Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Will Texas Monthly's Top 5 BBQ joints be same as those named by its new BBQ editor?

During our live online barbecue chat Monday on DallasNews.com, a reader asked us to predict the Top 5 ranked joints in Texas Monthly's 2013 BBQ issue, which should be available soon.

There was considerable agreement among the four Posse members participating. We each put Franklin Barbecue in Austin No. 1. The next three spots were occupied by the same three joints, although the orders differed: Snow's BBQ in Lexington, La Barbecue in Austin and Pecan Lodge in Dallas.

The fifth spot, depending upon the Posse member, went to either Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor or Kreuz Market in Lockhart.

A few hours after the chat ended, I was finally able to get a copy of Daniel's Vaughn's new book, The Prophets of Smoked Meat, which is due out in a couple of weeks.

Vaughn of course is the celebrated blogger -- Full Custom Gospel BBQ -- who recently became BBQ editor of Texas Monthly.

In his book, Vaughn lists his Top 5, not in any designated order: Fargo's Pit BBQ in Bryan, Louie Mueller, Pecan Lodge, Vera's Backyard Bar-B-Que in Brownsville and Franklin.

"In a region where barbacoa is worshipped, a trip to Vera's can double as Sunday mass," Vaughn writes. "Vera's is the only joint in the state still cooking beef heads with wood smoke..."

It will be interesting to see how Vaughn's Top 5 mimic -- or don't -- Texas Monthly's.

It's not just Austin, something big is happening in Dallas BBQ, too

These five joints are leading a BBQ renaissance in the Dallas area. (Photos ©Chris Wilkins and Jim Rossman)

Reader interaction is terrific. On our story in The Dallas Morning News about Austin's barbecue renaissance, one online reader -- going by the moniker "J" -- wrote:

"Too bad the BBQ scene in DFW stinks."

I responded to "J" that the sentiment is wrong. There's a barbecue renaissance in Dallas, too.

From the Posse's extensive touring, we put Pecan Lodge at the Farmers Market among the top two or three joints in the state. If Texas Monthly's new rankings (the June issue) don't agree, we'll call them out again.

Also, we think Lockhart Smokehouse in the Bishops Arts District and Meshacks's in Garland are easily among the Top 50.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Video: The Texas BBQ Posse talks about their Austin BBQ Tour

Here's our latest barbecue tour video, shot and produced by Dallas Morning News photojournalist Nathan Hunsinger.

Is Austin rapidly becoming the the new Texas BBQ capital, replacing Lockhart? Some of our readers wholeheartedly agree, while some consider such statements as blasphemy. Yes, barbecue is a highly emotional issue.

Click here to read our Austin BBQ Tour story and see the tour slideshow on dallasnews.com.

You can join us for an online chat about the Austin BBQ Tour at 1pm-2pm on Monday, April 29th. Click here for the link to the chat on dallasnews.com.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Today in the Dallas Morning News: The BBQ Posse's Austin BBQ Tour

Here's a look at our Austin BBQ Tour story in today's Dallas Morning News travel section. This is the Posse's second installment from the Texas BBQ trail in the DMN this year. Our Best of Texas BBQ project was published in early March.

The tour grew out of a growing suspicion that Austin might be quickly replacing Lockhart as the state's barbecue capital. And nothing we experienced on that day disproved the theory, every stop on the tour was nothing short of sensational.

Click here to see the story, slideshow and video links on the DMN Travel section of dallasnews.com.

Also, you can join us for an online chat about the Austin BBQ Tour at 1pm-2pm on Monday, April 29th. Click here for the link to the chat on dallasnews.com.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

See the photos from the Posse's Austin BBQ Tour - The Fantastic Mr. Fox strikes again

Dallas Morning News staff photographer Tom Fox at work on the Austin BBQ Tour.
(Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

When you're on the road with the Texas BBQ Posse, it's kind of like being in the middle of a media storm. The Posse is mainly made up of Dallas Morning News writers, editors, photojournalists and their friends. Yes, we have been accused before of being the BBQ paparazzi.

On the recent Austin BBQ Tour we had nine journalists and artists in the group, including five photographers. One of those was award-winning DMN staff photographer Tom Fox.

Tom has captured numerous major awards in our industry, including being part of DMN team who won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for photo coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Here's a DMN photo blog post he wrote just yesterday about shooting a historic photo of the five living Presidents at the Bush Library dedication on Thursday.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Posse's Austin BBQ Tour: Is Austin poised to overtake Lockhart as the barbecue capital of Texas?

Stops on the Austin BBQ Tour, clockwise from top left: John Mueller Meat Co., Franklin Barbecue, La Barbecue and Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew. (Photos by Tom Fox/DMN)

The Dallas Morning News just posted Gary Jacobson's story on our recent Austin BBQ Tour on both dallasnews.com and the DMN iPad app. The print story will appear on the in the newspaper's travel section on Sunday.

This may have been the best single day of barbecue we've ever had on tour, sampling four meats from each joint visited. As a collective group, the brisket, ribs, sausage and turkey from La Barbecue, Franklin Barbecue, John Mueller Meat Co. and Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew were outstanding. We had a fifth joint on the itinerary, but Micklethwait Craft Meats had run out of meat for the day by the time we got there at 2 p.m.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Even in Atlanta, they love Texas barbecue and follow the Posse

       Snow's BBQ pit boss Tootsie Tomanetz tends the pits as the sun rises over Lexington. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins)

A recent item posted on Eat It, Atlanta involves a tour of Texas barbecue joints inspired by the Posse, according to its author, who goes by the moniker The Legend.

A group of four barbecue fans -- two hailing from Atlanta, one from Boston and one from Texas -- visited nine joints in 48 hours and scored the brisket and sausage at each,  just as we did on our recent Best of Texas tour.

The group's verdict: Snow's BBQ in Lexington had the best brisket (that was the Posse's verdict, too), La Barbecue in Austin the best sausage and Snow's scored best overall.

Pecan Lodge in Dallas finished fourth in brisket and fifth in sausage.

It was a very tough field. Other places visited included Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Black's Barbecue in Lockhart, Kruez Market in Lockhart, City Market in Luling and Smitty's Market in Lockhart.

Memo to The Legend: Let us know the next time you're in town. We always love talking to people who know good barbecue.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Turkey makes a move to join the royal family of Texas barbecue meats

The turkey breast at Franklin Barbecue was amazing. (Photo by Tom Fox/DMN)

On Posse tours, we've noticed that more joints are adding smoked turkey breast to their menus, so we added it to our standard order during our recent Best of Austin barbecue tour.

Brisket, pork ribs, sausage... and turkey. The holy trinity -- plus one -- of Texas barbecue.

All four places we visited had turkey. Mainly, it was good.

The best we had was at Franklin Barbecue. It was worth the wait in line just to see the meat cutter take the turkey breast from its butter bath, slice several pieces, slosh them in the butter and then flip them on scale.

Yes, they are weighing -- and charging for -- the butter drench.  But it was worth it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mueller ties run deep in BBQ joints on the Posse's Best of Austin Tour

A portrait of the late Bobby Mueller, shot by daughter LeAnn, watches over La Barbecue. (Photo by Tom Fox/DMN)

Follow the roots of most of the joints on our recent Best of Austin tour and they trace back, directly or indirectly, to Texas legend Louie Mueller and his place in Taylor.

LeAnn and John Mueller,  grand children of Louie and children of Bobby, are the most direct links. LeAnn owns La Barbecue. John is the pitmaster at John Mueller Meat Co. They used to work together but then there was that infamous blow up.

Aaron Franklin, owner of Franklin Barbecue, once worked for John Mueller.

Lance Kirkpatrick, pitmaster at Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew, once worked at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor.

John Lewis, pitmaster at La Barbecue, worked with Aaron Franklin at Franklin's and worked briefly with John Mueller.

Monday, April 22, 2013

BBQ is..... A photo project by Posse member Daniel Goncalves

Lance Kirkpatrick, pitmaster at Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves)

Here's a sneak peek at the beginning of an extraordinary photo project by Dallas-based editorial and commercial photographer Daniel Goncalves. As most of you know by now, the Posse is a pretty creative group, made up of Dallas Morning News photojournalists, writers, editors and their friends. With this project, Daniel has raised the creative bar for the Posse.

Daniel writes about the concept:

I love people as much as I love food. The Posse has introduced me to great people and incredible BBQ. While on tour I've been working on a pitmaster portrait series. Photographers usually shoot with digital cameras. At times I get a bit nostalgic and miss the dark room days. A couple of months back I bought a Fuji Instax 210 instant film camera for a road trip to Galveston. It's a compromise between the instant gratification of digital while still shooting film (without the need for chemicals in a darkroom).

Friday, April 19, 2013

No photos allowed, but La Barbecue's John Lewis talks about his new convection smoker

La Barbecue pitmaster John Lewis and his new brisket pit. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

In Texas barbecue, competitive secrets are valuable. And a photograph, apparently, is worth much, much more than a few lousy words in a blog.

No pictures. No pictures, La Barbecue pitmaster John Lewis kept repeating as he gave us a tour of his new pit during our recent tour of the best joints in Austin.

Lewis claims he has built, with the help of his father, the world's first offset convection cooker that operates without any mechanical assists, such as fans or blowers. Offset refers to the firebox hanging off one end of the pit.

He didn't mind talking for publication about his invention. He just didn't want anyone to take a photo, especially of the two ends, which contain all the magic, as far as barbecue is concerned.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

In very stout BBQ company, Stiles Switch takes the day in ribs during the Posse's Austin tour

Posse members enter Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew for our fourth tour stop. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)  

We had a few surprises on our lightning BBQ tour -- 400 miles in 13 hours -- to Austin and back Wednesday. Among them, the great pork ribs we had at Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew.

"That was the best rib I've had in a long time," Posse member Bryan Gooding said. He said the rub had a "wonderful" flavor and the meat was juicy, firm and cooked perfectly. Several other Posse members agreed.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Sneak peek at our Austin BBQ Tour

Lunch no. 1 at Franklin Barbecue. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)
The Posse was wheels up from Dallas early this morning to check out the growing Austin barbecue scene, which we believe could be overtaking Lockhart as the capital of Texas BBQ. This trip was a chance to test that theory.

Stay tuned to the Texas BBQ Posse blog for stories and snippets from the trip. Our reporting will culminate at the end of April with a story in The Dallas Morning News and multimedia on dallasnews.com.

Here's the trip itinerary:

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Posse blog readers: Here's your chance to win free Texas BBQ from FoodyDirect

In the news business, two of the best words you can use in a headline to attract attention are "win" and "free."

Now, because of an offer to Posse blog readers from FoodyDirect, an online food marketplace, we can add two more: "Texas" and "barbecue."

Win free Texas barbecue from either Snow's BBQ in Lexington, Kreuz Market in Lockhart or Black's Barbecue in Lockhart. The food, depending upon the joint selected, is valued at as much as $110. It will be shipped directly to you.

You can qualify for a chance to win by clicking on the FoodyDirect box at the top right of this page or going directly to FoodyDirect's sign-up page. The offer ends May 3 when a winner will be randomly selected.

FoodyDirect is based in Menlo Park, Calif., and offers food from restaurants and specialty shops around the country, including the three top Texas barbecue joints above.

One of the principals of FoodyDirect, which received venture funding last year, is Brad Koenig, one of Silicon Valley's top investment bankers during the early years of the Web. He backed Yahoo's public stock offering.

First Look: The Slow Bone Barbeque in Dallas

All photos by Jim Rossman

It's a great day when I get to eat at a new place.

Today, Jack Perkins, owner of local burger joint Maple and Motor, opened the doors to The Slow Bone Barbeque, his new barbecue restaurant at 2234 Irving Blvd. at the base of the new Sylvan Ave. bridge near the Design District in Dallas.

Jack won the brisket competition at last year's Meat Fight and announced his plans to open Slow Bone late last year.

Well, today was the day.

Video: Pecan Lodge's Justin Fourton shows you how to cook a great brisket

When it comes to smoking a brisket, Pecan Lodge pitmaster and co-owner Justin Fourton is among the best in Texas. Their recent appearance on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives is further evidence of that fact.

However, our photo crew at the Dallas Morning News beat Guy Fieri to the airwaves by a couple of weeks with this video of Justin explaining how to prep, cook and cut a brisket. Staff photographer Vernon Bryant spent a day behind the scenes at Pecan Lodge to bring you some of Justin's secrets. Enjoy.......

Video: Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News, Photo: ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse

Monday, April 15, 2013

More evidence of the Texas BBQ hipster pitmaster, and this one's smoking turkey

Lockhart Smokehouse pitmaster Will Fleischman. (Photo ©Chris WIlkins/Texas BBQ Posse) 

While we were at Lockhart Smokehouse in Dallas the other day, pitmaster Will Fleischman stopped by our table to explain his recent experiments cooking turkey breast. He didn't have high hopes, he admitted, but the final product turned out well and will soon be added to the regular menu.

We tried some and it was excellent.

As Fleischman talked, it occurred to us that here was another example of the phenomenon we wrote about recently, the young hipster pitmaster who is changing Texas barbecue.

Last year Fleischman was named one of the 10 best pitmasters in the south by Southern Living magazine. Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue in Austin was the only other Texan on the list.

Of course, this week in Dallas, we'll get the debut of the anti-hipster pitmaster when Jack Perkins is scheduled to open his Slow Bone joint at Sylvan and Irving Boulevard.

We can't wait.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Lockhart Smokehouse owner wants to add another pit to keep up with demand at his Oak Cliff joint

Our Shiner Platter lunch at Lockhart Smokehouse. Yes, it was a good as it looks. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins)

During an anything-but-light lunch Thursday at Lockhart Smokehouse in Dallas, owner Jeff Bergus said business has been so strong -- up more than 25 percent this year -- that he's thinking of adding a second pit to the big Bewley that the joint has used since opening in early 2011.

Where would it go?

Bergus said he wasn't sure, but pointed out that there is a small, vacant storefront adjacent to the back of his place, which would be one possibility.

Lockhart is now cooking two tons of meat a week, he said, and sometimes selling out.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

First visit to Opie's Barbecue in Spicewood

Opie's Barbecue in Spicewood had been on the "must visit" list for a while. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

The timing could have been better for my first visit to Opie's Barbecue in Spicewood. I was following a hungry Easter crowd, arriving at 2 p.m. and there wasn't a lot of meat left in the large black warming pit that greets you as you walk in the front door.

This joint has been on the Posse's "must visit" list for a while, but unfortunately Spicewood is a little off the beaten path. They've been named a Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ joint twice, in 2003 and 2008, despite only opening for business in 1999. Not to mention that I've never heard a negative comment about Opie's.

And that's rare in the highly emotional and opinionated world of Texas barbecue.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Can you keep a secret? Clyde Biggins looks to expand his underground BBQ operation in West Dallas

Pitmaster Clyde Biggins of Clyde's Rolling Bar-B-Que. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

At Clyde's Rolling Bar-B-Que -- a trailer on Westmoreland Road in West Dallas open two days a week and soon to be three -- there's as much nostalgia on the menu as smoked meat.

"Is that Clyde?" an elderly man said as he stopped his big pickup truck beside Clyde Biggins' barbecue pit last Saturday afternoon.

"It's Clyde," Clyde said.

"Do you know me?" the man in the pickup said.

They talked for several minutes, recalling when, two decades ago, Clyde ran a popular barbecue joint a couple blocks away. But after the man left, Clyde still wasn't exactly sure who he was.

"I've been on vacation for 18 years," Clyde said. "After my vacation, my mind went blank."

Monday, April 8, 2013

Hipster pitmasters? Young guns of BBQ? Resurgence of Texas tradition? There's a BBQ revolution happening and we don't know what to call it

Pecan Lodge pitmaster Justin Fourton and his infamous "Slim Pickins" sign. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves)

As Posse member Jim Rossman and I ate at Pecan Lunch Thursday, we talked about how to characterize what's happening now in Texas barbecue. Something big is going on and it needs a name.

We had just heard BBQ Snob and new Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn call it a "resurgence." He referred to young pitmasters, like Justin Fourton at Pecan Lodge, adopting the old school ways and using only wood to cook for a new generation of barbecue fans.

(Note: To hold our place, Rossman arrived at 10:45 a.m., 15 minutes before opening, and was about 40th in line. Vaughn, by coincidence, was about 10 people ahead. So, we chatted.)

Previously, in Posse circles, we've talked about the new "young guns" of barbecue redefining how we eat the national food of Texas. Nice term.  Good for headlines. But does it really describe what's happening?

Then Rossman said: "Hipster pitmasters."

Friday, April 5, 2013

Our first Posse wedding and our first taste of John Lewis' pitmaster magic at La Barbecue in Austin

Ali cuts Easter brisket at La Barbecue "Cuisine Texicana" in Austin. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse) 

Over a three-day period recently, Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins and I each ate at La Barbecue "Cuisine Texicana" the trailer start-up in Austin featuring pitmaster John Lewis -- and free beer.

Comparing notes later, we agreed that La Barbecue would have fared well in our recent Best of Texas Tour.

We didn't include it because the joint opened last November and has been operating only a few months. Longevity is a consideration.

On this trip, we went to Austin for the wedding of Posse members Libby Jacobson, my daughter, and Mike Gagne. It was the first wedding in the four-year history of the Posse.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Catching up with pitmaster Travis Mayes at Meshack's Bar-Be-Que Shack in Garland

The Tuesday lunch crowd at MeShack's Bar-Be-Que Shack in Garland. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

It had been too long, so I went out to visit old BBQ friends in Garland on Tuesday.

Travis and Donna Mayes opened the now legendary Meshack's Bar-Be-Que Shack in May 2009. They led the way to a renaissance of Dallas barbecue that has been exhilarating, including the opening of Pecan Lodge and Lockhart Smokehouse. New joints continue to open in the D/FW area almost monthly now, some good, some bad.

BBQ snob Daniel Vaughn put MeShack's on the map in late 2009, giving them his first four-star rating in the D/FW area. We made the first of many visits there in March 2010, thrilled to find a great BBQ joint within driving distance of downtown Dallas for lunch.

After dining on brisket sandwiches and burnt ends on my tailgate on Tuesday, Marshall Cooper and I got a chance to catch up with Donna and Travis.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

BBQ Signs of Our Times is back

Country Kitchen, Lampasas. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

A Posse rule of thumb: The cooler the sign, the better the barbecue. Nine times out of ten this has proved true.

BBQ Signs of our Times is back once again,with some memorable signs from our last trip to the Hill Country and points in between. This is our seventh blog post on classic BBQ signs. You can use the search box in the upper right of the Posse blog homepage if you'd like to see some other sign posts, just search "BBQ Signs of Our TImes".

If you happen to see a cool sign while you're out on the Texas BBQ Trail, please snap a photo and keep us in mind. If you're a fan of our Texas BBQ Posse Facebook page, you can upload a photo for us to include on a future BBQ signs blog post.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Miller's Smokehouse in Belton, one of the best-kept secrets in Texas BBQ

Dirk Miller chats with a customer outside Miller's Smokehouse in downtown Belton. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins) 

One of the best-kept secrets in Texas BBQ is located just a stone's throw from Interstate 35 in downtown Belton.

The next time you're speeding down the freeway on your way to stand in line for two hours to get BBQ in Austin, you might want to take the Main Street exit in Belton to 208 N Penelope St., the home of Miller's Smokehouse.

I dropped in for a late lunch at Miller's on my way to Austin on Friday. This was my third visit there and it was quite good the first time Marshall Cooper and I visited a year ago. It was exceptional on Friday.