Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Best Barbeque in Texas...? A Quest for Brisket

This weekend, I accompanied the Floyd brothers and Shannon to the Middle of Nowhere, TX(population: a few people + lots of chickens + and numerous cows). Our mission: to eat the best barbeque brisket in Texas at a rustic shack in Lexington named Snow's Barbeque.

This wouldn't be as simple as hopping in the car and lollygagging out to Snow's. This little barbeque joint is only open Saturday, and even then, only until the meat runs out. Following glowing coverage by Texas Monthly magazine where Snow's was declared the best barbeque in Texas, more and more food tourists from all over the state have travelled to Lexington. Prior to noon most saturdays, the barbeque runs out, and the restaurant closes. Tough luck to all the city slickers who woke up too late, drove too slowly, or lingered a little long at Starbucks.
Our departure time was set for 6:30 a.m. The prospect of waking up so early and driving over an hour for barbeque initially led me to dismiss the idea out of hand. Maybe someone could bring me back a few slices of brisket so that I could sleep. Over the next couple of days, the idea grew on me. This felt like one of those carpe diem "life is short" opportunities, so I signed on for some bbq goodness.
We arrived at before 8 a.m. This scene was exactly like a barbeque place should be. Giant, rust-speckled grain silos loomed just across the street. Some nearby roosters just wouldn't stop crowing. Huge pickups rumbled past towing trailers full of noisily mooing cows. There was already a line full of groggy but cheerful folks snaking out the door.

I passed the time in line yawning and checking out the barbeque pits that were being tended busily by the pit-master (73 year-old Tootsie Tomanetz) and her crew. With five or six huge black metal smoker pits as well as several large trailer-mounted barrel smokers, this was a pretty serious operation.
Fragrant oak smoke and barbeque aromas filled the morning air as the Snow's staff constantly opened and closed the smokers to check the meats and apply mop sauce, and my stomach started grumbling. I'm not a big breakfast guy, but watching the aluminum pans piled high with black-crusted briskets shuttling from the smokers into the restaurant was almost too much to bear.

Service started up at 8 a.m., and I placed my order: one pound of brisket, one half pound of pork, and one pound of pork ribs. The brisket was the main event, but as a native Alabaman it was great to see barbeque pork on the menu (see also Dreamland BBQ: the best pork ribs ever). I was handed a serving of sauce (deliciously sweet and tangy) in a repurposed Ozarka water bottle. On the way out, I grabbed a bowl of the beans (always free, according to the sign). Free beans!

We grabbed a picnic table outside next to the barbeque pits, and got down to business. Would the brisket live up to the hype and justify the trip? Well, the pork was pretty solid, but the rub was a little on the salty side. The brisket exceeded my high expectations. The crucial crust and smoke ring in the meat were present and flavorful. But what made this special was the melt-in-your mouth tenderness of the meat. This wasn't health food. This wasn't a dessicated "lean" cut of beef to gnaw over and drown in sauce . This brisket was silky, artery-clogging, and freaking delicious.

This is the best brisket that I have ever tasted. Of course, I haven't visited the other top contenders like Kreuz's, Opies, or Louis Mueller (a deficiency that will soon be remedied). The trip was a little long, and I was wiped out for the rest of the weekend, but this was a successful food pilgrimage.

Here's an Austin American Statesman article about Snow's. The word is getting out!

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