Shoulder Clod: Texas's Forgotten BBQ Star

A big slice of shoulder clod from Kreuz Market in Lockhart, TX.

In the world of Texas barbecue, brisket is the undisputed star, and the hefty beef rib has become the featured player—the one who gets the big applause upon entering stage, the Kramer to brisket's Seinfeld, if you will.

Then there's beef shoulder clod, which is, at best, a bit character actor, getting upstaged by smoked sausage and even turkey. On a recent swing through central Texas, though, I finally got to sample the clod at places like Kreuz Market and Smitty's Market, both in Lockhart, and I came away quite impressed.

A shoulder clod is the size of a volleyball, checking in somewhere between 15 and 20 pounds. A thick cut, it tends to be cooked fairly quickly—just four and a half hours on the hot pit at Kreuz. It's a good bit leaner than brisket, and it has a much more intense beefy flavor, too. Since it's a thicker cut, it tends to not be smoky throughout, but the versions I tried had great crusty, smoky edges from the heat of the pit.

What you might not realize is that, sort of like Mickey Rooney, shoulder clod used to be a big star before getting relegated to supporting roles. No one was smoking brisket in Texas until wholesalers started shipping vacuum-packed individual cuts in the 1960s. Before then, Texas meat markets would order entire forequarters of beef, carve off what they could sell as roasts, and smoke the leftover cuts—the chuck, the shoulder—on their barbecue pits.

It's too bad you don't see clod at more places in Texas these days, for it's a real treat to have both brisket and shoulder side by side to get a little contrast in texture and flavor. I suspect much of the cut's challenges might come down to its name, for—let's be honest—"beef shoulder clod" isn't exactly a name that sells.

Perhaps all it needs is a little "brand image" makeover. At Kreutz's Market the big menu board simply lists "shoulder clod." At Smitty's, though, they give it a little more of a spin, for their board offers "Fat (Brisket)" next to "Lean (Shoulder)". Now, you might think this would help move the shoulder in this age of fat-phobia and nutritional nannyism, but I suspect those who are lining up next to the open-fire pit at Smitty's aren't there for health food.

emThe menu board at Smitty's puts a touch of marketing spin on.

How about this: "Shoulder Deluxe, the King Cut of Beef!" Or perhaps just "Beef Royale"—get the shoulder out of it altogether, lest Texans associate it with pulled pork.

Who says shoulder clod can't make a comeback? I'm certainly rooting for it.

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