Thanks to Instagram, artisanal jam, and, of course, avocados, few foods have invited as much eye-rolling and internet scorn in recent years as toast. But it need not always come bearing a $12 price tag and/or a thick swipe of house-made ricotta: Toast, in its most humble form, has existed for centuries, and will undoubtedly outlive millennials and their hashtags.
One particularly famous regional variety of toast dates back to the mid-20th century, and unlike today’s toast-as-a-main-course trend, it’s best used as a side for sopping up the remains of a hearty Southern breakfast. Texas toast has humble origins, hailing from the state whose name it bears, and its simplicity is the key to its longevity; the thick-cut toast has remained largely unchanged since its invention. Here now, a primer on the creation of Texas toast, its spread across the country, and its glorious utility as an extra utensil for eating barbecue.
What is Texas toast?
Generally speaking, it’s thick-cut toast, typically buttered on both sides and cooked on a griddle or flat-top until golden. The toast frequently comes as a side, rather than solo, alongside homey dishes like chicken-fried steak, barbecue, and breakfast plates. It’s sliced about twice as thick as normal bread, typically seen in somewhere between 3/4-inch to 1-inch slices.
Who invented it?
While many regionally beloved foods have hotly disputed origin stories (like, say, Buffalo wings), few people seem to question the creation story of Texas toast. Royce Hailey of the Pig Stand drive-in restaurant in Beaumont, Texas, reportedly felt the restaurant’s bread slices were too thin, so in 1941, he asked bread supplier Rainbow Bakery to slice the bread thicker. This inadvertently created a problem for the cooks: The thick-cut bread wouldn’t fit in the restaurant’s toasters. One of the cooks, Wiley W. W. Cross, suggested buttering both sides of the bread and toasting it on oven racks. Cross has also been credited with incorporating Texas toast as bread for the Pig Stand’s famed chicken-fried steak sandwich.
The Pig Stand was seemingly the site for more than its fair share of culinary innovation: Besides inventing Texas toast, the restaurant also allegedly created onion rings and pioneered the drive-in restaurant concept and carhops.
Where is it served?
Texas toast managed to outlive the place it was born: The final two Pig Stand locations closed down in 2006 after the chain filed for bankruptcy. All was not lost, however: A longtime employee, Mary Ann Hill, purchased and later reopened the San Antonio location. It still serves several classic Pig Stand menu items, including Texas toast.
More and more, barbecue joints across Texas are also elevating the prominence of Texas toast on their menus, thanks in part to its versatility, according to Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn.
“Thankfully, Texas toast is getting more popular in Texas barbecue,” Vaughn says. “It’s perfect for barbecue since it can do double duty as sandwich bread and the slice of bread that comes on the side of a barbecue platter. It’s better than plain white bread because it gets wasted less often. Who wouldn’t rather have one slice of hot, buttered Texas toast instead of several slices of standard white bread? For a barbecue sandwich, I prefer it to a plain white bun.”
Several fast-food chains have also popularized Texas toast and helped spread it beyond its home state. Places like Dairy Queen, Whataburger, Zaxby’s, and Raising Cane’s all serve Texas toast, in locations both in and outside of Texas. Robb Walsh, a Houston-based food writer, endorses Texas toast as a substitute for burger buns, pointing to Whataburger’s patty melt as one example: “To make it, a cheeseburger is griddle-cooked, then toasted between two slices of buttered Texas Toast... I can’t imagine a patty melt on any other kind of bread.”
While many restaurants fall back on commercially available thick-cut sandwich bread, some restaurants take things a step further by making Texas toast from bread baked in-house.
“There’s a place called Dart Bowl here [in Austin] that is famous for their enchiladas, and they serve them with thick-cut toast they make themselves,” says Paula Forbes, a former Eater editor and author of The Austin Cookbook. While not technically called Texas toast, it definitely fits the bill. “[The enchiladas] come with an option of tortillas or toast and if you pick tortillas, the waitress will be like, ‘You sure? We make the bread here.’ And then you order the toast.” Dart Bowl’s toast also comes served alongside breakfast items like migas and alongside steak fingers or chicken nuggets.
How far has Texas toast spread?
Several barbecue restaurants around the United States embrace its humble utility, as either a side or an essential building block for sandwiches, in place of the untoasted slices of white bread more typically served alongside barbecue. One such restaurant, Sweet Cheeks Q in Boston, uses Texas toast for sandwiches stacked with pulled pork, chicken, or brisket.
It’s popular for non-barbecue sandwiches, too: At LA dive bar the Darkroom, a grilled cheese sandwich with cheddar, fontina, and muenster comes served on garlic Texas toast (the thicker the bread, the better for sopping up cheap booze, clearly). It’s also commonly used for French toast, as seen at breakfast spots like Banners in Conway, New Hampshire, and the Patio in Ignacio, Colorado.
But Texas toast isn’t limited to humble diners and dives, fast-food restaurants, and barbecue joints: Restaurant Marc Forgione in Manhattan, which previously held one Michelin star, serves Texas toast alongside its spicy Singaporean-influenced chili lobster (as does American Cut, a high-end steakhouse with three locations that Forgione is a partner in).
Though Texas toast has spread across the country, it appears to have remained impervious to the influences of more embellished, “artisan” toasts that have been growing in prevalence since 2014, led by the now-endlessly ridiculed avocado toast.
Is Texas toast available in stores?
For many people both in and outside of Texas, their first introduction to Texas toast may have come from one of several commercial products. There are oversized Texas Toast-brand croutons, and in Texas, Mrs. Baird’s sells a pre-packaged, thick-sliced bread called Texas Toast. A soft white bread similar to Wonderbread but sliced thicker, it comes commonly recommended in online recipes for Texas toast.
The T. Marzetti Company produces boxed and frozen Texas toast bearing the name “New York Bakery Texas Toast.” There are several varieties, including Parmesan, five-cheese, Texas toast with “real cheese,” whole-grain, and garlic, though purists insist the toast is best served simply, with butter only.
How can I make Texas toast at home?
The beauty of Texas toast lies in its simplicity and ease: To make it at home, either buy pre-sliced Texas toast bread (a la Mrs. Baird’s) or cut your own white sandwich bread into 3/4- to 1-inch slices, slather both sides with melted butter, then fry the slices in a skillet or on a griddle until they are golden brown. Serve alongside something worthy of sopping, like chili or anything slathered in gravy.