October 26, 2010

A Greasy Ring of Heaven, Wrapped in Snappy Casing

Let me tell you about barbecue.  I  have have had by no means a horrible barbecue education - I have lived in/traveled through North Carolina and there are few things better than a little wooden barbecue place stuck in between some mountains  with red and white checkered tablecloths, sweet tea, and that vinegar-y pulled pork goodness they love up there.  Especially on a cold day.  After I moved away, though, I gradually lost my way and ended up at a point where I was pretty excited to go to Sonny's for their 12 meat plate with who-knows-what and green beans.  Oh how I lost my way....

I had heard about Texas barbecue from foodie type shows...it looked good on TV and everybody from Memphis or Kansas City is always angry about it.  In a book I got soon after moving here called "Fixin' to be Texan" (very funny book for someone moving to Texas but way funnier once you've been here for a little while), Helen Bryant describes Texas barbecue like this:

"What makes Texas barbecue wonderful is smoke.  The smokey taste provides that indescribably wonderful feeling that grips your body when your mouth communes with a late cow or pig.  Forget about what you know about barbecue: charcoal cooked baby back ribs, pulled pork, or that Sloppy Joe stuff.  Texas barbecue is slow smoked in a big pit...in many popular Texas barbecue spots, you're served a big mess of the stuff not on a plate, but on a piece of butcher paper.  No sauce.  The smoking pits inside these places are often so huge that customers, too, become smoked.  Your hair will smell like barbecue until you wash it, and in the unhappy event that you were to be sliced, you would doubtless have a nice, pink smoke ring."  

After having been to one of these such places a few times, I now get Texas barbecue...and I see what I have been missing all these years.  The hilly barbecue mecca of Lockhart, Texas (population 75 people, 678,097 pigs and cows) is our favorite place to eat if we're within 3 1/2 hours of it.  (Houston is within 3 1/2 hours - our budget is sunk).  The town actually two amazing barbecue places, Smitty's  and Kreutz's.  The places used to be one barbecue joint  but some business/family issues forced them to split into 2 businesses that do the same thing a slightly different way.  I gather people swear up and down by one or the other but, having only been to Smitty's (so far) that heated conflict is for another post.

Smitty's is our current place of choice - and it's just how it's described in that book.  You come in through a back door to a big black room with two huge fires warming all the smoked goodness you can handle in huge brick pits. 

 You can tell a place means business by the lumber yard out back and the years of meaty soot covering the brick walls.

You order whatever combination of sausage, ribs, brisket or pork chops you want by the pound and they mound it all on some red butcher paper with stacks of cheap white bread.

The brisket can be hit-and miss here sometimes, but the shining stars are the sausage and ribs...never have I tasted anything as good as their sausage and ribs.  Most sausage in Texas is way overly spiced and ground up way too fine into a mass produced mediocrity.  This is different - it's smokey (of course) and has an incredible texture and *snap* from the casing (I learned that's good from watching hot dog shows on Food Network :-).  It's slightly spiced so that you can actually taste how good the meat is inside it...with..what is it?  Nutmeg maybe?  I don't know.  Now I'm just daydreaming and drooling on my shirt.  Back to it.  

Again, there is no sauce for you.  There's just this, and you just shouldn't bother, especially if anyone's watching you: 

Your side item options are very few, and they're really just filler, right?, so don't bother with those either.  Makes less room for meat and bread and tea.    

Once you're stuffed to pieces with all that incredible stuff, there's a Bluebell Ice Cream cart, but we've never been able to roll ourselves that far....yet.  All in all, this is one of my best experiences in Texas, and I highly recommend it...even if it's 2 hours out of the way.  And it always is.  And they close at 6pm.  Tell 'em Andrew and Allison sent you and you'll get precisely nothing...but you will have possibly the best barbecue experience available to you on this planet (until we figure out Pluto really IS a planet and it's sole purpose in the universe is not being an iceball, but supplying incredible barbecue to the solar system). 
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