Monday, March 28, 2011

Texas BBQ wins another convert

Before Dan Sweet made his recent pilgrimage to the Central Texas barbecue holy land, he called the Posse. The Oregon resident, who works in corporate public relations, said he had won a Texas tourism essay contest and that one of the research resources he had used was this blog.

Thanks, Dan. It’s always nice to get a nod.

Anyway, for his essay about starting the church of Texas barbecue, Dan and his wife, Cheryl, won a five-day trip to Austin and the Central Texas barbecue trail. Last week, they went to Lockhart, Taylor and other famous barbecue towns and ate at many of the famous joints, including Kreuz Market and Louie Mueller’s.

And, it seems, Dan and Cheryl quickly learned one of the most important lessons about barbecue tours: eat small portions.

“We were so stuffed yesterday that it's almost difficult to even think about more food today,” Dan wrote in an email to the Posse.

Dan wrote about his trip on his blog and Facebook page and also was written about in a story in the Taylor Daily Press.

He told the paper that he travels quite a bit for work and had been to North Carolina and Louisiana, which claim to have the best barbecue.

“The food is okay, but it’s not Texas barbecue,” Dan told the Daily Press. “The people aren’t bad, but they’re not like Texans.”

The Texas tourism folks, it seems, could not have picked a better spokesman.

Dan is already talking about another trip here so he can get to some places he missed, like Franklin and Lambert’s in Austin and Smitty’s in Lockhart.

“I believe those three omissions alone warrant a return trip as soon as I can make time!” he wrote in an email.

Photo of Louie Mueller Barbecue by Gary Barber

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Is this is the center of the BBQ nation?

Smitty's Market woodpile & the Caldwell County Courthouse, Lockhart, Texas.

Photo by Chris Wilkins

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Video: Aaron Franklin talks brisket technique with Texas Monthly

Posse member Bruce Tomaso critiques this short video on Franklin Barbecue, shot by Brian Birzer and produced by Pamela Hastings for Texas Monthly. Not sure Aaron gives up his deepest, darkest brisket secrets though!

Bruce writes:

Mike Gagne, a member of the Austin branch of the posse, sent along this link to a Texas Monthy video in which Aaron Franklin, the young, bearded virtuoso behind Franklin Barbecue, discusses cooking brisket Texas-style.

The video may make longtime Franklin fans nostalgic for the Little Trailer that Could. At the time it was shot, Franklin Barbecue was still housed in a small white-and-turquoise trailer along north Interstate 35, with limited outdoor seating in a parking lot. Earlier this month, it moved into permanent quarters at 900 E. 11th Street in Austin. It's now officially a joint, with walls, a roof, and indoor plumbing.

Aaron is witty and charming in the video, as always, but you won't learn much about how he produces some of the finest brisket the posse has ever savored.

There's a lot more to it than, in his words, "salt and pepper, oak, no sleep."

He mentions in passing, for example, that he wraps his briskets in butcher paper. He doesn't mention the extensive trial-and-error experimentation that went into figuring out exactly how to wrap, when to wrap, when to unwrap. As our own pitmaster, Marshall Cooper, will tell you, it ain't as easy as ordering a roll of butcher paper and going from there.

And backyard cooks everywhere will be frustrated by Aaron's advice on how to know exactly when a brisket is done -- not overdone and dry, not underdone and bland, but done to perfection, crisp and tangy and smoky on the outside, warm and tender and juicy on the inside.

Don't worry about thermometers, he says. Don't worry about the internal temperature of the meat. "The Texas way is by feel, you know. It's not done 'til it's done."

Is Pecan Lodge in the same league as Franklin?

Is Pecan Lodge in the same league as Franklin?

That was the case this week, according to Posse pit master Marshall Cooper, who eats barbecue – his own and other’s – several times a week.

Marshall is hard to please. But after his lunch Sunday at Pecan Lodge in the Dallas Farmers Market he was raving.

“In terms of quality, in my opinion, the brisket and ribs today hands down beats any BBQ in DFW,” he reported. “The ribs were better than any ribs I’ve eaten out. Today, the brisket was so damned good, it makes me re-think Franklin for sure.”

Consistency, turning out great barbecue day after day, is probably the toughest element to master in running a joint. In the past, Pecan Lodge has received some very strong reviews from food critics, but Posse members haven’t put the place in the same league as Franklin, located in Austin, or Snow’s, located in Lexington.

“He nailed the brisket and ribs for sure,” Marshall continued, referring to Pecan Lodge pitmaster Justin Fourton. “Thought today it could have been better than Franklin.”

That’s good company.

Pecan Lodge, 1010 South Pearl Expressway, Farmer's Market Shed #2, Dallas, TX, 75201, (214) 748-8900. Open: Thur-Fri 11am-3pm, Sat-Sun 9am-3pm.

Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Texas BBQ competition season is upon us

As the Texas BBQ Posse, a small group of us from the The Dallas Morning News, and friends, have traveled much of the state in search of the best smoked meats we can find.

Then we tell readers what we think of the joints we visit.

Anyone can talk a good game, some readers have gently reminded us since we began our Barbecue Chronicles in late 2009.

So we decided to see if we could also walk the barbecue walk. Last September, we entered our first competition, the Blues, Bandits & BBQ festival in Oak Cliff.

It was an exhausting, but totally fun time as we camped near the corner of Davis and Clinton for two hot, sweaty days and one largely sleepless night.

During the day, two popup canopies protected us from the brutal sun, but our close proximity to our two smokers, which we steadily stoked for nearly 30 hours, magnified the mid-90s temperatures and our sweat.

Thankfully, as Sheilagh Cooper observed afterwards, “hickory smoke masks any and all other odors.”  Sheilagh is married to Marshall Cooper, our head pitmaster.

 “Not one of you stunk! At least not from the distance I tried to keep,” added Martha Gooding, wife of Posse member Bryan Gooding.

Over the two days, we cooked 250 pounds of brisket, ribs, chicken and sausage for friends, family, judges and festival goers, who numbered at least 2,000, by our estimate, and probably more.

Most of what we cooked was regular meat, with plenty of fat, from grain fed animals. “Raised on Cheetos and day-time TV,” cracked Bryan Gooding.

For the judges, however, we had to cook organic meat, much of it grass fed. It was provided by Urban Acres, a store located across Davis Street from the festival site.

Generally, organic meat is very lean and can have a gamey taste. One of the racks of ribs we were issued looked, with only a little imagination, like strips of bacon connected by bones.

We had done several test runs before the competition with different kinds of organics. We knew we would have to cook the brisket and ribs much longer than normal to achieve tenderness, and that we would have to spice up the rubs to boost taste.

Cooper added extra kosher salt, black pepper, granulated garlic and cayenne to the brisket rub. Gooding brined the chicken in a mixture of water, vinegar, salt and sugar.

We used a spicy hot rub on the ribs and, in a departure from our normal practice, wrapped then in foil halfway through their six hours in the smoker. During one test run, we didn’t wrap the ribs. Mistake. They were dry and tasted awful. We threw them away.

Internal meat temperatures are also critical. The chicken had to hit 160 degrees. The brisket, which weighed 16.5 pounds and was wrapped in foil after about five hours of heavy smoke, had to reach 205 degrees. After nearly 20 hours, it hit 203. We pulled it from the smoker and put it in a warmer, where it rested another 5 hours.
During down time, we talked to, and learned from, competitors on many of the other 21 teams, both pros and backyard barbecue kings, like ourselves. It was especially fun talking to some of the professional cooks, like Justin Fourton from the Pecan Lodge at the Dallas Farmers’ Market, who won for ribs, and Rick Fairchild at Lagarto Catering in Highland Park, who won for sausage and was Grand Champ.

Big Rick described how he cooks brisket for ranch hands during round-up. He digs a pit and puts in a bed of hot coals. On top of that he puts a layer of rocks and then the meat, wrapped in foil.

“We used to wrap it in burlap,” he said.

Then comes another layer of rocks and more coals. He covers everything with dirt.

We also learned a valuable tip from Oak Cliff’s Heavy Metal Cookin’ Team, which won for brisket. They were directly across the street from us and their hammock sure looked inviting at 3 a.m. It would be a good addition to many backyard setups, too.

The judges, generally, didn’t care for much of the organic barbecue they scored. In comparison to regular meat, it fell short on all counts: taste, tenderness and look. They thought the chicken and sausage entries were better, on the whole, than the brisket and ribs.

We would agree. Many of us thought Bryan’s chicken was the best we had ever eaten, organic or otherwise.

In the end, we placed first in chicken and second in brisket. Not bad for a maiden voyage. And it was fun. That's why we’re planning to do a few more cookoffs this year.

Photos by R.J. Hinkle & Chris Wilkins

Here are upcoming BBQ cook-offs in the DFW area. The BBQ Posse cook team will be firing up the smoker at the Possum Hollow Smoke Off in Graham on May 20, come see us if you're there....

3-25/26 Ft Worth, TX Fort Worth Cops for Kids
3-25/26 Waxahachie, TX 2011 Youth Expo Assn./Knights of Columbus BBQ
4-01/02 Irving, TX 7th Knights of Columbus BBQ
4-15/16 Terrell, TX Terrell Heritage Days BBQ TX State Championship
4-22/23 Commerce, TX Cowhill Chili Fest & BBQ
4-29/30 Plano, TX Central Market presents "Thrill of the Grill"
4-29/30 Mesquite, TX 2011 Taste of Mesquite
5-06/07 Grapevine, TX Grapevine Elks Lodge
5-13/14 Carrollton, TX - 4th Annual Pink soles in Motion BBQ
5-20/21 Graham, TX Possum Hollow Smoke Off TX State Championship
5-20/21 Prosper, TX Prosper Firefighters Assn. BBQ
6-24/25 Kennedale, TX Cowtown Speedway BBQ
9-23/24 Hillsboro, TX Hill County Go-Texan BBQ TX State Championship
9-30/10-1 Keller, TX Keller Lions Club BBQ
10-07/09 Grand Prairie, TX 28th Annual Traders Village BBQ

To find BBQ competitions around Texas, you can check the International Barbeque Cookers Association and Lonestar Barbecue Society websites.

Click here to see more photos from the Blues, Bandits & BBQ festival.

Friday, March 4, 2011

On the road: The Steve Miller Band makes a BBQ stop in Austin

Texas BBQ Posse member and Dallas Morning News staff photographer David Woo was on the road last week with the Steve Miller Band, a group he has been photographing for 20 years. Steve, who moved to Dallas when he was 7 years old, is a huge fan of Texas BBQ and always looking for the greatest que the state has to offer.

David accompanied the Posse on our recent anniversary tour to central Texas and discovered the brisket at Franklin Barbecue and the ribs and sides at Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, both in Austin. He started planning a BBQ feast for the band as he joined them on tour in Austin.

David writes:

"The Steve Miller Band performed at the KLRU Opening Night Gala at the Austin City Limits new Moody Theater in Austin on February 24. Steve’s band was the first band to tape a TV special in the new theater that will air in October on PBS. Steve asked me to find the best BBQ in Austin to feed his band and crew after taping several music videos in Utley, Texas.

I consulted with the Posse and we agreed that Franklin had the best brisket and Lamberts was great choice for ribs and sausage. The band and crew loved the BBQ and sides, and root beer was the drink of choice. I have a new respect for people in the catering business now, due to trying to keep the meat warm and moist and then serve it hot when everyone was ready to eat.

Steve loved the brisket from Franklins and said, “this brisket is world class and it’s all about the rub.” Kenny Lee Lewis, a member of Steve’s band said, “the brisket is the very best I ever had and the links and chicken from Lamberts were real smoky and great.”

Steve's new album Let Your Hair Down is being released on April 19, 2011. Click here to go to his website and check out photos and videos.

Steve Miller's bus sits parked on the service road in front of Franklin Barbeque in Austin. Steve loves BBQ and he asked David to find the best in Austin to feed 25 people after shooting four music videos at a studio close to Austin.

Suzi Woo, right, waits as the staff at Franklin Barbeque packs up brisket, potato salad and cole slaw to feed the Steve Miller Band.

Steve Miller, at the head of the table, enjoys root beer and BBQ from Franklin's and Lambert's with his band and crew after shooting music videos outside of Austin.

Photos by David Woo