Cowboy Chef Tom Perini
Perini Ranch Restaurant,
Buffalo Gap, TX

Legendary Cowboy Cook

By Michael Walsh
Photos by Steve Aja

Buffalo Gap,Texas is authentic Texas, situated way out in the Texas hills. To get to Perini Ranch, you turn off one empty road onto another, go through a log fence, into a dirt parking lot, and continue until you’re looking at an old oil pumper sitting right there in the middle of a dirt field. Under the trees are sheds, chuck wagons, and an aluminum walled shed …. Wait! We are driving over to the shed. No — it is not a shed. It is the famous, legendary, Texas hot spot known as the Perini Ranch Restaurant.

Tin walls, pickup trucks, and outdoor chuck wagons in the middle of nowhere. I tell myself this place is going to have great food! Rumor has it you can’t even get a table on a Tuesday night if you haven’t made a reservation. Through the thick wooden doors, we are greeted by the cats. These aren’t just cats, these are ranch cats. I can just see into these bored cats eyes, “ don’t mess with me, I’m sleepin’.” The smell of mesquite wood is filtering through the afternoon air. In the door comes a cowboy, slim, tall, wearing Levis, with a silver grey cowboy hat. “Hello folks. You the photographers?” “Yes” we say. “Can I get you a drink?” I love this Texas hospitality!

The Perini Ranch crew has opened up on a day off just for Food and Beverage International. (On a regular day, we wouldn’t have had room indoors for the photo shoot — too many customers.) This is the headquarters of Tom Perini, James Beard Award winning chef. The chef that was setup to barbecue for the congressmen at the White House Rose Garden on the infamous September 11, 2001, Bush’s barbecue guy! He is also the Texas Restaurant’s Association chef ambassador to Russia and Eastern Europe, the self-described Cowboy Cook, Tom Perini. We’re going to taste great beef, wonderful traditional American desserts, Tom’s favorite side dishes, and look Texas in the eye over a cocktail. As we sat around and watched everybody work, the place was filled with lively conversation. Our first lesson was on some live fire technique.

The following is an excerpt taken from ”Texas Cowboy Cooking,” by Tom Perini.
Remember, on the chuck wagon the heat source is wood, and most of our cooking comes from that - something grilled over a wood fire. That’s not just Texan; whether you’re in Tuscany or Argentina or whatever, it’s a traditional method of cooking.

At the restaurant, we use mesquite because it’s native Texas wood, and there’s a lot of it in this area. We used to pull it all off the ranch, but now we go through so much of it that we have it delivered 20 cords at a time. We use wood that’s probably 10 years old and it has to be good and dry mesquite so that the tar or pitch that is naturally in the wood is gone. And we cook with the coals, which means we take a pile of mesquite, burn it down to coals and then shovel the coals underneath the grill. But the mesquite wood makes a good hot, even-burning coal, so you don’t get as many hot spots as you might with other woods. Other parts of the country use other hardwoods like oak or hickory, but we use mesquite because we have it right outside the back door.

Unfortunately, there probably aren’t many people out there with a mesquite-burning barbecue pit in their backyard. So if you are using regular charcoal, try sprinkling some mesquite or other hardwood chips on top of the coals. You won’t get the same amount of heat as with the mesquite, but you will get some of the flavor. Mesquite chips can be found in grocery stores nationwide.

What determines the method of cooking is the height of the meat above the coals. If you’re cooking a steak you want in on a grill right above the coals, and I believe in cooking a steak with a little bit of flame, because you don’t want a gray steak. We keep it hot enough so it sears the outside of the steak, and gives good grill marks and a little char, which adds a tremendous amount of flavor. This really complements the flavor of your beef. Before you throw anything on the grill, get the fire hot enough to where you can’t keep your palm a couple of inches from the grill for more than a few seconds.

Prime Rib or Rib Eye Roast
With a roast, there is a lot of outside surface to cover, and the appearance is very important. Use this rub with a lot of pepper and garlic. Wet the meat a little, so that the seasoning will stay on.

Cooking roast on the grill:
Place meat on pit and roast a 12 lb prime rib at 325 degrees for 3 hours. Take it out when it is showing an internal temperature of 120 - 125 degrees. Turn meat every hour. Remove from heat and let meat rest for at least 40 minutes before serving.

Cooking roast in the oven:
Place roast on a wire rack in a roasting pan to keep it out of the drippings. Preheat oven to 500 degrees and roast for 25 minutes to seal the juices. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees and roast to desired doneness. Use a meat thermometer to measure internal temperature.

Chef Recipes:
Texas Herb Rub Roast

Other Related Links:
Legendary Cowboy Cook

Cowboy Chef Tom Perini Bio

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