Wednesday, March 13, 2013

BBQpalooza 2013 "Texas Hospitality"

la barbecue Austin, Tx
 Sometimes things just seem to come together: peanut butter and chocolate, the Showtime Lakers, the cast of Shawshank Redemption......the 2013 version of our annual BBQ tour. This year marked our third annual trek into Central Texas to partake in copious amounts of God's gift to men (besides woman of course) ...BBQ. This year's tour began with a downer, but the news that one member would have to come late, like nearly everything else that happened this year soon became a huge positive (more on that later). Even the rainy weather we saw in Austin over the weekend was as if God was shedding tears of joy and blessing over our ambitious journey (no way we would have been able to hit all these world class joints if the weather hadn't chased some less than diehards away!) This year's bbqpalooza was marked by fortune at every turn, and the best hospitality we have ever received on our treks into BBQ holy land. Without further's what transpired.

Tom's trailer was a meat beacon in the night
We arrived in Austin on Friday evening and our one stop was to be a relatively new spot recommended by @TXCleaver called Micklethwait Craft Meats. A trailer specializing in BBQ and relatively unknown (NOT FOR LONG!) to many... even in Austin as we would find out throughout the weekend. This was an awesome start! Every other BBQ joint we have hit previously were pretty well established and well known, but here we all got the feeling that we were getting in on the ground floor of something special. Owner/Pit Master Tom Micklethwait was an extremely cool guy, recommending the homemade greens as a side, telling us how he converted a water heater from an old school into his smoker, and even throwing in a pork shoulder (which turned out to be delicious!) into our to go order. His handmade sausages (we had an andouille and veal sample) are some of the tastiest I've ever eaten. We all agreed we would have rather the sausage not cut so small (as we enjoy being able to bite into the snap casing), however that's not to take anything away from a sausage that was bursting with tremendous flavor and texture.  The moist brisket had obviously been smoked with the care only few people living in Central Texas have perfected, and the ribs got thumbs up all around. The greens we ordered featured rutabaga and sausage, and I'm not throwing out hyperbole by saying they were the best greens I've ever tasted. Getting back to the hotel that night and discovering the pork shoulder was the icing on the cake. Get to Micklethwait's Craft Meats before it becomes another sacred BBQ joint where waiting in line is part of the process! We needed all the rest we could get before the gorging on Saturday so we headed out to the East side for a short night full of hipsters, food trucks, and eclectic dives only Austin could supply before calling it an early night.

Line outside Franklin BBQ at 9:45 a.m.
We woke up bright and early Saturday because, takes dedication to sample 7 BBQ joints in one day. We knew we would need to be at the front of the line at Franklin's to accomplish our lofty goals for the day. So at 8:20 we were excited to see that we would be tenth in line at Aaron's temple to all things meat.

As previously mentioned, our buddy Rashad was having to meet us Saturday morning. A giant letdown at first, until he came up with an idea that will go down in BBQ lore alongside indirect heat. See, truth be told when our buddy Chris released the 2013 itinerary we were all a little disappointed. Due to time constraints and its limited hours, Snow's BBQ in Lexington would be left off the list for the first time in three years. You have to understand.....Snow's brisket (in my humble opinion) is the single greatest piece of meat in Texas (thereby also the World). It is a mecca to moist, fatty, meat goodness that demands to be tasted by all true connoisseurs of BBQ. Never fear: Rashad left extra early, was first in line at Snow's, and showed up in front of all those hungry Franklin's patrons with a foil wrapper filled with the only breakfast worthy of BBQpalooza......Snow's brisket! Needless to say we became the most popular men in line, and a few kind folks who had previously extended some Texas BBQ hospitality our way during the long wait were rewarded with a slice of their very own Snow's brisket.

Franklin's received our best overall ratings
It was finally 11:00 and time to head into Franklin BBQ. Aaron Franklin is the closest thing the BBQ world has to Elvis. People wait hours to eat his BBQ daily, he's been on the cover of Texas Monthly, and his YouTube channel has given our pal Chris the biggest man crush since Howard Cosell met Ali. Unfortunately, Aaron was busy out back preparing to not only feed the hundreds lined up at his restaurant, but also cater a huge SXSW event (the perils of BBQ royalty...). We sat down slightly disappointed, however before we could dig in Benjy (Franklin's right hand man) approached us and proceeded to take pics, give us the rundown on the weekend, and share our love for BBQ. It takes more than a single man to meet the high standards of BBQ lovers each and every day, and I'm sure Aaron knows this already, but Benjy is a great representative of the restaurant and a preview of how our day would go. As for the meat.....well friends....people don't stand in line for hours to partake in inferior BBQ. For the second straight year Franklin BBQ received the highest overall score from our group. The brisket is quite possibly only second to Snow's, the pulled pork was fantastic, the sausage had a perfect snap, and OH DEAR that pork rib! I had a strong inclination that it was the best rib I had ever eaten. Before the clock had hit high noon, we had already consumed Snow's brisket and an entire plate of Franklin BBQ.

L to R: Me, the Legend himself, and Chris
We left Franklin's hoping to make it to John Mueller's new spot in time to catch some of his legendary BBQ. John's up and down story is Texas BBQ legend, and the man did not disappoint. The twitter bio for @JSM_meats says it all, "You may go to hell, I'm going to 6th and Pedernales". John Mueller Meat Co. is quite possibly the most "Texan" place I've ever visited (that includes the Alamo). When we turned the corner into the lot we were met by a gigantic Texas flag, the actual sound of meat sizzling right by us, and John himself greeting guests with free Lone Star beer. Mr. Mueller was a terrific host (who says this guy can't run a business?), and his beef rib is a must try. I'm sure he has a lot of nicknames, but I'd add "King of Texas Beef Ribs" to the mix. All the meat received top marks from our crew, and as for would really have to hang out with John and eat his BBQ to appreciate how amazing this place is. On our way out he came by once more to ask about our adventure and when he found out we would be sampling a few places around Austin ...and then Lockhart, in true Mueller fashion he dropped an "I ate in Lockhart once" on us. Truly one of the best experiences we have EVER had eating BBQ....

The entertainment at la barbecue
When we left John Mueller Meat Co. we headed over to his former place of employment, and sister's current spot barbecue. We had to fight some terrible SXSW traffic, and it started to rain hard when we got there. The seats were wet, water was dripping on me, and I just didn't really have the same anticipation as I had for other spots. My mistake. La barbecue deserves the same treatment as all the other world class spots we hit in Austin. The new pit master supposedly came from Franklin, and the melding of Franklin/Mueller delivered some of our best overall scores (despite the terrible weather conditions). As if not to be outdone by brother, la barbecue had its own free ice chest full of Lone Star, gave out brisket to those in line, and even had two old guys playing bass and an acoustic guitar belting out some tunes that sounded straight out of O Brother, Where Art Thou. This was easily my best surprise of the weekend. If the siblings want to break off and make two temples to meat instead of one?.....well...all the better for us my friend. Louie Mueller BBQ in Taylor is great, but for my money what the siblings lack in historical sites they more than make up for with superior meats now. The brisket was top 3, the pulled pork was excellent, and even the chipotle coleslaw was the perfect palate cleanser. I cannot recommend this spot to you highly enough.....go there!

Spread at Stiles Switch BBQ
The last stop in Austin was to be Stiles Switch BBQ. I'll admit, at this point I was full and ready to start heading back through Lockhart. With all the Twitter chatter I was getting, my fatigue and busy timeline made me forget that Stiles Switch had wanted us to say hello when we got there and probably had been the most welcoming pre-meal place! I made a restroom break and allowed another member to place our order. He returned with an incredible plate of meat (as you can see above)....LOOK at that Beef was amazing! The pork rib and sausage were right on par with the rest of the perfectly smoked meats at the other Austin spots.....but something was wrong. The brisket was rather dry and not up to the standards of what we'd been eating. Apparently, my friend did not request the moist cut (party foul), and I didn't follow through on my promise to say hello. In swooped pit master Lance. He could have been offended that we forgot to say hello and didn't even finish our brisket (honestly I probably would have), but just as I was remembering my promise Lance approached our table with grace, mercy, and a generous amount of moist brisket. "Hey, I'm Lance. I noticed you guys didn't get the moist cut. We've been making more meat than usual this weekend and must have slipped a drier piece in there. Try this out guys." Unbelievable! In a day filled with tremendous hospitality, it was Lance at Stiles Switch who truly took it to the next level. He stayed and talked for a bit while we assured him that his brisket was some of the best in the world. Extremely moist, excellent fat rendering, and super bark. Take this as my formal apology sir, I assure you that next time I'm in Austin I'm going to head to Stiles Switch one evening to eat that glorious BBQ on an empty stomach, throw washers on the enclosed porch, and hang out for a couple of hours at this meat temple.

Black's BBQ
On the way home we went through Lockhart, often referred to as the BBQ capital of Texas. We've been here every year and each time we have felt like Black's delivers the finest overall meats in Lockhart. Their beef ribs aren't as tasty as JMueller or Stiles Switch, but they are big enough to feed a small militia. Black's has delivered amazing meat plates every year we've been ...full of tasty ribs, pork chops (first time to try), sausage, previously mentioned dinosaur sized beef ribs, and in my opinion... the best brisket in Lockhart. If you're in Lockhart Black's is a must go. Smitty's makes up for slightly less tasty meats with some of the best BBQ atmosphere anywhere. You have to walk right by their giant pits on your way to order (you can literally feel and smell the pending feast)! Make no mistake Smitty's is a tremendous BBQ joint, but probably a slight notch below the other places on this list. Last year we ranked Kreuz third among the Lockhart locales, but due to time and an extremely busy afternoon (probably due to their more commercial friendly lay out and proximity to the main road), we had to skip it this year. We were also hoping to visit Chisholm Trail, but alas that will have to wait at least another year (what? don't act like 7 plates wasn't impressive). Overall Lockhart was tremendous as always, but the general consensus on the way home was that Austin has the most delicious, numerous, and ambitious Central Texas BBQ in the state. No knock on Lockhart, but as the kids say these days...the Austin BBQ scene is blowing up.   
BBQ is the one cooking technique that's been around since caveman days, and it may have taken thousands of years, but the people of Central Texas have perfected the art form. What stands out most about this year? Easy, we all agreed that the meat was tremendous, but the people who bring the very best BBQ to the masses are just as important and if possible....just as enjoyable as the gifts of meat they bestow on their patrons. Until next year.......TEXAS FOREVER!

L to R: Rashad, Chris, and Jason at Smitty's Market

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