Texans do everything big. Big hats, big belt buckles, big tires on our trucks, and of course food is no exception. Texans love their food, and love sharing it too. There is something wonderful about having great friends over to share a table full of fresh food on a warm Texas evening. No matter if you live in the Lone Star State or just want to bring a little taste of Texas to your guests, a large Texas dinner party will be sure to be something that everyone will enjoy.
The first thing about Texas food that you have to think about is the meat. Texas is known for delicious BBQ, steak, chili, and, well, just about anything else made from cattle. That said, beef products will be something that guests will expect to see at your party. Barbecuing a brisket is demanding work, requiring knowing how to season the meat, hours of making sure a mesquite-fired pit is kept at just the right temperature to keep the meat from drying out and a good working knowledge of how to make good, Texas-style sauce (or at least know where to get a bottle of it). Serving guests a dried out brisket covered in KC Masterpiece will not give them a true Texas experience, so you may want to steer clear of this unless you really know what you are doing.
Steak dinners are great ideas, but remember the good cuts. T-bones and ribeyes are what you are going for, and let it bathe in Shiner Bock and your choices of spices for a “good long while” (Texan for quite a bit of time). Cook these slabs of beef just long enough for medium rare, allowing everyone a nice, juicy steak that requires no sauce.
If you are going to serve chili, do it right. Texas chili is made without beans, usually without tomato sauce (I like mine with a few chunks of tomato), with a little garlic, and always with plenty of chili powder. Other spices are added for the taste that you like and will require experimentation. The meat can be either in chunks or coarsely ground, it is up to you. Serve your chili in bowls, with saltine crackers, and only in the winter.
Another great idea for beef is to use hot links for your dinner. They are easy (just heat them in the pan), and they are also pretty cheap.
Beef is certainly not the limit for red meat in Texas. Many Texans eat the venison they shot themselves or their friends share it with them. Venison is incredibly low in fat, making it very healthy. It also has great flavor and can be used many ways. The neck and forelegs make great chili meat. You can use the backstraps and tenderloins by seasoning them with a dry rub to lock in the moisture and either grilling or pan searing them. The hams can be used for delicious roasts, including my German-style roast that can be found right here. Sausages made of venison can be used for popular appetizers as well. Serve deer in late November through February, to make sure that the meat is still fairly fresh.
Pork is another great favorite in Texas. Breaded pork chops are a classic Southern dish, and you can grill them to make them healthier. You can take pork a step further by using feral hogs, animals that can be found all over Texas and the South. You can use the hams on wild hogs for delicious roasts, and the backstraps and tenderloins are simply fantastic. There is an open season on Texas feral hogs, so serving them any time of the year would be quite appropriate.
Texans love eating birds too. Chicken is usually served fried. Bread it with a flour and egg mixture, then fry it until the batter is just a little crispy. “Chicken-fried chicken” is almost always served with white gravy. Dove are popular game animals in Texas, so if you can get your hands on plenty of dove breasts then wrapping them in bacon and marinating them in Italian dressing before grilling them will give you a great Texas appetizer. Quail are commonly eaten as well, and they are usually grilled by the half.
Fish is a popular summer food in Texas. Anglers love bringing home bass, catfish, and crappie. Frying the fish in a cornmeal batter is a go-to choice. I also like to coat my fish in a layer of salsa followed by cheese and tortilla chips and then bake it in the oven. “Salmon patties” and “salmon fritters” (pronounced SAL-mon in many places in Texas) are also a great idea for a fish meal. They are made with canned salmon mixed with egg, cornmeal, and seasonings and are fried in small patties until the outside is just a little crispy.
Next comes the bread. For steaks and wild game it would be best to serve rolls. My personal suggestion would be the frozen rolls that come in a pie pan. They melt in your mouth and guests will want plenty. Cornbread is the right choice for hot links or meals heavily-focused on vegetables. Make it in a pie pan. You do not have to, but it gives guests a feeling of rustic East Texas when you use one and serve the cornbread in wedges. Use biscuits for fried chicken and pork chops. Biscuits in Texas are served with either fruit preserves or honey for dinner meals.
Vegetables give you endless options in Texas. Texans grow plenty of them fresh, and you have all sorts of options for sides with them.
Beans are a staple of most Texan diets. Pinto beans are usually the bean of choice. True Texas beans always have thick juices and are sweet and spicy.
Potato salad is another Texas favorite. Made with large chunks of potatoes that have been boiled to be slightly al dente, it also includes mustard, mayonnaise, pepper, celery salt, and sometimes small chunks of pickles. It varies by region and is a very versatile side and can be served with almost any main course.
If you are serving chicken, fried fish, or BBQ then you may want to include coleslaw. Standard coleslaw, with its thick, white dressing is perfectly acceptable, but German-style coleslaw from the German communities in Central Texas works too.
Fried okra and squash are great for meals that include a lot of down home, Southern flavor. Sliced tomatoes and onions can also be served, as many Texans eat these fresh with many meals.
Dessert is one of the most exciting parts of a Texas dinner. In the summer you should serve peach or blackberry cobbler. Note that you should always get the peaches fresh and never canned, and blackberries picked wild will give you the height of freshness. A spoonful of vanilla ice cream can be added on top as well. In the winter you can make a delicious pecan (pronounced pe-khan, not pea-can) pie. Banana pudding is another Texas favorite, with Nilla Wafers being mandatory to go along with it for the full effect.
Drinks are also important. Sweet tea is almost mandatory, as Texans drink it like water. Dr Pepper, made right in Texas, can be included as well. Texans also love Coca-Cola products, so grab a 12 pack. Texas beers, such as Shiner Bock (or Black or any of their other beers to suit your taste), Lone Star, and Southern Star should be on the menu if you plan to serve alcohol.
When serving your party in true Texas style, you should always have family style meals. Lay your food out on the table and allow everyone to take their portion while passing each plate around. Make extra, as people may want seconds. Serving the food in the pot, pan, etc that it was cooked in is perfectly acceptable for all but the most formal Texas dinners. Serve appetizers, I would reccomend salmon patties, dove breast, or grilled bacon-wrapped, cream cheese-filled jalapenos, to get your guests excited while the rest of the meal is almost finished. If you really want to get the full Texas experience, make sure to offer your guests seconds and thirds before their plates are even close to empty. Good Texan hosts make it a point of pride to make sure that their guests do not leave the table still hungry.
Consider playing some Texas country music as your guests arrive and during your meal at a level that still allows for normal conversation. Remember that Rascall Flatts, Taylor Swift, and Toby Keith are not Texas. George Straight, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Robert Earl Keen, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Randy Rogers are. It is a distinct sound and is important for authenticity.
Have fun making your Texas dinner for friends and family. Whether you are in Dallas or NYC you can have a great Lone Star experience right in your own home.