Saturday, June 20, 2015

How to plan the perfect Texas BBQ tour

Pecan Lodge in Dallas is a don't miss stop on any DFW BBQ tour. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)
The Posse is approaching its sixth anniversary of driving the cities, towns and backroads of Texas in search of great barbecue. Inspired by Texas Monthly magazine's 2008 list of the Best BBQ joints in Texas, our original group of six hit the road in early November 2009.

Six years later, we've made dozens of trips around the state, sharing our stories on this blog and in The Dallas Morning News. Here are a few things we've learned along the way.

1. Do your research: There's no substitute for good planning when it comes to barbecue tours. You have access to plenty of good information on the internet. Find a couple of sites you trust and go from there. When we began in 2009, the go-to source was Daniel Vaughn's Full Custom Gospel BBQ blog, but it's been inactive for several years since he became barbecue editor for Texas Monthly. However, Daniel writes for and maintains the magazine's current website for all things Texas BBQ.

I usually avoid using Yelp or Google reviews as a guide, the feedback rarely comes from people who really know barbecue, IE: "Dickey's brisket is great!" (You get the idea.) Another favorite of ours is Don O's Texas BBQ blog. Don and his friend Scott really know their BBQ and blanket the state looking for the next great joint. You can also check out our interactive Google map of the Posse's favorite Texas BBQ joints. A list of some of our favorite barbecue tours also appears on the right side of the Posse blog.

2. Pace yourself: It took us a year or two to really figure this one out, but it's crucial to having a successful tour.  You may be eating some of the greatest brisket in the world for breakfast at Snow's BBQ, but you have three or four more stops during the day. It takes practice, but limit yourself to a snack, not a full meal.

We usually eat a bite or two of brisket, sausage and turkey/chicken, along with a rib at each stop. Of course you will order more than a few bites, but that's where the cooler and ice in your trunk come in for. Take some home. And when you get there, you'll the most popular person in the dining room as your family and friends relive your tour, digging into the best barbecue they've ever eaten.

The Posse digs in at Louie Mueller Barbecue on our first tour in Nov. 2009. (Gary Barber/Texas BBQ Posse)

3. Group size matters:  Our tour groups have varied from four to more than 20 participants. Since the Posse usually travels with more than a few photographers, writers and videographers, we found the large groups pretty much overwhelmed some small BBQ joints.

We've found the perfect size to be around eight, so you can travel in a couple of cars and order pretty quickly. With eight folks, you also get a lot of BBQ opinion and debate going at the table. That's a big part of the fun on a barbecue tour.

4. Don't be bashful: The Texas BBQ community consists of some of the greatest people you'll ever meet. Strike up a conversation with the owner and/or pitmaster and you might just end up in the pit room talking BBQ secrets. Don't be pushy if the line is out the door though, these folks have to make hay while the grass is growing.

4. Find diversions along the way: It may be tempting, but you can't eat barbecue non-stop. (See above: No. 2. Pace yourself.) Texas is full of cool things to see along the way, so keep your eyes open for great diversions as you plan your tour.

Does your tour include a stop at the legendary Leon’s World Finest In & Out Bar-B-Que House in Galveston? Follow your visit with a Gulf of Mexico beach break to burn those barbecue calories. Stopping at Posse favorite Kirby's Barbeque in Mexia? Your next stop could be nearby at historic Fort Parker, where the legend of Comanche chief Quanah Parker began.

We've also been known to pack a set of horseshoes and a few chilled beverages, stopping at a local park for a recreation break between BBQ joints. Anything to get you ready to eat at the next tour stop.

5. Follow the smoke:  Keep your eyes open for unexpected stops along the way. Some of our most memorable stops have been the unforeseen ones, when someone saw a pit bellowing smoke and we pulled over, usually making new friends along the way. Meeting the citizens of the great BBQ nation of Texas will never grow old.

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

The Posse began its first anniversary tour at the original Franklin Barbecue in Austin in 2010.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Cattleack Barbecue's Todd David reveals his secrets for great pastrami -- some of his secrets anyway

Cattleack BBQ pitmaster/owner Todd David works the cutting board. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)
After eating at Cattleack Barbecue last Saturday, the Posse declared the Dallas joint the equal of any in town. We especially loved the pastrami. Salty with a hint of sweet, the taste pleasantly lingered long after swallowing.

During an email exchange this week, I asked pit master Todd David for more details about how he prepared his pastrami. Here, in edited form, are his comments:

"I have made pastrami a few times in the past in all my experimenting but never for the public. While my experience with eating great pastrami comes from my growing up in St. Louis as well as many trips to New York, I have always made mine to have a Texas familiarity.

"The meats used were whole briskets and whole beef bellies.

"They went through an extensive brining process along with salt, sugar, and spices.

"After the brine, we rinsed the meat, dried it and then applied a dry rub.

"The meats were then smoked just like our regular briskets, wrapped in butcher paper and rested. They were never steamed because I have never done that except on crab legs. I know they do that in New York but I like how we smoke meat in Texas and have always done it that way.

"The only thing we did for the first time this go around was the beef belly. I have always used only brisket in the past."

We asked David for a more details about his recipe, particulary whether he used allspice, which a friend said she detected. David replied:

"While I do keep our recipes private, I can give you a pretty good feel what we do.

Smoked brisket pastrami at Cattleack BBQ. (Photo©Jim Rossman/Texas BBQ Posse)

"It's very typical pickling/brining spices and yes allspice is one of them but I don’t think that is where she is tasting it.

"In addition to standard brining spices (red pepper, allspice, bay leaves, mustard seed, and so on) we add standard aromatics (garlic, onion, celery, carrots, and so on).

"Nothing is unusual. I do not try to be different or unique since most folks know what they like and too much variance brings too much social media criticism.

"My focus is about doing our best or as we say 'Branded the Best.' When we put our brand on it, we want folks to know it is our best at that time.

"O.K., back to the brine. It is brought up to a boil so salt, sugar, etc., can dissolve. Shocked with ice if I am in a hurry or just cooled.

"Once cooled we add our meat. It must be completely submerged and weight added to keep it that way. We keep it in the walk-in for at least a couple of weeks. We visit with it everyday, making sure everyone is happy, and move the pieces around so they do not get bored in the same position.

"After that hiatus, they are bathed to allow surface removal of all that we can. They are now corned beef.

"They are then dried well and ready for their rub down. While I won’t go through the entire mix, its primarily black pepper, coriander, and juniper berries. Again the standard pastrami rub. Nothing is out of the normal.

"After they rest with their rub they are smoked just like our briskets but not quite as long.

"I have not done pastrami enough to vary items to tell you where the different tastes come from. I feel the initial taste is the rub and the long-term taste is the meat and brining combined."

Cattleack BBQ, 13628 Gamma Road, Dallas, 972-499-0999. Open: Thurs & Fri 10:30am-2pm. Website:
Pastrami, brisket & pulled pork at Cattleack BBQ. (Photo ©Bryan Gooding/Texas BBQ Posse)

Monday, June 15, 2015

'Nobody better' in Dallas than Cattleack Barbecue

Lunch sampling of brisket, pulled pork, beer bacon beef sausage & brisket pastrami at Cattleack BBQ. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

There may be some prophets of smoked meat, but too bad there aren't more poets.

The Posse could have used one last Saturday because the smoked pastrami that Todd David served at Cattleack Barbecue deserved an ode, if not a sonnet.

"That's the barbecue gauntlet right there," Posse member Bryan Gooding said of the pastrami. "Everybody else is going to have to figure out how to do it."

Sliced from the lean end, the meat glistened on the tray. Salty with a hint of sweet, the taste lingered pleasantly long after swallowing.

Cattleack, located on Gamma Road not far from the Dallas Galleria, is usually open only Thursdays and Fridays for lunch. But David has been staging some special Saturdays lately.

This past Saturday was particularly special. In addition to the pastrami, David served whole hog, as well as brisket, sausage and smoked bologna.

Pitmaster Todd David points out the Saturday menu for diners.
Posse members started going to Cattleack right after it opened two years ago. Jim Rossman, in fact, might have been the first blogger to review the joint.

"The beef was perfectly cooked and the fat had rendered into that silky-salty state that we’re all searching for," he wrote in May 2013. "This was really good brisket."

Since then, we've been back many times, particularly Rossman, who says he eats at Cattleack about three times a month.

"There's nobody better in town," Rossman said of David. "He's all around, too. Not just brisket and ribs. He's always willing to experiment."

He got no argument Saturday from the three other Posse members in attendance. We loved the pastrami, the brisket, the pork and the sausage.

Notice the wording: "Nobody better." That means the Posse is putting Cattleack in the same category as Pecan Lodge, ranked among the top joints in the state by Texas Monthly.

That's elite company.

Initially, Cattleack was open one day a week for take-out lunches. Now, it's normally open two days, with eat-in seating. David and his wife, Misty, also run a catering business.

Made from brisket, pastrami is cured in brine, rubbed with spices and smoked. It's very popular in New York-style delis.

"I've never heard about it in a barbecue place," Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins said.

I liked the pastrami so much that I ordered a pound to go. We ate some -- re-heated -- with dinner Saturday night and I made a cold pastrami sandwich, with a slice of raw onion, for lunch on Sunday.

Best sandwich I've had in a long, long time. Can't say that about cold brisket.

Cattleack BBQ, 13628 Gamma Road, Dallas, 972-499-0999. Open: Thurs & Fri 10:30am-2pm. Website:
Todd David works the cutting board on a busy Saturday at Cattleack BBQ. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)
Brisket and two kinds of brisket pastrami, fatty & lean, sit on the Cattleack cutting board. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)
Pitmaster/owner Todd David also smoked a whole hog for the Saturday special occasion. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)
Cattleack BBQ, 13628 Gamma Rd. in Addison. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)