Borger, Texas, way up in the panhandle, has a rich history in barbecue.
Where there’s smoke, there’s Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor for Texas Monthly. He shared with Texas Standard Host David Brown what he learned about Borger’s barbecue and the woman behind it all. Etta White was a Mineola-born African-American who started a business in the 1920s that became a legend.
“I was looking through old newspapers and I found an advertisement for Etta White’s Barbecue Stand,” Vaughn says. “And then I came to find out that she had run a barbecue joint as a single black women in Borger, Texas for almost 40 years.”
When Vaughn wrote about Sutphen’s BBQ, the currently popular BBQ joint in Borger, an anonymous reader told him that all of Sutphen’s recipes came from Etta White, whose stand had already been running for more than 30 years when Sutphen’s opened in the 60s.
“This oddly chunked up beef that is served with sauce on it, very much unlike the slice brisket that you would find in most of Texas, that you get on Sutphen’s these days, that’s what Etta White served as well,” Vaughn says. “So she helped create a hyper-regional BBQ style in that area.”
Although Etta White’s stand was closed in 1972, Borger residents still remember minute details about the flavor of her food, the smell of her place, and the look on her face.
“She was not really considered the jolliest of restaurant owners,” Vaughn says. “But when you walked in the place, there she was right in the front, at her stove. Getting these details about this woman from people who hadn’t eaten her barbecue in 50 years is pretty outstanding.”
One of the anecdotes that most impressed Vaughn about White was one time in 1970, when she went to see a car dealer in Borger with the intention to buy a Cadillac. She didn’t get anybody to help her, so she decided to drive to Amarillo, where she could buy her new car.
“She had the Amarillo’s dealer call the guy back in Borger and say ‘you need to pay a little more attention to your customers. Etta White just was here and she paid cash for a brand new Cadillac,’” Vaughn says. “There is no way the guy who runs the car dealership in Borger isn’t going to know a woman who has run a business in that small town for that many decades.”
Written by César Lopez-Linares.