Tuesday, March 15, 2016

BBQPalooza2016: Friends and Family

The annual bbqpalooza trip opened with a somber start and ended with a loud bang. It featured seven previously visited favorites, Franklin BBQ minus the line, and one new top 50 crossed off the list. Over TWENTY pounds of meat was consumed and a great time was had by all, but as always the people who create the smoked goodness will be remembered long after the meat itself is forgotten.

Snow's Spread
 This year we decided to head back to the location where it all started six years ago.....Snow's BBQ in Lexington! One of our very favorite people in BBQ Ms. Tootsie Tomanetz tends the meat on Saturdays only at quite possibly the most Texan location this side of the Alamo. On Friday March 4, bbqpalooza eve, we got the unfortunate news that Ms. Tootsie's son Herschel Tomanetz had passed away after his bout with cancer. We knew it might be a little more somber environment than usual, but once we found out Snow's would still be open we knew we HAD to be there. Gone was the familiar sight of "Hershey's" strong veined arms carrying trays of meat back and forth from the iconic pits, but there as always was Ms. Tootsie smoking the greatest brisket known to Texas....and therefore mankind. We were able to give our condolences, share a card, and a very special hug with Ms. Tootsie that morning....and quite honestly that experience alone was worth the trip this year. Although the meat was secondary in importance, I can say that everyone who had previously been to Snow's agreed that it was one of the best plates Ms. Tootsie had ever delivered. It seemed that a huge portion of the BBQ community came out to support the Snow's family and it was great to catch up with the best BBQ photographer around Robert Lerma, whose shots of Snow's people and food are easily some of my all time favorites. It was an amazing start to our annual trek for Q! #RIPHershey
We love you Ms. Tootsie
Our next stop took us to Belton where we got to cross off a brand new Texas Monthly top 50 off of our list.....Miller's Smokehouse. The set up is sneaky as it seems a lot smaller than it really is. Several smokers are cranking meat out back and if you walk from the front room to the next section (which we were at first unaware of) there is a much bigger seating area/ bar. Miller's has only been around since 2008, but it was easy to see how they cracked the list. Juicy sausage, great ribs, and some tremendous burnt ends were devoured. The people are extremely friendly and the service was top notch. Do not....I repeat DO NOT skip out on the banana pudding.
From Belton we headed into the capital of Texas and BBQ....Austin. We first headed to an old favorite Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ. If you are like me and your two favorite food groups are BBQ and Mexican.....well then my friend Valentina's is quite possibly your Disneyland. Melding top central Texas smoked meats with the spicy goodness of Mexican guacamole, salsa, and tortillas, Valentina's is a Texan's oasis. We had chicken, brisket, and carnitas tacos and they were all flat out amazing. The set up for the food truck isn't quite as nice as it used to be next to Star Bar (now it's located in a gas station parking lot), but somehow the food was even better than we remembered. Valentina's is an absolute must for any serious BBQ/taco enthusiasts.

Our final stop on Saturday evening was Freedmen's Bar, a retro style BBQ/cocktail bar in a building built in 1869 that has served as a church, a publishing house, and a grocery store to name a few. Freedmen's is an awesome spot, and of all the places on the list serves as the best BBQ spot to take a date on or for a dinner out with close friends. The food is always top notch. Besides the amazing BBQ (we had a few holy trinity plates), the house made pickles, bread and pimento, and smoked banana pudding and mousse really stood out. I can say as an aside that the brisket this time was too thickly cut for our preferences, but was the only dark mark on an otherwise great meal. It was time to enjoy Austin for a while before we headed back to rest up for day two.

The next morning featured a feat I'm not sure has ever been replicated. A few years ago we picked up Snow's and ate it in line at Franklin BBQ....well this year my friends we were able to get a to go order at the World Famous Franklin BBQ and eat it with our 3 meat plate from the World's most iconic food truck Micklethwait Craft Meats!!!! When half our party showed up at Craft Meats and unwrapped the Franklin goodness to indulge in as we waited, a group in front of us literally said, "Guys....I think that's Franklin's....we may have just been one upped." Yes my friend....yes you were. Side note: we did share a few brisket bites with our fellow BBQ enthusiasts. Talk about a meal...All I can remember was Franklin brisket, ribs, amazing Micklethwait bread, Craft Meats hot links, and BEEF STRIP LOIN! It was like a meat lover's Christmas.

From Craft Meats we headed over to check in on John Mueller, and let me assure you that the rumors are false....John is still cranking out his delicious BBQ as the bad boy of Texas Q. In fact, it was probably the best brisket we had ever had there. Add in the always elite sides like cheesy squash , and the world famous thin sauce, and we were in for a real treat. In a huge upset John was extremely friendly that day thanking us for coming by and seeming to be in a generally good mood. Really I'm not sure how he could ever be in a bad mood cranking out plates like the one we had that day. We're big fans of John Mueller Meat Co. and never miss a chance to see John and get some of his legendary food.

Finally it was time to wrap up the trip at one of our very favorite spots Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew. Owner Shane Stiles and head pit master Lance Kirkpatrick are two of the coolest guys in the business. Their demeanor leaks over into the restaurant making Stiles Switch the best BBQ hangout around. Lance took us on a behind the scenes pit tour and gave us some info on new techniques he had been trying. You can always tell Lance and Shane's excitement for their craft and after sampling the goods it was easy to see why they were so excited. The Q that Lance and his crew are spitting out just keeps getting better! The brisket was amazing, the sausage was delicious, and most of all the new ribs were an explosion of flavor. Most of the joints on this list stay open a few hours or until "sold out", but Stiles cranks out Q for their huge crowds Tuesday-Sunday from 11am until nighttime. Just seeing all the meats they were smoking for the "night crowd" was overwhelming. Stiles Switch manages to smoke meat at the same level of the big guns.....and do it at about three times the output. These guys deserve all the success they're having and I sure hope we're still visiting this favorite decades from now.
Lance Kirkpatrick: BBQ Whisperer

BBQpalooza was actually started 6 years ago by our good friend Chris Hicks. He felt like he needed to share his immense love for Texas BBQ with a few of us close friends (especially a recent Michigan transplant) and it blossomed from there. Chris is moving this summer to Nashville, but assured us that BBQpalooza will live on. Hopefully he can make some new Texas BBQ converts in Tennessee. There was a feeling of one last hurrah on this trip, and although we know it won't be the last it was great to spend the weekend with good friends who can bond over BBQ. When we get back each year, everybody always asks what was the best? The best? The best is sharing a moment with a grieving mother who has given so many others joy over the years. The best is being able to share a world class piece of brisket with a complete stranger and being able to communicate with someone you never met through a simple nod. The best is getting to listen to an artist like Lance Kirkpatrick convey his love for the craft he does so well. The BEST is getting to spend a few hours with some of the best friends each year eating till we are sick and loving every minute of it. BBQ is just food sure, but in Texas it's way more than that. BBQ is friends and family.