Everything I have ever learned about the lone star state has come from football movies. I was so enamored with the idea of living in Central Texas, marrying the high school football coach, and eating barbeque for every meal, that I actually applied to teach in a town of 400. Yes, that happened. I think it was mostly the idea of barbeque being so accessible. How funny that I now live on Capitol Hill where there are no cowboys, but plenty of lawlessness. In this week’s ode to barbeque and LBJ, I had to turn to a Texan bbq master I know from the reality show circuit. A MasterChef like me, Cutter Brewer, put it far better than I could: “For Texans, barbecue is inherent. Succulent, savory, aromatic with smoke and spice, it transcends the term comfort food. It's downright heavenly, and it's also a staple of Texas lifestyle. Like a tornado or a hurricane, barbecue is a force of Texas nature and a statement to the state's cultural and culinary history.” It’s time to fire up the grill.
Lyndon B Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, invited folks over to the White House for delicious Texan fare and ‘barbeque diplomacy.’ He managed to get quite the agenda moving by using this tactic: “Congress is like a whiskey drinker. You can put an awful lot of whiskey into a man if you just let him sip it. But if you try to force the whole bottle down his throat at one time, he’ll throw it up.” At six foot three, he towered over his guests and got his point across by speaking very closely and loudly in their faces. He was even crass enough to invite people to finish their conversations in the toilet when he needed to relieve himself. Though his time in the White House saw many successes, most notably the passing of the Civil Rights Act, it also felt the devastating sorrows of the Vietnam War.
In addition to Washington events, the Johnsons enjoyed entertaining on their Johnson City, Texas ranch. LBJ was a real Presidential cowboy. An April 1964 article in Time magazine (called “Mr. President, You’re Fun”) highlighted how much he loved “Texas style drinking and driving” on his property. To go cup in hand, he would take guests on a high speed tour around the ranch, culminating in his greatest stunt. While screaming that the brakes were broken and they “were going under”, he would plunge the car into the lake, only to reveal it was Amphicar that was more than able to float. This proved unamusing to many. When it wasn’t a whiskey kind of day, LBJ loved Fresca and buttermilk, calling himself a buttermilk addict.
When it came to menus, the Johnsons couldn’t have been more different from the Kennedys in style and palate. Championing classic ranch fare, LBJ would “eat anything that didn’t bite him first.” Lady Bird’s famous fresh bread always made the table and red meat was normally found right next to it. Steak ruled supreme. The President would have eaten it every meal, if allowed. Spareribs, fried chicken, and texmex classics were also favorites for special occasions. Legendary deer sausage was also sent to staff and political allies after each Texas hunting season. With it came a note that read: “we hope your holiday season will be more delectable because of our hunting season. In Texas, from November 15 on, the hills are alive with the sound of hunters. Here is the result, killed this year by our trusty rifles on the LBJ ranch.”
Lady Bird Johnson did occasionally put her hubby on a diet. Well, she tried to. He had already suffered a heart attack in 1955 and needed to be careful considering Presidential stress levels. Mrs. Zephyr Wright, the family cook for over twenty years, put together lighter menus during diets. The President would then complain. After having enough, Mrs. Wright left him have it: “Mr. President you have been my boss for a number of years and you always tell me you want to lose weight, and yet you never do very much to help yourself. Now I am going to be your boss for a change. Eat what I put in front of you, and don’t ask for any more and don’t complain.” He obeyed, unsupervised. This original Lady Bird recipe packs in that Texas barbeque flavor while being kind to the waistline. I have added a knob of ginger for interest and Cajun seasoning for spice. The chicken can be cooked in the oven as directed or thrown on the grill. I suggest shredding the meat when it is cooked, adding extra sauce and enjoying with coleslaw. The sauce also works well on a rack of ribs.
Lady Bird Johnson’s Barbequed Chicken
Adapted from original recipe c/o LBJ Presidential Library
- -1/4 cup butter
- -1/4 cup vinegar
- -1/4 cup catchup
- -1/4 cup lemon juice
- -1/4 cup Worchester
- -salt, pepper, red pepper , tabasco (to taste)
- -1 clove garlic, minced
- My additions:
- - Cajun seasoning, to taste
- -1 small knob ginger, minced
Melt butter in sauce pan, add other ingredients and bring to a boil. Pour over meat to be barbecued.
If barbequing chicken- cut chicken in quarters, wash, drain, salt and pepper and place in a pan large enough not to have any chicken on top of other pieces. Place under flame and brown to a golden brown (all sides). Add barbecue sauce and cook uncovered in over for about an hour or until nice and tender (at 350F). Baste often. Feel free to shred, add extra sauce and put it on a bun.