Regional food specialties
-Through the Heart of Brisket Country
This is the first of a three part "Chowing in Texas" series. I took my first steps (outside an airport) in Texas a couple weeks ago and had a little BBQ itinerary planned for it. You know some things just come with too much hype and cant live up to the expectations but that wouldn't be so on this trip. Where and what region in America one can find the best BBQ will always be an argument but you'd have to be Skip Bayless to not include Texas in any "best of" list compiled. Folks who follow the foodsphere over on Twitter might of seen some RT's from a @BBQSnob who's the man behind one of the best jobs in the world. "BBQ Editor" for Texas Monthly Magazine and he's also the author of 'The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue'. The mans been everywhere as far as BBQ in Tejas goes and he created quite a controversy over on Twitter when he named the "50 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America" and all were from Texas. Of course he's just being a Homer but they really do some fantastic 'que down in the Lone Star State. Here's five worthy places I ate.
Dallas is where I was flying into with my GF who's from there. This was my first trip back with her and I had plenty of spots to try but the one place I would not be missing was Pecan Lodge at the Downtown Dallas Farmer's Market (For now). This place is new to the Q scene having come onto it just a few years ago. Sitting in Shed #2 this is the reason to come to the market and many do as there's almost always a line. It help's that they also have an express line for business lunches of 5 lbs of meat or more so it was only about a 20 minute wait on my weekday visit. It was ranked #2 overall by Daniel Vaughn aka BBQ Snob on his 50 Best List and I could see why.
Three Meat Combo (Brisket, Pork Rib, Sausage) w/ Collard Greens
First up we're in Texas so beef is what they do here. My gf likes pork though so we tried the rib and they were just ok. The brisket though? Holy smoke. This was the finest example of it I had ate to date. Euphoric in many ways. One has to wonder if it can be used to heal poor vegetarians who were led astray by the hippie movement. I believe meat in its most purest form can come two ways. One is a big beautiful bone in dry aged ribeye and the other is in top notch Texas BBQ Brisket. This is it.
Brisket...damn, damn, damn...damn!
That wouldn't be it though. This is Texas and they do everything big so my first BBQ meal in-state would be just that. As good as the brisket is I had heard their beef ribs were something to behold here. I saw the tweets from @BBQSnob one day and made sure I wouldnt miss out on one. I almost did as they had two left when I asked about them when ordering. I took the smaller of the two which was still 1.70 pounds. Again this is whats its all about. While I still preferred the brisket, the rib was rich in flavor and came with the perfect kiss of smoke.
1.5+ Pound Beef Rib
No resistance here, otherwise you'd be looking like a caveman after a long winter, trying to gnaw your starving ass thru this feast. The meat was as tender as a Cowboys cheerleaders behind. Not to mention the collard greens were the best side I ate on the trip. All in all my lunch, which I was sharing, cost close to $50 with the rib alone taking up half the tab. But when In Texas! You cant really ask for a better start but is it all downhill from here?
They couldn't serve these in prison, the bone could be used to beat someone...
Rig Out Back_______________________________________________________________
After spending a couple days in Dallas it was down to Austin for the same. I had a few spots planned out for the ride down including Vitek's BBQ in Waco which is en route. Vitek's is coming up on their centennial celebration in 2015 so they've been around for a while and that was evident with the different generations of customers in line and dining in at the 100+ tables inside and out. They've obviously come a long way since William Frank Vitek started his spot in 1915. It was in the late 50's that his son Willie took over and decided to start expanding the locals favorite his father built. That's when they started selling their family sausage which is still made to exact specifications today. It's a helluva link.
I'd seen a tweet from the Snob showing Vitek's most famous eat which is called the Gut Pak. It's easy to see why this concoction won "College Eat of the Year" but don't let that fool you. Those kids will eat well if they know where to go. Vitek's is that spot. The crown jewel of all Frito Pie's is found here. It was really good as the pickles and onions, both staples with Texas style BBQ mashed well with everything else which wasn't just some stuff from a can thrown in a bag. Their chopped beef, brisket and sausage are what most people are there for. I'll be wanting one aplenty as winter rolls thru.
Better with each bite
We hit up Louie Mueller on the way back to Dallas from Austin. I believe it was ranked 4th overall on the list and it's always been on my to get too list. Taylor is about 45 minutes NE of Austin and Louie Mueller is a state treasure. It's one of the holy stops on the smoke trail having had a history there since 1936. It was around 1949 they started slanging BBQ and since then they've been written up 100's of times, first appearing in Texas Monthly in 1976. They've also been the set for a few movies. The 54 years old pit suffered from a fire recently and was deemed unrecoverable but all is well these days.
We stopped in on a Saturday and were lucky to not see a line out the door. It was still a good 30 minute wait but as was the case which each other place we waited, I met some nice people. A couple from Austin by way of Rockford were on a little BBQ tour of their own and made for good company while we waited. All these places tend to sell out of meat and when they do it's done for the day so plan accordingly.
The Mueller's are one of the most well known families of Texas Barbecue and I guess there's some interesting drama as there tends to be when places like this go big. I wasn't hear for hearsay though so who cares about that. I wanted to try their brisket which gets rave reviews most everywhere you go and also their award winning all beef sausages which comes plain and also blended with jalapenos or chipotle. As soon as you step up to place your order you are greeted with a bite sized piece of brisket for you to enjoy. Anyone that eats some and doesn't order it needs to have their head checked.
I was coming from brunch and heading into Dallas for a magnificent home cooked feast so I had to contain myself when ordering here. The only thing they were out of was the beef sausage so I went with a link of chipotle and also a sandwich with the jalapeno blend and brisket one as well.
Jalapeno Sausage Sandwich
Sausage as expected was excellent. Not only was it cooked just right but he extra bite from both the peppers really made for some of the best I've ate. Same goes for the brisket. I was wondering why I didn't order extra. The combo of pickles and raw onions with your BBQ down in these parts is one of the great pairings in all of food so these sandwiches loaded with both rocked.. It's too tough to name best brisket but the places visited that were ranked near the top all put out a top shelf product. Here the briskets seemed to be rubbed with black peppercorn which made for some righteous bark and deep pink rings in the meat. I really liked their version which I guess makes sense since there's a reason they've been so well known for so long for. It's really, really good. I took a large thing of their homemade peach cobbler to my gf's mom who's a tough judge...she loved it. So did I.
Plenty of Wood out Back_______________________________________________________________
I made it a point to eat at as many food trailers as I could on my trip into Austin. Most of them will be shared in a separate post but one of the up can coming trailers is "Craft Meats" which I had seen on Twitter and then read good things about. I made a mental note and tried them right upon their opening at 4p my first day in town. Lots of the food trailers will serve lunch until a certain time and then open again in the late afternoon or early evening. Since I was getting there at opening there were only a couple people ahead of me so it was the fastest of all the stops but judging by their product that's not going to last long. They're already generating buzz and do sell out so plan accordingly.
What I'd heard good from about here was their sausage. The offering can change daily because they're always making it fresh. On my visit during Hatch Chile season they were selling a pork and beef based blend with them in it. Perfect as I love some good green chiles and Hatch which are grown in New Mexico but reach markets in Texas are one of the best. I ate some great sausage this trip and I think this was the best. With it I got some brisket which was also top notch. I really liked the use of homemade pickles and red onions in addition to some really well smoked beef. This was a good product being put out from a trailer with the smoke rig next to it so it also made for an awesome almost authentic so to say experience. As it turns out you can get some really good 'que just down the street from that place that gets all the hype.
Brisket and Hatch Chile Sausage Plate_______________________________________________________________
What spot is that you ask? Well unless you've been living in a hole or just don't pay all that much attention to the food worlds rumblings, that would be Franklin Barbecue. This was the spot ranked #1 in the now infamous Texas monthly roundup. This is where Aaron Franklin has taken the game to another level.
Franklin Barbecue started out as a trailer run by Aaron Franklin and his wife Stacy. But the story goes back past that. Aaron's parents owned a BBQ stand in Bryan, TX and one day when he started experimenting with brisket in the backyard it was the start of something bigger than even a Texan could dream. His place became the most popular spot to stop and just like how it's supposed to go (ATTN: Chicago) they went from tiny trailer to full brick and mortar. They had no other choice as supply needed to meet demand and people were going to wait for the good stuff no matter how long it took. In my case that would be 3.5 hours. It was a Friday and people were in town for UT welcome week. But that's not why there was a line, there pretty much always is. Tuesdays and Wednesdays it might not stretch around the block but you're going to wait if you wanna eat what many deem the best BBQ in the state.
On this day the line would extend from the meat counter out the door then down and around the block
Some come prepared...
...some do not
So this was the middle of August meaning it was HOT. Lucky for me though it was only 92 "this isn't bad at all, first time we've been under 100 in a week" is what the Bears fan standing behind me in line said. They say you can find Cowboys fans anywhere you go, well I was finding Bears fans everywhere in Texas I rolled. Thank the smoke gods, the clouds were out on my wait which was being made hungover. I got there around 10:00a and took my place in line and within a few minutes a couple ladies came and asked what I might be eating while warning me they may be out of ribs and pulled pork when my time to order comes in the 3.5 hours they told me the wait would be.
I'm doing it...
For about 30 seconds I thought about saying screw it and then the Bears fan offered me a beer and I said screw it the other way around, I'm staying. People in Austin are nice so you shouldn't have a problem with leaving the line to go get yourself something from your car or just to use the restroom or anything like that. Some people shift in and out with their groups. Some bring full fledged tents with table and chairs to play card games while taking turns in line. The atmosphere while you wait is that of a tailgate. I met great people including an Austinite who worked as a chef for 15 years in Bucktown before moving back to consult there. The line moved faster because everyone there was enjoying themselves and their new friends.
The man of the hour attending to one of six rigs in back
As mentioned you can bring your own beer or booze or buy from them. They have vendors that come up and down the line every 15 minutes or so and also offer free water from a cooler so you can stay hydrated. While waiting in line you get constant whiffs of the goodness due to the fact all the trailers are right there in back. Once you get under the shade amongst the spray fans it's not all that bad and they were dead on as far as time goes. It was around 1:30p that my turn to order came up. On this day they had everything left but pulled pork. Important to note that they tend to run out of the pork products first because they cook alot less of it. Brisket and sausage are what people are willing to wait for so they make sure they smoke enough so people can get some.
The line seemed to be moving quick at first but then once we got inside where it was nice and cold it was about another 40 minutes from there. You can see all the articles on the wall and drink a Smoked Porter brewed in their honer while trying to figure out just how much meat is too much. I wanted the Tipsy Texan Sandwich which comes stacked a mile high with chopped beef, sliced sausage, pickles and onions but instead went with the Brisket and Ribs platter along with a pound of their house sausage which is a beef and pork blend. Sure enough the guy taking my order had just moved to Austin from Chicago.
So the question everyone will ask...was it worth the wait? I say yes. Although next time I'll just pay a hippie panhandler that never left the city to wait. Not gonna lie, the first guy in line looked like he was asking for change all night and once he finally got enough for food and drink he got drunk and then passed out at the front door becoming the first in line the next morning But the first time around is worth it. Not just because it really is some of the best damn brisket you will ever eat but also because of the experience. It was a mixed crowd but everyone was there because they shared a similar love. That being smoked meats. All the folks I talked too knew about food spots in Chicago and elsewhere. We all love good food, that's why were here.
Thanks for the hospitality y'all!
The ribs were good not great. A fall off the bone variety with plenty of smoke flavor. I liked them but not as much as what they're known for. The sausage was a blended kicked up black pepper mix which made it really tongue tingling. They know how get you excited here as they pass out half links wrapped in white bread while you wait. The brisket was what people in line kept describing as "like none other". The man has it down to a science that not even Christopher Kimball can mimic. The sides? What you'd expect from your sister in-law who goes textbook Betty Crocker. They were average and I was fine with that. I'm here to eat meat and that I did, every single tidbit that fell into the container was consumed. Yes the hype is real.
I got the Franklin Barbecue Blues..._______________________________________________________________
1010 S Pearl Expy
Dallas, TX 75201
1600 Speight Ave
Waco, TX 76706
Louie Mueller Barbecue
206 W Second St
Taylor, TX 76574
Micklethwait Craft Meats
1309 Rosewood Ave
Austin, TX 78702
900 E 11th St
Austin, TX 78702