May 24 2015
Most Muslims in Houston have never tasted Texas Barbecue because the meat is not slaughtered in typical barbaric halal style. But Robert West, a former Mormon and now a Muslim convert, changed that with a new food cart called ‘Chopped N Smoked,’ the only Texas-style barbecue joint catering to the halal dietary traditions of the Muslim faith. With halal (unlike kosher), the spinal cord is NOT severed so the animal dies in agony until he finally bleeds out.
Statesman “Halal” roughly translates to “permitted” or “lawful” and refers to food produced in a ritual manner that satisfies Muslim edicts. Specifically, halal meat must come from a permitted animal (cows, sheep, goats) that is slaughtered in an inhumane way by an adult Muslim. Halal rules restrict the consumption of pork or blood.
West grew up in the Klein area in a “relatively strict” Mormon family. While working at a local energy company, he met his future wife, Aliya Ahmed, a native Houstonian and practicing Muslim. West eventually converted to Islam.
The Chopped N Smoked barbecue trailer sits in the parking lot of a Citgo gas station on Texas 6 in northeastern Fort Bend County, the most ethnically diverse county in the most diverse metropolitan area in the nation.
Why open a halal barbecue joint in Houston?
“There are generations of Muslim Houstonians who have never tasted Texas barbecue because it is not halal,” West said. “We always talk about integrating the many groups of Houston. How can you do that when certain foods are restricted? Although we welcome all Houstonians, we specifically wanted to bring authentic Texas barbecue to the Muslim community.”
It’s important to note that halal barbecue tastes like other Texas barbecue, and West welcomes everyone to try it. Halal requirements don’t necessarily affect the taste of the meat – they only guide the ritual manner in which the food is produced.
Because halal guidelines require that no food preparation surfaces or appliances have ever been in contact with restricted foods such as pork, West and Bones built their food trailer from the ground up with all new equipment. West built the attached barbecue pit himself.
The two men originally sourced their halal meats from various places around Houston, but the supply was inconsistent. Now Phoenicia Specialty Foods meat department helps them secure a consistent supply of halal chicken, brisket and beef ribs.
Most of their customers are curious Muslims, young and old, who have never tried Texas barbecue, West said.