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Renowned San Antonio-area pitmaster Adrian Davila shares recipe for slow-smoked barbacoa

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Sequin-based pitmaster Adrian Davila shares his barbacoa technique. - PHOTO COURTESY DAVILA'S BBQ
  • Photo Courtesy Davila's BBQ
  • Sequin-based pitmaster Adrian Davila shares his barbacoa technique.
If you’ve ever wanted to prepare barbacoa like a pro, Sequin-based pitmaster Adrian Davila has got you covered. If you want it to be puro auténtico, however, get ready to do some manual labor.

Davila, an award-winning third-generation pitmaster who helms Davila's BBQ in Seguin, specializes in authentic Texas barbecue with a Latin American twist. This technique of slow-smoking a beef head or lamb wrapped in maguey leaves in a traditional-style underground pit has been used in many cultures for thousands of years.

In celebration of the summer cooking season, Davila this week released a recipe for his Texas-style lamb barbacoa for home cooks.

Sequin-based pitmaster Adrian Davila - PHOTO COURTESY DAVILA'S BBQ
  • Photo Courtesy Davila's BBQ
  • Sequin-based pitmaster Adrian Davila
Davila's restaurant keeps alive the tradition of old-school vaqueros — Latin American cattle herders who roamed the plains of Texas and Mexico. So, be warned: his home-cooking recipe is a complicated and lengthy process. But, then again, that's likely why this guy has won multiple awards and penned cookbooks about vaquero-style barbecue.

The technique requires some planning, as all of the cooking takes place in a 36-inch-diameter hole that’s dug four to five feet into the ground. The bottom of the hole is then lined with rocks or firebricks, before a fire is built using chunks of mesquite wood.

Texas-Style Lamb Barbacoa

Ingredients:
10 to 12 maguey leaves
1 whole lamb head, thoroughly rinsed
12 to 15 garlic cloves
1/2 cup salt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Tools:
Shovel rocks or firebricks
Mesquite wood chunks
Chimney starter
Metal cable

Method:
To prepare the maguey leaves, trim away the spines along the sides of each. Best to do this outside, since it can get messy. Cook the maguey leaves on a grill or over hot coals until they are pliable and the liquid has been completely extracted — about 10 to 15 minutes. You'll hear them pop and sizzle. Be sure to wear gloves when handling raw maguey leaves. Their juice is a natural skin irritant.

To prepare the lamb head, make incisions in it with a paring knife and stuff the openings with garlic cloves. Completely line the bottom and sides of a large pot with the cooked maguey leaves arranged vertically, and don’t stress if the tips of the leaves hang over or above the rim.

Place the head inside the pot with the nose facing up. Fold over the maguey leaves to completely wrap the head. Add three to four inches inches of water, then secure the lid to prevent steam from escaping. Use a metal cable to lower the pot into the pit, and cover the hole completely so no air can escape. Sheet metal or corrugated roof panels are great for this, but make sure not to use wood since the fire will get too hot.

Cover the metal top and the area surrounding the hole with dirt. Covering the hole will cut off the oxygen source to the fire, leaving only the heated rocks and the burning coals. These will create steam that will cook the meat. Steam until the meat falls off the bone, a process that should take eight to nine hours.

Remove the meat from the bones then separate it by cuts — tongue, cheek, and so on — and serve.

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