AUSTIN — Texans love a good brisket.
Take note of that if you plan to start your own barbecue joint. Sure, we love a good rack of ribs, sausage and even some smoked chicken, but you better have a great brisket on your menu or no one will come back for seconds.
That was the message at the 2013 Texas Monthly BBQ Fest on the grounds of the Long Center for the Performing Arts here.
The event, which sold out long ago, attracted thousands of meat eaters who indulged their smoky fantasies by being able to go from one booth to another to sample barbecue from 21 of the places that made the magazine’s 50 best barbecue joints in the state.
The weather was cool and breezy, meaning we didn’t need to use the fans that were packed in our brown paper bags passed out at the entry tables. The music was jazz early on, then gospel, blues and finally some indie rock. “Watering stations” served beer and drinks and row after long row of tables, covered in red tablecloths, provided plenty of room for people to take a breather — or eat their meaty sample in comfort.
Stands included places as far flung as Hatfield’s BBQ in Rockport next to Pody’s BBQ from Pesos and Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue up in Tyler. Having all of these people in one place was the perfect way for the patrons to sample styles, make notes and compare to their heart’s — and belly’s — content.
Though the waterfront area was filled with so many thousand visitors, a few booths ran out within an hour. Lines were long, especially for the legendary likes of Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Snow’s BBQ in Lexington and Pecan Lodge in Dallas. Many of these people get lines every day, so the festival was business as usual for them.
Kent Black of Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart was one participant who hoped he didn’t run out. He had packed up “half-a-ton” of meat the night before to bring with them, so he would have enough to feed anyone who wanted some. It’s the same philosophy he uses to run his family restaurant.
Buzzie’s Bar-B-Q in Kerrville had a few ribs and sausage bites available late, but they ran out of potato salad early on. They were the only stand that offered tastes beyond meat and sauce.
“You’re too late for the potato salad,” said Brenda Hughes, who owns the place with her husband. “We gave out 3,000 servings of that.”
We settled for some fine pinto beans.
But the majority of the barbecue talk was about brisket: the crust, the color, the smoke ring, the moistness or the dryness of the meat, the size of the cut, the burnt ends, the fat layer, the rub, the salt level, the heat of the black pepper, the flavor of beef, the way it washed down with Big Red or beer, and the way there always seemed to be room for one more bite.
The afternoon was research for Bonnie Walker and I. We’re working on a new book, “Barbecue Lovers’ Guide to Texas,” which should be out in June 2014.