MAD MEAT GENIUS

MAD MEAT GENIUS
Chilebrown at home

Barbeque

Barbeque
Let's get Cookin!!!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

ANNIBIRTHDAY


Today is a very special day in the Chilebrown household. Twenty years ago today, it seems just like yesterday, Ms. Goofy became my beloved Meat Adventure partner.(wife). It also happens to be my birthday.We are celebrating by going to the 'City' and having a huge prime corn-fed steak at Alfred's. A couple of days ago we were the guests of "Famous Dave's to enjoy the ribs above. What a day!!!!!


Monday, February 25, 2013

BACON JERKY


Bacon flavored beef jerky from"Sportsman's Jerky Company" caught my eye and pocket book the other day at the 'Denios Auction' in Roseville California. I am not the biggest fan of dried beef products but with the addition of bacon this jerky was a must have item. We asked the vendor how bacon flavor could be added to jerky. He shared the secret of smoked paprika. Once home we cut open the package to sample our bacon flavored beef. This jerky was chewy and flavorful as jerky should be. I closed my eyes and tried to taste bacon flavor. It was just not there. Even though this was good jerky they must of saw me coming and slapped the bacon label on to entice my purchase.


Sportsman Jerky Company

Saturday, February 23, 2013

SLOW HAND BBQ



“You can have the best BBQ meal of your life and come back three hours later and have the worst meal ever”….. Reverend Biggles

It is several months until competitive bbq contests get into full swing. We love to have our smoker going every weekend but also enjoy eating out at barbeque restaurants. Being “Master Judges” is a fantastically great job but it also can be a curse. We are constantly exposed to the best bbq in the nation. When we go to restaurants the judge in us can be uber critical of our meals. Are we spoiled with good fortune of sampling and scoring great barbeque or the restaurants we have visited are just not that good? Lately our bbq restaurant experiences have not been stellar. Today we are traveling to Pleasant Hill, California to dine at “Slow Hand BBQ”. “Slow Hand BBQ” occupies the former site of ‘Smokin Oakies’, one of our ex-favorite bbq joints. We have very high expectations.


Slow Hand is located in a small strip mall on a shaded tree lined street. We find a parking spot right in front next to a portable smoker. This is the smoker that the owner. Dan Freng used at farmers markets, catering events and the streets of San Francisco. This smoker is not used for the restaurant because there is a brick lined custom pit that has been with the building and used by former tenants. The inside of the restaurant is very nice. The layout is very warm and comforting. In the corner is a small beer/bar area with a large television set to sporting events. Artistic pictures of Dan and his smokers line the walls. A huge steer horn points you to the counter to start your barbeque journey.


Dan, the owner was there to take our order. You can order sandwiches or meat by the pound. The four meat categories: chicken, pork ribs, shoulder, and brisket are offered. The usual sides are offered and warm German potato salad caught my attention. Dan who was very personable pleasantly gave us a little history lesson about how Slow Hand was created. We noticed passion in his story. One thing that was missing from this story was Dan had never competed. We placed our order and found a table.


A nice touch to the restaurant was the beer selection. Dan has a good selection of quality micro beers. He runs special beer themed events such a pairing bbq with certain types and styles of beer. An icy cold tasty mico-beer is always welcome at our table. ‘Racer 5’ from Healdsburg was Ms. Goofy’s choice.

Our meal arrived on a shiny metal paper lined cafeteria tray. The sides are served in Styrofoam cups. The sauce was in a handy squeeze bottle. You just dive in to all the messy barbeque goodness.  There is a whole roll of paper towels at your table to help keep some level of neatness.


The sauces were pretty standard tomato based products that were house made. I wanted to try everything with out sauce first and ribs were on the tray. These ribs had color, the color of charcoal to be more precise. These ribs had taken a trip to the smoker for a little to long. They fell off the bone practically disintegrating. The texture was mushy and the smoke was overpowering. I hoped that brisket would bat clean-up. This was another offering of over-cooked meat. Yes it did fall apart but would not pass a pull test in any contest. I would compare this meat to a poor pot roast. No bark, no smoke rings, and disapprovingly no pizzazz. Ms. Goofy’s pulled pork sliders struck-out too. No smoke, mushy texture and soggy buns made her unhappy.


The German potato salad was bland and starchy. The rest of the sides are not even worth mentioning except the slaw. The slaw was a breath of fresh air in this stuck cruise ship of a meal. Bright vibrant flavors with a sweet vinegar kick tried to tow this meal back to port.

We wanted to love this meal. The owner and restaurant is a welcoming and potentially great place. The meats and side dishes just misfired on all cylinders. We are hoping we just came three hours too late.



Thursday, February 21, 2013

SCHINKENSPECK DINNER


Schinkenspeck is bacon on steroids. It is pork that is cured and double smoked. This beautiful piece was found at Dittmers Wurst Haus a German butcher house extraordinaire. Sckinkenspeck is fully cooked and just needs to be warmed. It can add tons of flavor to many dishes. This weeknight we just threw some ingredients together and had flavorful success.


Fresh English shelling peas were found at Monterey market. These peas are a treat with their sweet pop of flavor. Mushrooms, olive oil, and garlic were quickly stirred in a hot pan. The peas and schinkenspeck were added to warm through. A splash of salt & pepper seasoned our saute pan of schinkenspeck  love.. This was all tossed with pasta and parmesean cheese. Dinner is served


This was a quick and easy meal. Schinkespeck is the hero of our meal. How can one have so much fun in the kitchen?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

SLAP YO' DADDY CHICKEN RUB


Harry Soo, ultimate pittmaster has a created a new rub for chicken. We gave it a try and you can read

Sunday, February 17, 2013

VIVA LAS VEGAS FARMERS MARKET



A couple of weeks ago we were dancing under the bright lights of Las Vegas. In the evening we practiced all of our vices. During the day we wanted to explore and experience a farmers market in 'Sin City'. We found a nice little Sunday market in the nearby city of Henderson..It was set up in a shopping mall parking lot. This market was a nice little break from the Las Vegas Strip.





I struck gold at this market, finding the 'Voodoo Kitchen Hot Sauce" booth. You know I cannot pass up a new hot sauce. I bought all three varieties they offered. We also found some very tasty salsa and sampled them all. We did not purchase these tasty offerings because my suitcase lacked an insulated ice department.





We did get a chuckle from the produce offerings. Our amusement came from the fact that the majority of the vegetables came from our home state of California. In fact our favorite Asparagus vendor Zuckerman Farms was here.



We always enjoy going to Farmers Markets. This market was no exception. I picked up some great hot sauce and postponed my donations to the gaming tables.

Friday, February 15, 2013

EL TAZUMAL




Chileverde with a Salvadorian twist is on the menu today. We venture to San Pablo, California to El Tazumal. The sign outside advertises Salvadorian and Mexican food. We are on our never ending quest to find the ultimate plate of Chileverde.  We hope that El Tazumal fills the bill. It is the noon hour and the parking lot is full. This is a good sign at our new dinning destination.. We walk through the door to a full house. The television is loudly broadcasting a soccer match watched by men in work clothes.. I survey the room and notice that most diners are having soup or papusas. This should be fun.



The menu is large with colorful pictures depicting various dishes. It is not your typical Mexican faire. I survey the section on ‘Carne’ offerings and only see a chileverde burrito. There is only one waiter working the floor so we watch the soccer match hoping a team scores a goal to hear the animated announcer shout: “Goooaaaalll”. It is now our turn to order. Our waiter patiently explains several unfamiliar dishes to us. He says it is no problem to have a plate of chileverde. He asks if I want Mexican or Salvadorian style tortillas. The latter tortillas are thicker.  Salvadorian tortillas and a meat and cheese papusa would accompany my chileverde plate.




The waiter returned with our drinks, chips and salsa. The salsa was a thin tomato base vinegar sauce with not a lot of heat. Each table had a plastic jug that was filled with a cabbage mixture that was salty, slightly fermented type of coleslaw/sauerkraut. I looked at the other tables and noticed that everybody used this to accompany their papusas. Our dishes arrived promptly.



The waiter arrived with two huge platters of food. The chileverde meat was shredded not cubed as I am familiar with. It looked scrumptious so I did not hesitate to eat. The meat was on the salty side. The texture teetered on the side of overcooked. The green sauce/gravy that accompanied this pork did not have a pronounced pepper flavor. In spite of this criticism I devoured this meaty offering. The papusas and tortillas were freshly made. This was masa nirvana. This is comfort food that is filling and satisfying. I could see why customers were having lunch of only papusas. The cabbage mixture, a little to salty for my taste, was a good accompaniment. Ms. Goofy loved her burrito.



El Tazumal is a very decent lunch destination. Papusas and Salvadorian tortillas are a must have item. The prices are more than reasonable for a huge platter of food. Our quest for the ultimate Chileverde will continue but we shall return to El Tazumal.

El Tazumal
14261 San Pablo Av.
San Pablo, Ca. 94806
510 215 7593


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

SPRING CLEANING



The weather has been unusually warm for these winter months. The bright skies and warm sunshine has motivated me to do a periodical maintenance to one of my favorite smokers. This beauty is made of heavy gauge steel. It is painted with heat resistant paint. Every couple of years the paint will fade and a little surface rust will appear. This does not affect the performance of this old faithful cooker. If left unattended the rust could take over but hopefully this will never happen. All it takes is motivation and a little elbow grease to return this barbeque to showroom quality.

A power drill, wire brush bit, emery cloth and heat resistant paint will transform this pit to its former glory. The power drill with its wire brush will make quick work of removing old paint and surface rust. Emery cloth will be used to finish the surface. A thorough cleaning of the surface with a damp cloth and we are ready to paint. Point & shoot with your spray can, it could not be easier.

A test fire will be built to cure the paint. A chimney full of charcoal was lit. Once the coals were glowing they were placed in the pit and left to do their magic. We now have a good as new bbq pit. It is ready to create mouth watering meals. This beef roast was the proof of the pudding.


Monday, February 11, 2013

A BBQ PILGRIMAGE TO AUSTIN, TEXAS (Part IV)






A BBQ Pilgrimage to Austin, Texas, Part 4 of 4
 
by Donna Fong
 

Image by Harry Soo
It was 5:10PM and we were on our 5th restaurant for the day. Black’s Barbecue claims to be the oldest BBQ restaurant in Texas. Black’s was established in 1932 and has been running continuously ever since. We parked in the lot across the street and noticed a sign for Terry Black, CPA. Lockhart was definitely a small town. Black’s is housed in an old building with wooden side panels that are washed with time. The red awning shelters the heat in the summer and is almost unnoticed now. When we walked in, we were immediately greeted by a happy staff member who passed us a plate and asked us to choose our sides. He helped us figure out what to order and was patient with our lack of familiarity. We ordered the meat trinity and added a beef rib for good measure.
 
Eric Lenderman, the manager and Black family member, noticed us and said hello. He introduced us to his staff members who probably never watched any television show about barbecue. Eric was a tall slender man with a relaxed composure. As we sat down to enjoy our brisket, ribs and sausage, we admired black and white photos of Edgar Black, Jr. and Norma Jean. It is said that Edgar, Jr. was the first barbecue proprietor in the United States to exclusively use the brisket cut of beef. So this is where brisket started.
 


The restaurant is rustic and intimate and has the feeling of a saloon. It was hard to believe that this place has been around for 81 years. Black’s beef rib was a nice treat since we missed our beef ribs the day before at la Barbeque. Eric came by after our meal and gave us a tour of their kitchen. We talked about the business of BBQ and how they handle all of the customers that come through Black’s each day.
 
From here, it was only a few blocks drive to get to Kreuz, the largest of the three restaurants in Lockhart. Kreuz is the original name for the location of what is now known as Smitty’s Market. Edgar A. "Smitty" Schmidt purchased Kreuz Market in 1948 from the Kreuz family. When he died in 1999, the business was divided between his daughter, Nina, who kept the original Kreuz building and re-named it Smitty’s Market, after her father, and Edgar’s son, Rick. Rick re-opened Kreuz in a new building a few blocks away.
 
Kreuz is huge. There were two very large dining rooms and one main room to order your BBQ. The pits in Lockhart are all the same design as Smitty’s. At Kreuz, everything was spread out and multiplied. After a long maze like walk to the counter, we ordered brisket, sausage and beef clod. They ran out of ribs. It was 6PM and too late in the day to get everything. As we sat down in the bright dining room, we bit into a thickly cut brisket that was moist. The clod was similar to Smitty’s’ clod, which was also very tender, flavorful and had a nice bark. The only difference I could detect was that the Kreuz beef clod looked darker. They were very comparable.
 

We were happy with our experience at Kreuz and put another box of leftovers in the now very full trunk. We went back to the hotel and rested before switching gears. For dinner, we had Tex-Mex tacos at Torchy’s. Six BBQ restaurants in one day was our maximum. Tex-Mex was a refreshing change.
 
On our last full day in Austin, we entertained the idea of having breakfast before hitting Southside Market. We smartly ignored the inclination and drove 39 minutes east to Elgin, the sausage capital of Texas. I crunched on my apple along the freeway that has the highest speed limit in the country (85MPH).
 

We noticed that if a local restaurant didn’t bother to make their own sausage, they were likely to serve Elgin sausage. We wanted to see if the local Elgin sausage was any better than what we had tried in Austin.
 
We reached Southside Market by 11AM. This place was as much of a market as it was a restaurant. Half of the restaurant was retail, selling items like fresh chicken, prepared sausages, sauces, ribs and BBQ paraphernalia. We walked past the Blue Bell ice cream counter and fancied working at the extensive meat counter. There was no line this early in the morning, so we snaked through the barriers and ordered our 7 meats from two women who seemed a little tired. We took our tray to a table and gathered napkins, BBQ sauce and drinks from various sub-stations in the middle of the restaurant. We noticed a computer in the middle of the room. Should you want to have sausages delivered directly to your home, Southside made it easy for you to do. It reminded me of the quick self check-in counters you see at airports but instead of sending yourself from one place to another, you were sending sausages home.
 

Southside was a sensible, efficient no frills restaurant that accommodated heavy BBQ traffic. Though it was our first meal of the day, we found ourselves lagging to take that first bite. The trip had taken its toll. I pulled out my notebook and wrote down the categories for Southside: original sausage, jalapeno cheese sausage, lean, fatty, turkey, pork rib, mutton rib (lamb breast), coleslaw, beans, original sauce, bold sauce and hot sauce.

I took a bite from both of the sausages and shook my head in agreement. That was the best beef sausage I had ever eaten! I don’t generally like beef sausage but now I do. The jalapeno cheese was also very good. And though the mutton rib wasn’t pretty, it tasted fantastic. I had cooked lamb breast several times earlier in the year for a contest in Oakland. If you undercooked lamb breast, the fat won’t render giving you a bad mouth feel. And in order to bring out the lamb flavor, it had to be heavily seasoned. These were well rendered and well seasoned. I didn’t bother asking if my partner cared for the last piece of lamb and finished it up before he noticed.
 

The manager wearing a name tag that said Robert, noticed us eating/writing and said hello. He looked at our plates and went back and brought us a slice of pork steak, thinking it improper to eat at Southside and not have this cut. Pork steak, as I learned, is a sliced bone-in pork shoulder that is smoked and grilled. We thanked him and enjoyed this flavorful cut. After our meal, Robert gave us a tour of the Southside restaurant which was by far the largest facility we toured. They even had a local USDA inspector onsite. Southside distributes its sausages at Costco and other warehouse stores during the spring/summer/fall months. Robert showed us their 5 Olyer smokers in the back and several walk-in refrigerators. Everything was spotless and orderly. Though the Olyers have the option of running on gas, they only use local post oak as their source of heat and flavor, which gives their BBQ a beautiful robust smoky flavor.
 
From here we drove a few blocks south along highway 290 to Elgin’s other famous establishment, Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse. Meyer’s motto is "Real Texas, Real Good!" We walked in and passed by a retail counter of cold sausage that Meyer’s is famous for producing. Next to the sausage were racks of BBQ spices, jams, preserves and yet another Blue Bell ice cream counter. Though it was noon, we resisted the creamy dessert to serve a higher purpose.
 
We stepped on a spot under a large arrow indicating the beginning of the line. One of three cashiers waved her left arm at us to come down and order. We ordered the trimmed three meat plate for $12.49 and tacked on an extra beef sausage for comparison. We chose the coleslaw and creamed corn as our sides. I eyed a ½ pecan and ½ coconut 5 inch pie in saran wrap and weakened. I put it on the tray as well.
 
The dining room was largely empty. I guessed the church crowd hadn’t gotten out yet. I set down our tray and poured for ourselves some of their honey mesquite and original sauce into small plastic cups. If you had ordered it, you could also serve yourselves some sweet tea.
 
There was a good smoke ring on the pork rib and brisket. The rib was cooked to competition standards and was moist. I found the beef sausage to be better than the pork and comparable to Southside. The two sauces were mild with a hint of sweetness. My California tastes yearned for more spice which I had tasted only once during my trip (la BBQ’s pork sausage). I promised myself to pack some hot sauce next time in my purse.
  
An interesting side note about Meyer’s is that they have a drive-thru window which opens 2 hours before the restaurant does. Here, you can get a quick brisket and bean taco combo for breakfast at the reasonable price of $2.49. Vegetarians, if there are any in Texas, could get a bean and cheese taco for $1.89. This proved to me that Texas was my kind of place.
 
We jumped into the rental and continue with our journey to the next restaurant, Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew. I honestly didn’t know anything much about Stiles before going, other than it was well regarded by some yelpers. It wasn’t listed on the Austin crawl at Amazingribs.com from which I was largely operating on. I learned later that Stiles was only a year old.
 
It was 1:15PM and we entered another mostly empty restaurant. The winter break combined with a slow Sunday crowd resulted in a day without any waiting. Stiles is one big square shaped restaurant with the feeling of a modern bar and grill. We escaped from the bright Texas sun through a black door and walked counter clockwise around the perimeter to meet a man whom we would eventually know as Lance Kirkpatrick, the pit boss at Stiles.
 
By far my favorite thing that can happen at any BBQ restaurant is to have the actual person who cooked the meat take and serve you your order. BBQ is a labor of love. It is more of an art than a science, that much is certain. If you’ve gained enough skill to cook BBQ well and have the courage to serve it, you will have a certain pride that comes along with this brave act. A trained pitmaster will stand with authority and gauge your gastronomical needs with skill. If you happen to be a cook as well, an immediate intimacy develops, establishing yourselves as peers. I love this feeling when it happens at restaurants. It is also something that happens at every ballgame that I have ever attended. If you are wearing the same jersey as mine, we are brothers (or sisters).
 

Lance noticed my partner’s bright t-shirt with a pig and blond in the red convertible cruising down route 66 behind a Hollywood sign and greeted him by first name, as is often the case with complete strangers when he wears that shirt. We ordered the three meat combo with corn casserole and potato salad. He mentioned that he had beef ribs so we tacked on an extra heavy duty rib. Recognizing who he was dealing with, Lance sliced up the best he had in the food warmer behind him. We asked for both the fatty and lean brisket. Another man to our left served us heaping portions of the sides. Lance tried to tell him who we were but it was thankfully lost on him.
 
When we reached the cashier, I noticed a fresh tray of chocolate banana pudding and asked for that too. We smiled, paid for our order and found a table that had a good view of the Bears vs. Lions game above our heads. Lance had invited us to a tour of his smoker and the restaurant after we were done eating.
 
The meat looked beautiful. Lance was careful with the food. I appreciated his consideration. I took a bite into the brisket and exhaled a sigh of relief. It was moist and cooked perfectly. The pork rib had a dry rub and gleamed in the absence of sauce. I wrote in my notebook that it was perfectly finished. The pork sausage had the Elgin snap I now desire. And of course, the beef rib, which I could tell Lance was proud of, was the best we had in Texas. I looked up from my plate and exclaimed that I would be completely satisfied if I could cook this well at a restaurant of my own. My partner agreed.
 

Stiles had joined the ranks of Franklin and la BBQ. I didn’t expect there to be a third joint. In my mind these three restaurants were a tier above the others (though if you ask me now I think Luling is still pretty close). Stiles served boutique BBQ in the comfort of a sports bar. It was unsettling. Food isn’t supposed to be that good in a sports bar. But it was. If you wanted microbrews, great BBQ and a ball game, this should be your place.
 
We asked for a to-go box, stacked our uneaten BBQ, closed the lid and wrote Stiles on the lid with my trusty black Sharpie. We walked over to Lance and he introduced himself as the cook. He also introduced his young assistant, Andy. Together, they walked over to the single Klose smoker they had in the back.
 
The large Klose still held a brisket in the center chamber which Lance quickly checked before re-closing the lid. That one was for the dinner service, he explained. Surrounding us was a netted steel cage that looked similar to the other smokers we saw outside at la and Franklin. It was a health code requirement. Other than the narrow walkway to the street, the cooker was sheltered by two adjacent buildings. Sliding shelves on the Klose, the sheltered environment and the easy access to the kitchen made us envy how comfortable it was to cook at Stiles. It seemed much more sustainable for the long term than some of the other layouts we’d seen.
 
When we complemented Lance and Andy on the BBQ, Lance gave us a brief explanation of his culinary background. Lance worked at the famous Louie Mueller BBQ back in Taylor, Texas. When grandson, John Mueller finally left Louie Mueller, Lance eventually became the lead pitmaster, which explains the fine BBQ. Shane Stiles, the owner asked Lance to be the pit boss of his new restaurant which he opened about a year ago. Business seemed to be doing well enough to justify a second smoker soon.
 
 
Lance is a humble guy and easy to talk to. He looks straight at you, listens to what you are saying and nods his head. He isn’t in the limelight like the two other restaurants, though he rightly deserves more attention than he is currently getting. We wished them well and thanked them for a great lunch.
 
There were two more restaurants on our list before we called it quits. Both were popular chains in Austin: Rudy’s Country Store and County Line on the Lake. We drove 20 minutes to a Rudy’s located on Research Blvd in Austin. There was a big Rudy’s sign which could be seen from highway 360. A big red barn housed the restaurant. Rudy’s doesn’t take itself too seriously. Their motto is that they serve the worst BBQ in Texas which is written in big letters on the outside of the building. There’s a gasoline station in the front, in case you needed some gas. Inside are a small market and then the restaurant. As you enter the line, there a "cutting cam" monitor that shows meat being sliced by the staff. We noticed that there is also a camera on the patrons watching the cutting cam. If no one is in line, the cutting stops.
 
You can grab your sides from a refrigerator conveniently located along the switchback queue. There are five registers to place your order, all run by young people. They’ll ask you if you this is your first time and if you say yes, they’ll shout out in unison "NEEEWBIE!" It felt a little like being at TGIF and being forced to sing happy birthday even if you weren’t happy. As Rudy’s virgins, we were given a sample of their meats on white wax paper. From that, we made our selection. The gal at our register seemed a little disappointed that we didn’t order much. It was 2:30PM and this was our 5th restaurant for the day. I was definitely slowing down. The meat was served on white paper, inside a plastic tray with high walls, sort of like the trays we use at contests in the judging area, only smaller. 
 
The dining room wrapped around the cooking area which was encased in glass. I positioned ourselves near the smokers and watched the guys pull and slice meat on the cutting cam. The fatty brisket was surprisingly good while the lean seemed to be just that, lean. Rudy’s meats were all sliced deli thin. I wasn’t sure I liked that idea.
 
I looked up and noticed signs reminding me that my mother wasn’t around and that I should pick up after myself. The turkey, sausage and pork rib were all fairly average. With 12 different meats to choose from, I was glad we limited ourselves to four.


By the time we walked out to the parking lot, I hesitated about going to another joint. But my driver pressed forward. Within an hour from our last meal, we were now seated at what turned out to be our last BBQ meal in Austin, County Line on the Lake. There are quite a few of these in Texas, but I decided to go the most scenic restaurant. The place rests on the shore of Bull Creek that feeds into Lake Austin about a mile south. We were seated by a host and a young waiter took our order. I was disoriented by the service but tried to adjust. Only this place and Stubb’s were real service restaurants. The rest of central Texas thought it best for you to come to them. I like to call it Sizzler style ordering.
 
We ordered the 5 meat combo of brisket, sausage, turkey breast, beef rib, baby back ribs with a side of cole slaw, beans and potato salad. It was a delight to see a white swan and several ducks grace Bull Creek as we waited for our meal. We watched as guests enjoyed a stroll along the bank after their meal which we also practiced later on. The walls at County Line are littered with memorabilia and kitsch that reflected BBQ, Texas or fishing. I picked up the giant plastic rib and smiled for a photo. I was disappointed to learn that the talking deer head was at the main branch.
 
Our dinner arrived and I sighed at the enormity of it. It was difficult to initially distinguish one item from another under the thick layer of matte sauce that was generally applied over everything. If that wasn’t enough, they also gave you an extra container of sauce on the side. I felt disconnected from the cook and guessed my young waiter didn’t know the anatomical difference between a baby back and a spare rib. 

We packed up our BBQ that tasted old and reheated and enjoyed our stroll along the water that was sheltered within a small green canyon. County Line was our last restaurant for the day and for the trip.
 
Eating at15 BBQ places in 48 hours was more than we had planned but they also exceeded our expectations. I now think about fat on brisket very differently from before, about the different ways to interpret tender, and how to appreciate the snap of natural casing.
 

Reflecting back on it now, the trip was more about people than about food and more about community than about personal experience. Food is a vehicle to connect with others in spite of any differences we may have. What struck me even more were the communities and family traditions that revolved around BBQ. Here in Austin the youth are blending tradition with a modern sensibility. Food is no longer solely a source of nutrition but a subculture. Your patrons, your resources and your buzz are global. If you can understand the scope of your influence, you are better off for it. Feed one mouth well and you can change the minds of many. I applaud Austin.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A BBQ PILGRIMAGE TO AUSTIN, TEXAS (Part III)

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A BBQ Pilgrimage to Austin, Texas, Part 3 of 4 
by Donna Fong
image by Harry Soo




It was difficult to figure out what time to stand in line at Franklin BBQ. Most said 9:30AM would be fine. The idea of standing in 30°F weather for 2 hours did not sound enticing. It might be fine in the summer but in the winter, it seemed tough. I packed our luggage with gloves, scarves, a thick coat and thermal underwear, just to wait in line. Non-BBQ friends thought I was insane. Even BBQ friends asked me if it was worth the fuss.


We got word from a good source that we should be in line by 8:45AM. I brought an overly expensive honeycrisp apple for breakfast which I bought at HEB the night before. I’d eat an apple each morning just to keep myself in balance. We arrived at 8:20AM to find 12 men, 2 women and 16 month old baby girl in line ahead of us.

The small aqua colored building shielded us from the morning sun. Those ahead of us had folding chairs and those behind us were not committed enough to bring them. By 9:30AM, I had counted 77 people in line.

A young woman came by and asked each of us how much meat we would be ordering. This was to determine who would be the last person to be guaranteed meat. Once that person was determined, he was given the job of informing others behind him the bad news. Generally, this kept the line from growing much further than the end of the block. The Austin native named Michael who stood in line ahead of us told us he came the day before at 9:30AM. He was behind the "last man standing", as he’d like to say. So he tried again on this morning. When we appeared, he assured us we were making an "investment" by getting here early. "Man, these people are hard core." I thought.
During the 2.5 hours that we spent waiting for Franklin to open, we learned about Austin BBQ. We were surrounded by a mixture of returning locals and BBQ tourists like ourselves. With a united goal, the camaraderie in line was high. Time flew. The tempo was high. After the first hour, staff members began putting out garbage cans and informed patrons that the restroom was available. 10min prior to opening time, I sensibly ran into the place, not wanting to waste any precious eating time on anything else. Others followed my lead. The restaurant smelled terrific. The staff was already behind the counter, ready for the onslaught which would only last 3 hours before the 1,600 lbs of meat would disappear into our collective bellies.

Benji Jacobs, who worked inside, pulled down the sign from yesterday. A black sharpie on butcher paper said "meat sold out" on the front door. The guys in front of us folded up their chairs. The 16month old girl ran around and jumped. She was the toughest of us, preserving the wait and looking bright and happy. Truth be told, we were all excited. The crowd hushed when our cell phones told us it was 11AM. At 11:01AM, I wondered when the doors would actually open.  


The doors finally opened and we patiently walked in and formed another line counterclockwise around the room which led to the back of the restaurant. The walls were lined with articles about Franklin. A large earthy wooden butcher block greeted us at the corner before we made our way down to the one man who would slice our order.

The line was slow. The man cutting the BBQ took his time with each patron, with the understanding that we all knew this was not to be taken lightly. None of us minded. I heard that people were given samples if they weren’t sure what to order. Unlike in the four previous restaurants, we were recognized by the staff (I told them we were coming) and they apologized that Aaron and Stacy Franklin were still vacationing. I could understand needing the break.


We were going to order the three meat combination but the man suggested that we just get a sample of everything so we did. The BBQ glistened on the pink paper. We hustled to a table next to the window and tried not to notice the crowd in line staring at us as we ate. I didn’t open my notebook. I wanted to eat like a normal person. I could record the scores later. One our plate was generously sliced brisket point, sausage, slices of turkey, pork ribs, some coleslaw and pickles. Nothing had sauce on it.

They gave us the best meat they had. I was sure of it. I paused a moment to let it sink in before taking a bite. I was one lucky lady. Then I tore a piece of the dark fatty brisket and put it in my mouth. It was not what I expected. I thought Texas BBQ was supposed to be bold – full of pepper and salt. This was subtle, almost conservative but delicious. The point was perfectly rendered. It was clear that it would not have passed the KCBS pull test for tenderness, but it was tender. It was as tender as one could get it. I began to question the utility of the pull test altogether.

The pork rib was solid as was the mild tasting sausage. The sliced turkey breast which was served brushed with some kind of light oil was heavenly. It was clearly the best turkey breast we’d ever had at any restaurant. Next we tried the sauces. There were 3 sauces offered on each table. There was a light colored normal sauce. There was a very dark more complex sauce. And lastly, there was a light Carolina style sauce. All sauces were vinegary and none were notably sweet. Neither was any of the meat sweet either. As a matter of fact, we never ran into any sweet BBQ in central Texas. We also didn’t run into any super salty or peppery BBQ. I was amazed. Only once did I have any BBQ that was spicy and that was made by someone from Utah. I thought the proximity of Mexico would have more of an influence the way it does in Arizona or California but I was wrong.

Even so, the BBQ was collectively the best I have ever had at any establishment. I’ve had good pieces here and there but to have all of it as good as it was, smoked in quantities that they have to each day, was impressive. When I realized this, I paused for a moment and wondered if I was going to shed a BBQ tear for joy. I hadn’t cried since the Oakland A’s beat the Texas Rangers for the AL West earlier in October. I didn’t end up crying, but I was grateful to have experienced what I came for. Was it the best BBQ in America? I’m not sure but probably. If someone can do it better and serve it in a restaurant, I’d like to taste that!
We jotted down our scores, and ate more than we should have eaten. When we were done, Benji was nice enough to offer us a tour of the smokers in the back. There were four old propane tanks fashioned into smokers.

There was #1 and #2 smoker. The third smoker had no name but Benji thought Rusty was a good name for the smoker that sat on top of the small hill that staggered each pit. In my mind, I couldn’t imagine my back managing 1600lbs of meat on terraced smokers.
Benji is Aaron’s childhood friend and one of 3-4 pitmasters who run the pits each night in order to put out the 52 briskets they sell each day. They do take catering orders but not more than 150lbs total a day. Benji had a warm and unassuming demeanor, never taking himself too seriously. It was a good trait to have working there. I convinced myself that I’d be a nervous wreck if I were him.

It was past noon when we finished our tour. We packed our leftovers into the trunk and drove 2.5 miles southwest across town to la BBQ "Cuisine Texicana". It is not LA like Los Angeles BBQ, but la, like la comida, to give it a Tex-Mex feel. Two months prior, la BBQ was JMueller BBQ.

JMueller BBQ was owned by LeAnn Mueller, the daughter of Bobby Mueller (who ran his father’s restaurant, Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor). LeAnn’s talented brother, John Muller was the pit boss for about a year before he left. In his place, LeAnn hired pit assistant, John Lewis of Porky’s Revenge competition team and then changed the name of the place to la BBQ. As I understand it, John Mueller, John Lewis, Aaron Franklin and Lance Kirkpatrick (of Stiles) all have intertwined roots. It gets complicated fast. John Lewis worked with Aaron Franklin at Franklin and then at JMueller before John Mueller left in October. That’s when John Lewis filled in at what is now la BBQ. As far as I know, John Mueller isn’t currently working anywhere. So how does Lance fit in? Lance worked at Louie Mueller as an assistant and when John Mueller left his dad’s place, Lance eventually became the new pit boss. Lance is now the pit boss at Stiles in Austin.

So it is no coincidence when all three restaurants ended up being a tier above all of the other restaurants we tried in Austin. I was unaware of the intricacy of the connection between the three restaurants before eating at each of them. I knew Aaron Franklin and John Mueller were connected but nothing beyond that information.


When we arrived at la BBQ, there was a line of 15 people deep. A small cooler to our right was filled with free Lone Star beer. I hesitated and decided not to fill my belly space with beer. The menu was written on butcher paper taped to the side of the trailer serving food. By 12:30PM, the beef ribs were gone. As we waited in line, we chatted with Kamal, the skinny techie guy ahead of us. He worked at Advanced Micro Devices and lived in the neighborhood. We told him we just came over from Franklin. He asked if it was worth the wait. We told him yes. He hadn’t tried it, saying that the BBQ here was plenty good enough without the wait. We figured out later that he was right. I was impressed with his knowledge of places to eat in Austin. When he told me he was originally from New Jersey, I let on that I was surprised how comfortable I felt in Texas. He said in Austin, it was okay to wear boots and vote for Obama. People here do it all the time. After another 10 minutes, I trusted him with our experience at Salt Lick. He said we should try the prime rib on Sunday mornings next time. Seeing that he once traveled on a steak tour of America with his brother, we convinced ourselves we’d try again and to go early because they run out quickly. We were getting use to that in Austin.
We greeted the man in charge, John Lewis, when we made it up to the front of the line. John recognized us, said hi and gave us some nice slices of brisket, sausage and pork ribs. We sat down outside in this gavel lot on a wooden picnic table and enjoyed a meal comparable to what we had just eaten an hour earlier. It was an exceptional morning of BBQ. I wished I had saved a few more wows for la BBQ because I spent most of them already. Though John Mueller was no longer at the helm, Mr. Lewis held up his end of the deal and was continuing to serve some of the best BBQ in Texas from south Austin.

From here, we decided a long drive was in order to give our stomachs a break. The smallest joints were at the top since they ran out of food the fastest. The bigger the place, the lower on the list they placed. We drove 45 minutes south to City Market in Luling, Texas. Luling is only 14 miles south of Lockhart. We heard about City Market from our line buddy at Franklin so we added it to our list.

City Market had an interesting setup and feel from all of the other places we went to in central Texas. First off, it was the only place we visited that didn’t feel like it was over run by tourists. I noticed cowboy hats for the first time and there were more people of color. There weren’t any hipsters to be found (aka foodies). And we were finally well in the median age of your average customer. There were two large dining rooms. The main dining room housed a counter in the front where you order your sides and drinks separately. Unusual sides were thick slices of Longhorn cheese and potato chips. On the tables were bottles of BBQ sauces repackaged in hot sauce bottles which was a little confusing. Because the bottles were so small, the staff was constantly refilling them. I guess tradition must be upheld. The line snaked through the first room and overflowed into the second. We struck up another conversation with the people behind us who told us how to order. It was 20 minutes before we could enter a small smoke filled room set in the corner. Once we made it in we ordered what we could. There was no more brisket so we stuck to pork ribs and sausage. As we ate, my partner noticed our neighbors were almost done and asked if it was okay to try some of their brisket, explaining our predicament. I looked down and away from embarrassment.

Fortunately, they were nice and didn’t mind sharing. The brisket was good and so were the ribs and sausage. The lines were justified. What we learned today was that standing in line for BBQ is an experience in and of itself. By meeting people who also love BBQ, you can enjoy it even more. BBQ was communal and I’ve seen this happen even in my small town of Alameda where the guy next to me can’t help himself when he bites into a slice of brisket. He’s got to express his excitement somehow. We were just doing it before we took a bite.
At 3:55PM, we stumbled out of City Market, rolled into our car and drove back into Lockhart, wishing it were more than 14 miles away.


We walked around a bit after our meal and found that there were six visible rooms at Smitty’s: two smoker/meat serving rooms, one dining room, an empty butcher shop/t-shirt room, the original narrow dining hall and a prep kitchen. Outside in the parking lot was a huge fortress of neatly stacked post oak logs. We were breath-taken. We couldn’t help but to admire its beauty and expanse. Standing in front, we took a self portrait with a lengthened arm of the logs in the backdrop. It is just what BBQ people do. To us, it was as impressive as the Eiffel tower. Logs, pig heads, aisles of BBQ sauces are all focal points of interest for the camera of a pitmaster. We were being typical BBQ tourists and loving every minute of it.
Our journey continued through the night as we explored Lockhart’s two other famous establishments, Blacks and Kruez. We’ll save those two for next time.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A BBQ PILGIMAGE TO AUSTIN, TEXAS (Part 2)

A BBQ Pilgrimage to Austin, Texas, Part 2 of 4
by Donna Fong


These spectacular images were taken by Harry Soo. Harry is a 'World Famous Pittmaster'. He has the rest of the story at 'Slap Yo' Daddy BBQ. Com.  Here is the link


  During my Austin research, I saw a BBQ video called Barbecue: A Texas Love Story which documented a three person team travelling to over 350 Texas BBQ restaurants, trying to determine who had the best BBQ in Texas. 350 restaurants seemed like a lot of places but is apparently only a small fraction of all them out there. The panel of judges said they usually ate at 5 restaurants a day. To eat at 7 was difficult and one of the judges tried 8 only once. Based on this information, I determined that we couldn’t do more than 12 restaurants during our 3 nights there.


We landed in Austin at 4:30PM and by 7:20PM, we had rented a car, visited HEB market (took photos of brisket packers and pig heads in the meat section), checked into our hotel, unpacked, driven 23 miles southwest to Driftwood and got a pager from the hostess. From what I could tell, Driftwood was an appropriate town name for the Salt Lick location. We had wasted 20 minutes earlier in the day trying to cajole my GPS to tell us where 6505 Interstate Highway 35 North was located. Honestly, it didn’t seem like a normal address. During our entire stay there, my cell phone never figured it out. I don’t blame it one bit. So when we approached Driftwood and there was nothing but complete darkness around us, I had wondered if my GPS had given out on us again. There were two more restaurants to visit that night.  We were 33 minutes committed to getting to one of the most famous restaurants in Texas and we didn’t have much time to waste. Luckily, out of nowhere the Salt Lick appeared.




We entered a huge gravel parking lot that brightens all of Driftwood. We could see the restaurant off in the distance from where our car was parked. When we got near, we realized that the first building was Salt Lick Cellars, which sold wines locally produced on the 35 acres owned by the Roberts family. There were two other buildings, one called Pecan Grove with big windows and big enough to cater weddings. The other smaller building housed the Olyer smokers in the back and handled all the to-go orders. Both buildings had a gorgeous round open pit for meat that was about to be served. The Salt Lick is famous for these two pits and smartly places them right in front. The hostess will invited patrons to walk around them and take photos. The added spot light makes the hanging sausages, brisket and ribs glow and with burning oak coming up from underneath the meat, it was really something to admire. In order to serve an average of 3,600 lbs of meat each day, the kitchen must be efficient. There is one guy whose main job is to scoop out potato salad and beans. Another guy mostly slices sausages. The third guy slices the brisket and the ribs. Salt Lick has an all you can eat menu and the servers come right back to the prep guys with an emptied plate and will wait until more meat gets plated. All of this is done out front so you have something to visually enjoy while you wait for your meal. Everything gets topped off with their mild sauce, unless you ask otherwise. It amazed me how hard these guys worked, moving meat around and getting orders to the wait staff.





After 40 minutes, our pager flashed and our logistics lesson was complete. We went to the first hostess who directed us to the next hostess who directed us to yet a third hostess. The BBQ compound was intricate and complex. We were finally seated and ordered our food. The Salt Lick doesn’t serve beer at the restaurant but welcomes diners to bring in their own, which explained the large number of coolers that entered the thin walled building (for a moment, I thought I was at a BBQ contest). So we ordered a Big Red soda, common to central Texas, and a three meat combination with sauce on the side. Our young waitress served us two orders of a three meat combination and two sodas. To our disappointment, nothing was particularly notable. It was not horrible but it wasn’t what we had hoped for in our minds. Yet, the experience of watching food being prepared, seeing the numerous buildings, our amazement at how many people visited the Salt Lick and seeing the gorgeous pits were all good enough reasons to have visited this place. We ate more than we should have and were thankful that the trip to Stubb’s was 40 minutes away back in downtown Austin.


Our food at Salt Lick was served at eight o'clock and by 9:10PM, we were already eating at Stubb’s. There was no wait at this hour. The cold December weather made us hustle a little faster from our rental car to the restaurant. When we got there, we were welcomed inside of a sturdy brick building with heating and the refinements of a modern restaurant. Stubb’s is known for serving great side dishes and good music. No one really talks about the BBQ. But I felt compelled to visit and I was glad that I did.


A veteran waitress took our order and within 10 minutes we were eating fried green tomatoes, sausage, pork ribs, brisket, Serrano cheese spinach and fried okra on the side. I took a bite out of the brisket and was so very thankful to Stubbs for serving me some great slices of brisket. I cannot be certain whether I was over-reacting to my previous experience in Driftwood, but gratitude best expressed my feelings at the moment. My trip to Austin was not in vain. There was good BBQ in Texas and it was being served at Stubbs. The sausage and the pork ribs were also good, particularly at 9pm at night. And the Serrano cheese spinach turned out to be the fanciest side dish we were going to get that weekend. I was thankful to Stubbs. We then moved on from the big names to the small ones that no one ever talks about: except yelpers.


The next two establishments were highly rated on the internet and both were within walking distance of Stubbs. Given how cold the night was, we normally would have driven the distance but the weight of our two meals within 1.5 hours justified a 10 minute walk to Mack’s. Earlier that day we had passed Mack’s food truck on our way to the hotel. When we arrived, we found ourselves in a small gravel lot with two food trucks facing each other. Allen Mack, who was pushing the burning coals of oak around in his pit, looked up and greeted us from behind a steel fence. We walked around the post to say hello. He asked us what we were up to and I explained that we were interested in tasting his BBQ. His eyes brightened and he told us he would stoke the fire and put two chairs in front of the pit to keep us warm.
Allen took our order of baby back ribs, brisket and Elgin sausage and seemed disappointed we didn’t want more. He opened up the pit door and we sat down. Though the night was cold, it was probably the most romantic moment we were going to have for the entire trip. Allen said he opened up a fresh brisket for us and gave us the first two slices to savor while we waited. It was good. He brought out a plate full of meat with no sides at our request. Though we didn’t order it, he also gave us two bottles of water, a slice of pork roast, and small samples of chopped brisket and chopped pork both of which we liked.
The owner had no idea who we were and I had read in reviews how nice he was and indeed, everyone was right. Allen had a gentle nature and the compassion of caregiver, not qualities you’d expect in a pitmaster. Of all the brisket I tasted in Austin, Allen made the most flavorful slice I had. We talked to him for quite a while afterwards and found out that he took over the business from a guy named Danny (which explains why the truck said Danny) six months prior. This was still a new thing for him though barbecuing was a tradition handed down to him from his father. Even though Allen liked his previous job, he never loved it like he loved cooking barbecue. So he went with his heart and took over the business. Before we left, he told us one story about a drunk who spilled out of a taxi cab one day and ordered some barbecue. Allen served him and thought nothing more of it. A few days later, the same taxi cab driver said the same drunk guy was stuck at Stubbs a few blocks over and sent him there to order 6 chopped brisket sandwiches so he could eat them at Stubbs. We laughed with him and relived the proud moment.
On our walk back to the car, we ran into BBQ Heaven, which is just down the street from Stubbs. Our fourth joint for the night was lauded for their chopped brisket sandwich. I almost passed on this restaurant but my partner in crime was not to be dissuaded and ordered a three meat combo. The holy trinity in Texas is brisket, sausage and pork ribs. The holy trinity is what we ordered, for the fourth time that night. We shot a few photos of the food truck and then of the food. I then wrote down our scores in my black notebook. The lady who took our order noticed our activities and asked who we were. We didn’t tell her but we did say we were from California and were visiting Austin to eat BBQ. She asked if we wanted to see the pit in the back. We said yes and she explained that the brothers who ran the pit had 35 years of experience behind them and that’s why the BBQ is so good. There was apparently a bigger one somewhere else which allowed them to have the 4PM- 4AM business hours.
By the time we made it to BBQ Heaven we could barely eat anything, though we did take one bite of everything. We decided to keep the BBQ leftovers in their original container and label it. Into the trunk it went as did the rest of the leftovers for the weekend. At night, the temperatures delved into the 30s-40s so the car made for a good refrigerator which our hotel room did have for us. By the end of the trip, the floor of the trunk was filled with Styrofoam boxes and meat wrapped in pink butcher paper, all labeled with the proper institution. It was quite a site to see.
We returned to the hotel and decided that 8:45am was a good time to show up at Franklin BBQ the next day. A two hour and 15min wait seemed a reasonable time to pay for the best BBQ in Austin.
              

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A BBQ PILGRIMAGE TO AUSTIN, TEXAS




Welcome to a journey to Austin Texas to sample the best BBQ of this region. Donna Fong a Professional BBQ Competitor recently traveled to the Austin area to just eat barbeque. Now that is my kind of vacation. Donna has graciously shared her journey with Mad Meat Genius readers. Sit back, enjoy and prepare to be hungry. Over the next several days we will run her fabulous story.

These spectacular images were taken by Harry Soo. Harry is a 'World Famous Pittmaster'. He has the rest of the story at 'Slap Yo' Daddy BBQ.. Com.  Here is the link

 BBQ Pilgrimage to Austin, Texas, Part 1 of 4 

By Donna Fong

December, 2012

Why does one vacation? The way I see it, you go on vacation to take a break to relax and enjoy life, to do something that you’ve always wanted to experience or to reconnect with someone. Or if you can combine all into one vacation, well, that’s a great time. For my Christmas break, I went on an experience vacation but ended up relaxed, met some old friends and even made a few new ones along the way.


The destination was Austin, Texas. Mind you, I’m a proud California native and if there is one state that seems diametrically opposed to tofu loving Californians, it would seem to be Texas. But everyone knows there’s great BBQ in Texas, maybe even the best BBQ in America. And it didn’t seem right to cook brisket for two years running and never taste it in the place that started it all. So off to Texas we went. I chose Austin in particular because of Franklin BBQ, recently heralded by many as the best BBQ in America. Franklin is re-known for its brisket, my favorite BBQ of all.




For me, half the fun of a vacation is planning. To
some, this may take all of the surprise out of an adventure. I disagree. Planning is like dreaming. By doing homework, you learn more about the destination than you can experience in a short period of time. What you see will be what you think is the very best the city has to offer. So I researched the top BBQ joints, including the most time honored restaurants. I wrote down addresses, hours of operation, the notable items on the menu, watched videos of Texas BBQ, and charted which joints to visit on which days. With me, I brought an empty laboratory notebook full of information and space to write down restaurant layouts, names of people, photos, menus, business cards, and KCBS scoring for everything I ate. Each establishment had its own tab in my geeky black notebook which I carried with me everywhere. Having been a BBQ judge for some time now, I was a veteran at pace eating. Five restaurants a day would be a goal. Anything above that would declare me a devoted foodie, worthy of a pin in my mind. At the time, I didn’t know what I’d do with the leftovers but I’d eventually figure it out.





Austin is an easy 3.5hr flight from Oakland. The airport reflects two defining characteristics of Austin, its art and its music. I haven’t heard a live band since my last BBQ competition but on the second floor above the baggage claim was a young band welcoming visitors and natives. There was a band in the Nashville airport a couple months back but this music was decidedly not country and didn’t have a twang. Throughout the airport, and throughout the city, for that matter, was art. Sometimes it would be a random piece in the middle of nowhere but sometimes it was an intentional array of flair. Austin art doesn’t mean to be pleasant or refined, which I often distrust, at least outside of Europe. The art here is rough, challenging, modern and thought provoking. It was just up my alley. All of my homework didn’t prepare me for a city open for reflection or social comment. In another 24 hours, I would soon realize that Austin was very similar to the East Bay minus the swarms of Prii (plural form of Prius). Our well planned trip was still full of surprises.



So what makes Texas BBQ different? First of all, there’s this business about butcher paper. I had heard about the butcher paper in Austin but never saw anyone use it before. Not in BBQ anyway. My dad uses butcher paper, of course, at his shop. We use to draw on it as kids after school, in the narrow little office towards the back of the shop in Oakland. But this wasn’t the same paper. First of all, it was pink. They call it pink butcher paper but actually it is more like rosy brown. Short of the big chains, most of the BBQ joints serve your meat on butcher paper. You get a choice of white bread or saltine crackers. Almost everyone will give you sliced onions and dill pickles, sliced or spears. If the restaurant wants to be generous, they will offer you the spear pickles. It’s a fancy thing I guess. Sauce is almost always a bottle on the table, not a liquid on your meat. Almost nobody cares about going over the top with sides. With the exception of Stubbs, all the sides were all pretty basic.



There were often two lines. One line was for meat, after which you’d proceed directly to the sides/drinks line. Sometimes you pay for meat separately, sometimes together. Oftentimes, you can watch the pitmaster pull the meat from the warming oven, which some may mistake for the smoker. Smokers are often in the back, away from the patrons. Most places burn post oak and few use a gas driven smoker.



A big difference from what I’m used to in California is that meat is sold by weight. It can also be sold as a 2 meat or 3 meat combination with sides, but the old school places will sell you brisket, ribs and sausage by the pound. A cold ring is an uncooked ring of sausage. A hot ring is a cooked ring of sausage. The smaller places run out of food before dinner, others serve lunch only. Others only open one or a couple days a week. Some wouldn’t open until 4 PM but stayed open until 4 AM.



Much of this is because of the large number of food trucks in Austin. The trucks run at all hours and there are hundreds of them throughout the city. I thought Portland was the food truck capital of the world but after having visited Austin, I think they’ve got Portland beat. The streets are littered with food trucks of all types. They serve anything from Tex-Mex tacos, chicken cones, banana and brown sugar doughnuts, chicken tikka masala, NY style pizza, fried chicken, to grilled pig tails; and, of course, BBQ.


With the University of Texas in the center of the town, the city of Austin has a young vibrant feel to it. The Austin City Music festival, which lasts for two weeks in October, always attracts a large crowd. The South by Southwest (SXSW) festival blends music and film together for one week in February. The Urban Music Festival is held in March. The list is endless. The food trucks thrive when the festivals are happening. We frequently heard owners of BBQ joints talk about the Austin festivals and the waves of crowds that would spread throughout the city.

We began our journey with much gastronomic anticipation.



Stay tuned for part II