How many slices of brisket can one person eat?
The crucial mistake for anyone attending the annual Texas Monthly BBQ Fest is not having a plan. I don’t mean a plan for which spot you’re going to hit first. I mean a plan for how many bites of barbecue you plan to consume in a four-hour period. As anyone who has attended will attest, the moment you get into the fest it’s a dash to get a plate of barbecue into your hands. Here comes the mistake: You eat that entire little plate of barbecue thinking, “Oh, it’s just one rib, one slice of brisket and one slice of sausage.” Two or three baby plates and you wonder how you’re going to possibly eat 27 more bites of barbecue. This is why you need a plan. And with this plan you can—and will—succeed.
The BBQ Fest is a glorious tribute to Texas barbecue and just Texas in general. Every four years Texas Monthly rates the top 50 barbecue joints in the Lone Star State. The festival brings together about 30 of those into one spot for one weekend, attracting barbecue lovers near and far.
One ticket grants you access to barbecue nirvana, and if you’re brave enough to try, you can eat 30 different barbecues all in one (usually humid) afternoon.
I, like many others, did not have a plan. So when I got my first plate from Louie Mueller I ate the whole thing greedily. It featured a burnt end, and I’m a sucker for a burnt end. I ate that plate while waiting in line for temporarily shuttered Franklin. And when I was still in line after 15 minutes—a mere blink compared to its infamous six-hour lines on E. 11th Street—I grabbed a plate from Hutchins BBQ. The fact that a few weeks ago I drove four hours to Hutchins to order two pounds of ribs to bring back to Austin is irrelevant. I’ve been a Hutchins loyalist for years and there was no way I wasn’t going to pay homage.
Does brisket taste better if Aaron Franklin himself cuts the slice that ends up on your plate? I would argue yes. That sauce though. The Franklin Barbecue sauce is just right. It’s not too sweet nor too spicy, but it’s just enough of each. It pairs perfectly with their pulled pork, which may as well just melt in your mouth. If you’ve been to Franklin then you already know these things.
On the way to Snow’s BBQ, voted #1 on the list, I grabbed a plate at Terry Black’s. It featured a michelada sausage with pineapple, lime and Tajin along with a slice of brisket with a piece of smoked bacon. The michelada sausage and bacon are not on their regular menu, so it was a treat to try these items.
Snow’s tasting plate offered a classic combo: rib, brisket, sausage. The brisket had a pronounced smoke ring, and the ribs lived up to their fame with a flavorful dry-rub. A little of the tangy sauce on the side and you’re in business.
This was about the moment where I needed a break. I was headed to a covered tent with tables and chairs when I spotted local favorites La Barbecue and Micklethwait. There was no way I was going to pass those up. La Barbecue is just perfection. Their brisket cannot be beat, in my opinion. I also love that they have two sauces, tangy and sweet. The pickle was a welcomed change from all the meats. La Barbecue was for sure one of my favorite spots of the day.
After my momentary break, I waddled over to Pody’s, Cattleack BBQ and finally Pinkerton’s. When I lived in Dallas, all I wanted was to eat at Cattleack’s. I had heard tales of brisket so dark, so crusty, that I knew my life would be severely lacking until I had it. Unfortunately, I never made it before I moved to Austin. They were only open at lunch two days a week when I lived there—they have since expanded their hours to include lunch the first Saturday of the month.
My life is lacking no more. Despite how full I was, Cattleack’s Wagyu pastrami burnt ends reminded me why I ever fell in love with barbecue.
The flavor imparted into this pastrami was layered and complex. It was New York deli meets Texas pit barbecue and I’m not mad about it. In fact, I need more of this and quick.
The Texas Monthly BBQ Fest is a celebration of chefs, pitmasters and everyday Joes telling their story through smoked meats. There is no better way to feel all the Texas feels than at this purely Texas festival. Texas forever!
Cover photo by Robert Gomez