BBQ, History and Wine…What a trifecta of fun. Yes, perhaps a strange combination but in Texas it just worked. I am going to break this trip into three parts because everything is bigger in Texas so there is no way to cover it all in one sitting!
Our recent road trip sans the Road House took us from Palm Springs, CA to Austin TX and back. In just over a week, we traveled over 2,500 miles round trip not counting all the day trips around Hill Country. I can tell you this for sure, it is way easier and more comfortable traveling in our RV. On the other hand, there is no way we would have done the long distance drives to get to Texas in the RV that we did in the car.
Given my ridiculous attraction to good food, let me just start by saying I ate more BBQ Brisket during our week in Texas than I did in the last few years. There was one day we had BBQ for lunch and dinner… it is just that good!!! We did have some other terrific meals so never fear there were some vegetables in my diet too.
Pork ribs, sausage, turkey, beef ribs, and pulled pork typically round out a menu, but no plate of Texas barbecue is complete without brisket. Brisket is king and how it’s cooked is considered the true measure of a pit master’s skill. If Texas had a list of barbecue commandments, Thou Shalt Order Brisket would be No. 1.
Want to get the best serving of brisket every time? Make sure you know what to ask for. Here are some pointers on how to order at any BBQ joint worth their salt…
The brisket is essentially broken down into two areas, which are most commonly referred to as the lean and the moist. This can vary regionally and even how the brisket is sliced varies, but if you say lean or moist that should make sense to any brisket slicer.
Brisket is cut from the breast section just below the chuck (there are two per carcass), and consists of two distinct areas separated by a layer of fat. The point (also called the deckle) is the richly marbled, fatty section that sits on top of the flat, the bigger, leaner bottom section.
Lean (flat, dry, bottom) – This is the typical brisket slice most people think of when it comes to brisket. These slices are typically long and skinny and have the nice ring of smoke around the edges. If done properly it should still be plenty moist, but little if any noticeable fat.
Moist (point, top, wet, loose) – This part of the brisket has a lot more fat marbled into the meat. Most if not all should be rendered into the meat, but you may still see some of the fat streaks in the meat. Obviously, this will be much juicier and have more flavor.
In Texas they don’t typically serve a little of both on every order but do ask what your preference is – moist or lean? Me, I am a moist girl, every dang time. Maybe it’s my southern roots?
Another good thing to know…white bread, onions, and pickles are free. Condiment stations are always loaded with quartered white onions, pickles, and cheap white bread. There might occasionally be a charge for more premium bread or fancy pickles, but the standards should definitely come for free. Oh, don’t forget the pickled jalapeños to really kick things up a notch.
Finally, thanks to exorbitant licensing fees and a complicated labyrinth of laws that govern how establishments in Texas can serve and sell alcohol, many Texas BBQ joints are BYOB. Bring a six pack or a full cooler, they won’t bat an eye!
Once we crossed the Texas border, something happened, a vortex if you will, pulling us closer to the BBQ mecca. Fort Stockton, best I can tell isn’t the mecca for anything but we had to stop for BBQ because yes, there was a BBQ joint listed on Google. Practically dying of boredom as the drive from El Paso to Fort Stockton was flat, dull and mind numbing, Dickey’s BBQ was just what we needed to breathe some life back in to all of us.
The place wasn’t much to look at from the outside, but you could smell the smoke when you stepped out of the car. Inside, it was just what a BBQ joint should look like and it smelled like delicious BBQ heaven. Granted Dickey’s is a chain but the BBQ was damn good and it gave us the will to keep driving on for another 5 hours!
Our next BBQ fix came the day after Christmas, after reading this quote about the Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood…I knew we had to go. According to Scott Roberts, owner of Texas’ famous Salt Lick BBQ restaurant, “The United States is the best damn country in the world, and Texas is the best damn state in the country – doesn’t that just logically mean that we would have the best damn barbecue?” Well, your damn right on all counts Scott!!!
When the Salt Lick opened in 1967, it was just a limestone pit built into the Roberts’ family land. Over the more than 50 years since then, they’ve built an entire restaurant around the original pit, adding indoor lighting, running water, and all of the other amenities necessary to a functional restaurant.
What a place… a big sprawling outdoor seating area with mega smokers billowing and cavernous indoor family style seating plus a honest the goodness BBQ pit burning away. This time I went big (it’s Texas right) and had the moist brisket with BBQ bison ribs followed by a slice of Pecan Pie. Whoa, howdy was that delicious.
Our other favorite BBQ was San Marcos BBQ. Not only was it exceptionally good food, it was so good we had lunch and brought more Q for dinner. The owner, Justin Pearson is a great guy and I really enjoyed chatting with him after lunch. Working hard and good food are two things this young man takes very seriously. His website write-up really spoke to me:
“I was born and raised in Luling, Texas, where we take two things very seriously: good BBQ and watermelon. I spent my summers working with the watermelon farmers, where I learned the value of working hard. I also worked alongside my grandfather at his restaurant, Chisolm Trail BBQ, where I learned the passion that goes into creating truly good food.
After graduating from Texas State University, I decided to bring my passion for great BBQ to the amazing city of San Marcos. That is how San Marcos BBQ and Catering came to be.
Great BBQ brings people together. It requires hard work and dedication. It allows for innovation and creativity. The mission of my restaurant is to bring joy to as many people as possible, through excellent food, friendly service, and a family atmosphere. Nothing makes me happier than seeing the smile on a customer’s face. That’s the best part of working hard and making good food.”
Many thanks to Justin and all the great BBQ Pit Master’s out there…I am definitely feeling joyful and smiling at the thought of more good brisket. Being around this much good BBQ has us wanting to up our Pit Master skills. So, we don’t actually have a BBQ pit but we do have an awesome Traeger Smoker which we use for grilling and smoking just about everything.
I have also been wanting to add a recipe section to the blog and was inspired by the work ethic of all those amazing pit master’s. So in their honor, please check out my new page – Epicurious where you will find my favorite home BBQ brisket recipe ~ Bon Appétit.