never touches flame. It's heat and smoke that cooks the meat. In some places around here, you'll see grill marks on the ribs, so they're cooking it on a flame. We don't. Another big difference is we don't put sauce on anything. It's all a dry rub. We have sauces on the tables that people like. But our big thing is you should be able to taste the meat. You shouldn't taste the barbecue. You should taste the actual smoke in the meat."  

Most important kitchen tool: "Tongs."

If you could cook for anyone, who would it be? "Willie Nelson. I've always liked him. Kind of like the big group, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard...they came to my grandfather's restaurant, which was called the Texas Pit BBQ in Arizona. He had two in Arizona and a small operation in south Texas."

Favorite thing to cook: "Babyback ribs."

Do you ever get sick of barbecue? "Never. I could eat it every day. And I do."

In the 'fridge at home: "Milk and juice, because I usually eat here all day."

Music to cook by: "The radio is cranked right now to country. That's all I listen to. It's in my blood. I like blues and Stevie Ray Vaughan and all that stuff, but if I'm out there cooking, it's country."

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