BBQ Capital of Texas ERGO THE WORLD

Yesterday, I finally made it down to Lockhart, Texas, historic Texas small town and the barbecue capital of Texas, “ergo the world,” as my buddy Josh Cross put it. Chef Josh is a Texan through and through but he’s also lived and worked in New York and traveled and eaten his way through Europe. I’d been angling for some time to do a ‘cue crawl with him.

Now, let me tell you, people, when the folks in Lockhart say they reside in the barbecue capital of Texas, they ain’t kidding…

First stop was the legendary Smitty’s Market, just one of the triad Black’s, Kreuz, and Smitty’s. It never ceases to amaze me how idiosyncratic Texas barbecue is: even though everyone is working with the same basic ingredients (brisket, beef rib, pork rib and loin, pork sausage) and cooking techniques (“low and slow” smoking), the expressions of the Texas bbq canon vary as widely as the people who do the cooking. In other words, everyone and every venue offers a distinctly personalized interpretation (the only thing consistent at each eatery is the swagger!).

Smitty’s is known for the juicy, untrimmed fat of its brisket. The smoked brisket and smoked prime rib were unbelievably good but the sausage… o the sausage… perfection…

Of all the bbq joints I’ve visited, Smitty’s is the most impressive for its atmosphere. On the weekend, folks wait hours on line in the smoking room itself, an “inferno,” where the raging fires are literally a span’s length from the chow line. We took our place in line at 11:30 and it took 45 minutes to reach the carving board.

The main dining room (above) is full of happy families and well-behaved children whose good manners are rewarded by the comfort food of all comfort foods (and Blue Bell ice cream for dessert).

There are plastic knives and spoons in the Smitty’s dining room but no forks: you eat the beans and other sides (potato salad, cole slaw, etc.) with the spoon but everything else is consumed religiously with one’s fingers.

I took this photo of chopped Live Oak in the Smitty’s wood pile. Josh explained how Live Oak is essential to central Texas bbq because it burns very hot but without releasing a lot of oil as Mesquite does. 90% Live Oak and 10% Mesquite, he said, is the ideal blend of wood types.

Over the weekend, Austin (about 45 minutes northwest from Lockhart) played host to the Republic of Texas Biker Rally 2010 and so there were bikers everywhere, from every walk of life, like this couple Marc and Kat, who sat next to us at Black’s. (For the record, whenever I photograph strangers for the blog, I always ask permission, just in case they’re wanted by the law.)

The beef rib at Black’s was simply amazing. The smokiness and dry rub had gently penetrated the meat, giving it a wonderful savoriness and spice, and it was so tender that you could cut it easily with a plastic nice (look how even the plastic sliced it!).

But the brisket at Black’s… o my goodness, the brisket… Here, the brisket has been smoked for so long that the smoke ring is entirely black and the meat is so tender that it literally melts in your mouth. Of all the truly delicious things I ate yesterday, the brisket at Black’s was the dish that really blew me away… amazing stuff…

We never did make it to Kreuz Market yesterday but I promise I will before summer’s end in a gesture of purely selfless altruism in order to satisfy your insatiable culinary curiosity.

I’m sure that BrooklynGuy would approve of my self-sacrifice for your gastronomic well-being!

Buona domenica, ya’ll! (That means, “enjoy your Sunday,” for those of you who don’t speak eyetalian.)

The “seventh” bullet in my wine bag

Adam Spencer

Above: Adam Spencer aka “Adam Spence,” one of the Clanton Cowboys Gang and one of the meanest sommeliers ’round these parts, faced off with the San Diego Kid (that’s me) in the outskirts of San Antonio yesterday at Saloon Pavil. He was ready for me but he didn’t count on the “seventh bullet” in my six-shooter wine bag.

Dusty and tired after a long day hawking wine in San Antonio, the San Diego Kid had a harrowing brush with death at Saloon Pavil where Adam “Spence” Spencer nearly sent him to his grave. Spence is one of the fastest hands around these parts and one of the best sommeliers the Kid’s ever met on the mean streets of Texas. His wine list is compact, studied, intelligent, original, and surprising. And his palate is as sharp and his wine service as polished as they come. The Kid’s French bottlings were no match for Spence but the Clanton Cowboy wasn’t counting on a 2001 Barbaresco Ovello that the Kid happened to have in his six-pack wine bag — the “seventh bullet.”

Cooper's BBQ

I cannot tell you how good that wine tasted — it had been open all day — with the tender pork loin and pork ribs at Cooper’s. The tannin, the fat of the meat, the gorgeous fruit, and the tanginess of the BBQ sauce made a long day of hawking wine all worth while.

Boy, was the San Diego Kid lucky to get out of San Anton’ alive! Delivered from danger once again by the skin of his teeth and the seat of his pants, he headed out to Cooper’s Old Time Bar-B-Que in New Braunfels where they allow outside wine “but no hard liquor.”

Cooper's BBQ

Above: Cooper’s in New Braunfels. Folks say that the Cooper’s in Llano, Texas is the best one but this one was purdy darn’ good.

The San Diego Kid then made his way to I-35 and sure was glad to get back to the loving arms of his Squaw in Austin.

By now, he knew the way from ol’ San Anton’ to Austin. Riding north from central Texas on his trusty horse and faithful companion Dinamite, he couldn’t help but hum a lil’ new country diddy he’s been working on:

GPS may get you where you wanna go/but it sure as hell don’t get ya’ into heaven…

In other news…

If you visit Do Bianchi, you know how much I love Produttori del Barbaresco. I’ve been collecting my Produttori del Barbaresco posts in a new opera aperta or open work blog called “My Own Private Produttori del Barbaresco”: if you’d like be a contributor, just send me an email and I’ll make you an author (you’ll need to register with first). The idea is that it will be an open blog where we can collect stories, anecdotes, tasting notes, and reflections on Produttori del Barbaresco. Content doesn’t need to be new, either… Thanks for reading!