The area west of Austin is known for its direct-heat cooking. While the joints here don’t have a history that goes as far back as their Central or East Texas brethren, their cooking style is closest to the old way of cooking over a trench in the ground. Rather than smoking meat, the barbecue here is cooked directly over hot coals. Wood, usually mesquite, is burned down into coals in a feeder fire, and those coals are shoveled into large, metal boxes, sometimes called Dutch pits or German pits.
Robb Walsh is a Texas barbecue authority who authored Legends of Texas Barbecue, an explanation of Texas’ various barbecue styles. He recognizes that this style, which he refers to as Cowboy Style, “harkens back to the Southern roots” of barbecue. This style also has the most unique flavor. Instead of getting the flavor of the wood smoke, the meat captures the smoke from the fat as it hits the fire below. Because of the fast cooking times, thinner meats like ribs, chops, sausage, and half-chickens are more successful with this method, but brisket is still always on the menu. Just don’t expect it to be as juicy as other styles. This isn’t low-and-slow cooking.