Born in Clovis, New Mexico, to a Texan cattle rancher father and mother who loved to cook, Robert Murphy spent his youth riding goats, sheep, horses and steers, as well as hunting and fishing. He taught himself to barbecue after catching his own food and wanting to eat it in the great outdoors. The family moved to Texas and he stayed for a while, where he continued to engage with animals and cooking, further developing his passion for barbecue. About 25 years ago he relocated to Australia, but his appetite for Texas barbecue never faded. He has showcased his barbecue talents on Australian reality cooking television and recently penned the book Texas BBQ. MEAT+ POULTRY talked with Murphy to gain insight into his passion and expertise.
M+P: What is it with barbecue that makes you so passionate about this cooking technique?
Robert Murphy: During the first half of my life I lived close to the land and knew what it was to take responsibility for my own food. It gives you a deeper respect for what you are cooking and a real understanding for the entire process of preparing good basic food. Sadly, I think most chefs today have missed this experience. In regards to barbecuing, cooking outdoors is just more fun. Food prepared in the outdoors seems to taste better. Everyone seems to be in a better mood and there always seems to be a party-type atmosphere. As an energetic young boy in the woods with my rifle and a box of matches, I first tried to cook and eat a rabbit, which tasted horrible. I vowed to bring salt on my next hunt, after that some butter and a frying pan. The art of cooking with sticks grew from those humble beginnings.
What is so special about Texas barbecue?
Murphy: Texas is home to more barbecue places than anywhere in the world and I was in and out of some of those places for the first 40 years of my life. Mexican food and cooking traditions have influenced Texas barbecue probably more than any other culture, and likewise have had a huge impact on my own menu. I love Australia and have a deep sense of pride for the Texas culture and the way of life that influences what and how I cook and I want to share that with everyone. People today are cooking outdoors more and exploring innovative ways to create enjoyable variations of traditional meals. This book has some tried and true recipes to help them on that journey. Good fresh ingredients cooked perfectly taste great no matter where you are.
Texas barbecue tends to be heavy on the brisket. What are your favorite cuts to cook and why?
Murphy: I once bought two whole pig sides just to cut the ribs myself. I love to cook a brisket, but what I really love is cooking Tomahawk steaks. They are expensive, but worth it. They taste great and it’s fun to have a huge handle on them. Fajitas are fun outside, too, because you let everybody build their own. If you get people involved, somehow it is more fun.
What about woods? Are you married to using only oak wood or do you like to experiment with various fruit woods?
Murphy: In Australia, wood can be a huge problem. I have learned to not rely on wood for flavor. You mostly use hardwood called iron bark for cooking and fruitwood for smoking. My all-time favorite is pecan wood.
What’s one of your favorite meat grilling tricks?
Murphy: I like to use a reverse sear for big expensive cuts to get them perfect every time.