Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Louie Mueller

Louie Mueller-Taylor, Tx

Well, it took us a week and a half to hit 18 BBQ joints in and around Austin, Texas. We drove over 800 miles and we hit some of the finest BBQ that Central Texas had to offer. What did we learn? Well, here is a small list.
1. Don't judge a book by its cover (some of the best places are literal dives).
2.  Hill Country is hauntingly beautiful.
3. The BBQ in this area is unique to America. This style of cooking is an American treasure.
4. We are coming back soon (real soon).

Brisket, Sausage, Ribs & a Big Red

It was only fitting that the last stop of the trip was to Louie Mueller in Taylor, Tx. (on the way to catch our flight home). This place is family owned and is run by the grandson of the founder. 
Louie Mueller was my inspiration for the trip to start with. I had been there in 2010 and it opened my eyes as to what Central Texas BBQ is all about. This trip we had the works. The line was crazy long at lunch, especially for a Tuesday afternoon. We had the brisket, pork ribs, beef ribs and a sausage. I had heard that Wayne Mueller had a couple of new guys assisting him. The rumor was that they had fine dining experience and were "interning" to learn BBQ. Well, I have to say that the food quality was a notch above where it was a couple of years ago. The brisket was as good as anything we had on the trip. The sausage may have actually been my favorite of the trip and the beef ribs were the best we came across. The only lacking component was the pork ribs and while tasty, they just needed a bit more time on the smoker.
Full Custom Gospel BBQ just upgraded Louie Mueller to 6 stars-Personally, I would go 5+stars (just because of the ribs).
My son and I had a great trip to Texas and I would highly recommend a road trip like this to any Father or Son. If I am lucky maybe I will get to do this trip again with my son's son.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fargo's

How serious was this little father and son BBQ Pilgrimage? How about serious enough to drive 2 hours one way to a tiny shack to experience what FCG BBQ called ****** worthy.

 Fargo's
 Pitmaster
Roasted Chicken
Brisket & Sausage

So, was the food worth a 2 hour drive. Hell yes! We ordered the first chicken of the trip just because it looked so good. The brisket and sausage were up to par with anything we had eaten the previous 5 days too. To me the best part of this trip was the "windshield time" I got to spend with my son while we traversed Central Texas in search of these little hidden and off the beaten path gems.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Epicenter of Central Texas BBQ

One of the big highlights of this BBQ Pilgrimage was learning fair bit about Texas history and how the area around Austin developed.
Of course the Czechs and Germans played a huge roll and when you start looking at the BBQ culture in Central Texas it really comes down to cooking locally. This area is the start of the Chisom Trail and there is also an amazing amount of Post Oak, Pecan and Mesquite wood. Basically the mathematical equation is:  Beef + wood smoking = Central Texas BBQ.

So, where is the epicenter of Central Texas BBQ? If you ask me, it has to be just south of Austin in the communities of Lockhart, Luling and Gonzales.  We set out on a Tuesday (this is a great way to beat the crowds-think I am kidding? These BBQ joints are known to sell product upwards of over a 1000 lbs per day) and first hit City Market in Luling. From my previous post you can see that this place has gotten (literally) world wide recognition.  The next stop was to Gonzales and Gonzales Food Market.  Daniel Vaughn at Full Custom Gospel BBQ has a terrific story about Gonzales Food Market.  Gonzales Food Market is a modest little family run enterprise. This was the only place we had a chance to sample lamb ribs (killer!) and the sausage was terrific. Pickles, white bread and sweet tea and you have lunch.


 Gonzales Food Market

I would say that the other incredible thing about touring through Texas was the discovery of all of the historic courthouses.

Texas is divided up into 254 counties and nearly all of them have a  historic architectural gem of a courthouse. Check this link for a comprehensive list of all the historic courthouses in Texas.
Gonzales County Courthouse-Gonzales, Texas


After Gonzales we headed up to Lockhart and hit the Holy Trinity of Smitty's, Black BBQ and Kreuz Market. All three of these establishments are enshrined in Texas BBQ lore. We sampled brisket, ribs and sausage at all three spots and of the three, our favorite was Kreuz Market. 

 Schoen Boy's at Kreuz Market
Kreuz Market-Brisket & Sausage
The brisket is apparently hot smoked and so the cooking time is decreased. The smoke ring and bark on the brisket was something I hadn't seen elsewhere and if this hadn't been the last of five stops we would have gone back for seconds.
Since Lockhart is so small, do take time to walk the historic downtown. Lockhart is also home to Caldwell County and another beautiful courthouse.
Caldwell County Courthouse-Lockhart, Texas


City Market Luling

City Market-Luling, Tx

When you see an article in Newsweek magazine that lists the worlds greatest restaurants I think it brings visions of Thomas Keller's French Laundry,  Ferran AdriĆ 's El Bulli or some other white table cloth temple of fine dining. We landed in Central Texas the same week that City Market was named as one of the 101 destination restaurants in the world (not the county, not the state, but the world!). If you are looking for a maitre' d, white table clothes or fine china.....then  this isn't the place for you.
If you are looking for perfectly smoked brisket, house made sausage, perfect ribs  and a Big Red (cherry red soda pop that tastes like a red gumball-big favorite with the locals and perfect for BBQ), then this is your place.

City Market is small, worn, smokey and a slice of Americana that is quickly disappearing from our landscape. The food was off the hook good and this little place is on our list of places to hit again when we are back in the area.


Pit Room-City Market-Luling, Tx

Brisket, Sausage, Ribs
Fine Dining

City Market-Luling, Tx

Monday, August 20, 2012

Opie's-Spicewood, Tx

Opie's -Spicewood, Tx

Our trip to Central Texas would have been amiss if we hadn't made the trip out to Hill Country. Once you are about 30 minutes west of Austin you are in the "boonies", but that said you will see some of the most hauntingly stark and beautiful landscape I have ever had the privilege to see. From Austin we headed west on Texas-71and it   took us about 90 minutes to get to Spicewood. 
My son and I got to Opie's right at noon and we dove into a big helping of Brisket, Ribs and Sausage. The brisket had a great dark bark and a subtle smokey edge. The pork ribs we had were as good as anything we had on this trip-well rendered with just a hint of texture left-almost perfect. The sausage was a course grind mix that was hot, juicy and mouthwateringly good. 
                                 
BBQ Trinity of Brisket, Sausage and Pork Ribs

If you are headed that way you best keep your eyes peeled because Spicewood is pretty much a gas station and this killer BBQ joint.  
Hill Country is a beautiful place to travel through and you could do much worse than to have Opie's picked out as a lunch stop.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Franklin Barbecue

 Franklin Barbecue


What is the "hottest" Barbecue venue we visited on our pilgrimage to Texas? The answer to that would be Franklin Barbecue just east of downtown Austin.  We showed up  at 8:30am (they open at 11:00am) and we were still 4 & 5th in line. We stood around, we chatted up the folks in line and by the time we got in for food I felt like we had experienced a shared rite of passage. Was the wait worth it? Hell yeah! Just a suggestion, if you are planning on a visit to Franklin Barbecue go ahead and show up early. Bring a cooler with sodas and beer or your favorite adult beverage. The atmosphere of the line is similar to what you might experience tailgating for a big football game.  Share your beverages and your stories and don't even think about taking cuts in line.
From Franklin's website:
With the encouragement of friends, Aaron and his wife Stacy debuted Franklin BBQ in late 2009 on an East Austin parking lot. From the walk-up window of a travel trailer turned brisket stand, patrons quickly noticed the Franklins were selling the best barbecue around. By spring, the line of admirers snaked around the block, and the press followed. In less than two years, the duo could count contributors from The Washington Post, Texas Monthly, and Cooking Channel among a growing chorus hailing Franklin among America’s BBQ elite—mentioned in the breath as Smitty’s, Kreuz’s, and other stalwart temples to the holy craft of smoked meat that line the Central Texas brisket belt. In the summer of 2010, Bon Appetit hailed Franklin BBQ as the best in America.
Aaron and Stacy quickly outgrew their trailer, and moved their operation to a brick and mortar location in March of 2011. And despite the new digs and every reasonable effort to increase production, Franklin BBQ’s line is as long as ever, and the restaurant has sold out of brisket every day of its existence.

My "new" buddy Johnnie gave me a Lone Star...gotta love that!
Doesn't look so bad?
Damn! 10:30am and looking at a 3 hour wait for food
Schoen's & Aaron Franklin
Some of the best BBQ in the freaking world!


We ordered brisket, sausage, and some pork ribs. The brisket had a tremendous bark (I ordered from the fat end) and the intramuscular fat and collagen had been perfectly rendered. 
Daniel Vaughn at Full Custom Gospel BBQ has called this the best brisket anywhere (you won't get any argument from me).
Tender, juicy, smokey and as good a brisket as we had on the trip (remember we hit 18 places so that statement might carry a bit more weight). The ribs were great but I thought they needed just a little more time...just my opinion. The sausage was house made and was up to par with the rest of the lineup here. The natural casing and the course ground meat is typical of this part of Texas. The snap of the casing and the juiciness of the sausage were perfect.  Franklin's is definitely on our list for our return visit to Austin.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Snow's BBQ

Kerry, Ms. Tootsie & The Schoen boys

The first (real) BBQ restaurant my son and I visited was Snow's in Lexington, Tx. We had visited Lambert's in Austin the night before and while the food was crazy good, the whole reason we had traveled to Central Texas was to hit these small town BBQ joints.
Lexington is about 90 minutes east of Austin and there isn't much to draw anyone to this town with a population of 1182. From the looks of things this area is all about farming, ranching and dang good BBQ.
Snow's-Lexington, Texas

Snow's BBQ is only open on Saturdays and not only did we get a chance to eat this amazing food, but we also had a chance to chat with Kerry and Ms. Tootsie. Ms Tootsie told me they cook about 1100 lbs of product (they sell out of food every weekend) and that she had gotten up at 2:00 am to work the pits. We ordered pork ribs, brisket and a jalapeno sausage. The brisket was tender and the smoke ring was about 1/2" deep. The ribs were perfect, great texture, moist and they gave me a glimpse of my first "sugar cookie" (crisp perfectly rendered fat). The sausage had great texture and a touch of heat to go along with the snap of the natural casing. 
We had 17 more places to hit over a 7 day period, but you know what? Snow's was the pick of the BBQ litter and a place we will both get back to.


Ribs with a "sugar cookie"

From Snow's website: Kerry Bexley, owner of Snow’s BBQ, knew there was a demand for good BBQ in the small town of Lexington with a population of only 1100 people. Lexington has always been known for its Saturday BBQ. It’s just a tradition! Kerry and Ms. Tootsie Tomanetz, pit boss, discussed the possibilities in the late 90’s of opening a BBQ joint, but took no action until several years later.
In November of 2002, Kerry stopped to visit with Ms. Tootsie, kicked the ashes around, and discussed again the opening of this joint. She told Kerry that if he was serious, they better sit down and have a real "heart to heart". They did just that, and Kerry immediately started building the BBQ pits. March 1, 2003, was the first day of business… and Kerry’s intuition was right. Good BBQ, good service, and friendly people has helped to keep the fire burning, maintaining a steady and consistent business for the last five years. Along with Ms. Tootsie and Kerry, his daughters help out each Saturday morning learning the importance of responsibility and dealing with the public.
The fire almost got out of control in May 2008 when Texas Monthlymagazine named Snow’s BBQ as the best in Texas! (Read Article) Since that time, the entire staff at Snow’s BBQ has been doing everything possible to keep up with the demand and most important, maintain the quality. It looks like a long road ahead, but it is a challenge everyone is ready for.
Click for link to Texas Monthly article featuring Snow's BBQ

Friday, August 17, 2012

Lamberts

Lamberts-Austin

The first BBQ we ate on our trip to Texas turned out the be the only place we visited that had silverware and linen napkins.
Lamberts is in the heart of downtown Austin and it has a great modern/rustic/artisan thing going on. Great drinks, upscale beer list and a menu that showed these guys really care about food.

 Spareribs
Homemade BBQ Sauces
You know what else? These guys also turn out some kick ass BBQ too. Terrific brisket, succulent ribs, amazing sides (in fact, these were the best side dishes we ate on the entire trip).  As amazing as the meat is in the little out of the way places we visited throughout Central Texas, the quality of the side dishes border on pathetic. Lamberts served up an amazing apple/cabbage cole slaw, a great potato salad and they even did a fresh riff on the ubiquitous pickle component that is seemingly always served up with BBQ. Lamberts had pickled carrots, cauliflower and they we fantastic!
If you are heading to Austin and BBQ country you really need to make a stop at Lamberts. 
Congress Avenue Bridge
Another note of interest is that Lamberts is just blocks from the Congress Avenue Bridge (home to the largest urban bat colony in the USA). These bats take flight at dusk and you really need to witness the sight of 1.5 million bats taking off.

Central Texas BBQ Pilgrimage




 Franklin BBQ-Austin, Tx.

 I was in Central Texas two years ago on business and had  the chance to see this amazing part of the county and also experience my first taste of the BBQ that this part of Texas is known for. 
At that time I decided I needed to make a trip back for a real "BBQ pilgrimage". For my son's 16th birthday I told him my present to him was going to be a road trip to Austin and the surrounds for a weeks worth of the Travel Channel and Food Network hotspots.
Central Texas and Hill Country were settled by Germans and Czech's in the mid 1800's and those immigrants brought old world butchering skills  with them. Central Texas also happens to be the beginning of the Chisom Trail and as you might imagine the BBQ in this area leans heavily towards the beef side of the equation.
BBQ sauce is a rarity  and the meat is often seasoned with just salt and pepper (Dalmatian rub). Hardwood is  used to smoke this meat with (post oak). What I love about this type of cooking is that it takes simple and inexpensive ingredients like brisket, salt, pepper and local wood (post oak, pecan) and elevates it to a level to where a small town local BBQ cafe called City Market in Luling was recently named by Newsweek magazine as one world's 101 best places to eat....(un-freaking-believable!)

 The hot beds of Central Texas BBQ are in the small towns in and around Austin. Luling, Gonzales, Llano and Lockhart (the holy grail) will be names familiar to people serious about Central Texas BBQ.
Over a 7 day stretch we hit 18 of the areas best BBQ spots.  Below are the spots we selected from a bit of research via the Food Network, The Travel Channel and from a bit of back and forth with Daniel Vaughn at Full Custom Gospel BBQ.


All of these places come highly recommended and my son and I will write about the 7 standouts of the all star lineup.

Friday
Lamberts Downtown Barbeque-Austin

Saturday
Snows-Lexington
Son’s of Hermann Hall-Deanville
City Meat Market-Giddings
Prause Meat Market-La Grange
Southside Market-Elgin

Sunday
Franklin Barbeque-Austin
Salt Lick, Driftwood




Monday

Opie’s BBQ-Spicewood


Fredericksburg-Becker Vineyards, Pedernales Cellars



Tuesday

City Market-Luling

Gonzales Food Market-Gonzales
Kreuz Market-Lockhart
Blacks Barbecue-Lockhart
Smitty’s-Lockhart

Wednesday
Fargo’s Pit BBQ-Bryan

Monday
Louie Mueller- Taylor