Barbecue Joints Rustle Up Some Grub at Texas Festival
Iconic Austin, Texas is famous for its annual South by Southwest music festival, country music legend Willie Nelson, Spy Kids filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, and of course, its peculiar politicians.
But now, Austin is poised to become the “Woodstock of Texas barbecue” with Texas Monthly magazine’s third annual BBQ Festival. This month, an estimated 3,000 carnivores will descend on the city to devour a ton of barbecue from nearly 25 of the state’s best joints.
“We started the BBQ Festival in 2010 as a way to celebrate Texas barbecue, something Texans love and we write about frequently,” said Cathy Casey, vice president of editorial licensing and communication for the Austin-based magazine.
With a loyal readership of more than 2.5 million, TM invited the top 50 barbecue joints featured in its 2008 issue to rustle up some grub for the paying public. The invitation-only event has been successful in rounding up almost half of the 50 barbecue joints first touted in the magazine.
“All Barbecue joints who were on our “Top 50” list from the June 2008 issue are invited to participate at the festival, as well as all runners-up included in that issue. If you do not see a particular restaurant or city on the list of festival participants, they have opted not to attend,” Casey said.
The event showcases sizzling, delectable barbecue, a favorite Texas comfort food whose only rival is Tex-Mex food. Barbecue joint owners and their pit masters travel to Austin from mega cities such as Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth, as well as Texas outposts such as Lillian, Palestine, Taylor, and Lockhart to participate.
Once in Austin, gigantic tents are pitched and smokers are lit to begin the enormous communal cookout amid a backdrop of live music. Entertainment runs the gamut from Country, Western and Texas swing, to Rockabilly, Tejano and R&B.
Pit masters offer mouth-watering samples of beef brisket, pulled-pork, pork ribs and succulent sausages cooked at a snail’s pace. For some, that means 24 hours of low, slow cooking. Some joints offer samples of barbecue-style turkey and chicken as well.
Salt Lick Bar-B-Q in Driftwood, 24 miles southwest of Austin, is one of nearly two dozen joints participating at the festival. The picture-perfect venue, on the shores of picturesque Lady Bird Lake at Long Center for the Performing Art’s City Terrace, lends itself to outdoor cooking.
"Only Open Pit in the USA!" Photo courtesy and copyright Salt Lick Bar-B-Que in Driftwood, Texas
“This will be the second year we participate. But this year, we’ll be giving away fresh homemade flour tortillas with our brisket. We tried it at the Austin Food & Wine festival this year, so we’re doing at the barbecue festival,” said Salt Lick owner Scott Roberts.
Salt Lick’s barbecue legacy goes back generations, and its hand-built open pit surprises many newcomers to the rural restaurant. The rustic pit may be the only one of its kind in Texas, and the nation. But for Roberts, the open pit represents Salt Lick’s genesis.
“I can’t tell you if there are other open pits in Texas or anywhere else. But I, with the help of another man, built that open pit. My father used to cook and serve from it. So it represents 47 years we’ve been in business. Now it’s the center of everything. We built other buildings around it, and we can now seat 800 people,” said Roberts.
Salt Lick is one of those off-the-beaten-path barbecue joints that attracted Food Network chef Bobby Flay, and the Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food” host Adam Richman, through word-of-mouth advertising.
“Bobby Flay liked our beef ribs and Adam Richman liked our brisket for its taste, texture and burnt, which is the part that browns quicker than the rest,” said Roberts, adding that he usually cooks the brisket for 22 to 24 hours.
Some of the beef and pork fare is hickory or mesquite smoked. Most meats are rubbed with special herbs and spices. Barbecue sauces are a well-kept secret with some owners and pit masters. Traditional sides, offered at some of the festival stands, include Pinto beans, potato salad and white bread, never wheat.
Fort Worth-based Cousin’s Bar-B-Q is one of several barbecue joints that has also smoked and grilled its way into barbecue stardom. Owned by Calvin “Boots” and Beverly Paine, the restaurant has served former President George H. Bush, among other celebs.
Cousin’s was also hailed “Best Representative of Real Authentic American Barbecue” by Euro Disney, which followed up by inviting Cousin’s to Europe to open a barbecue joint. It was included in the “Top 50 Barbecue Joints in Texas” by Texas Monthly in 2008.
Tyler-based Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q, owned and operated by Jen and Nick Pencis, was hailed as having the “Best Pork Ribs” by TM magazine in 2010 and 2011. The dynamic duo took the reins of the 60-year-old barbecue joint in 2000.
Last year, festival organizers launched a “newcomer” category in order to include barbecue establishments that had opened after the 2008 issue was published. The first inductee was Austin’s popular Franklin Barbecue, where you can wash down a “Tipsy Texan” sandwich ($8) with a $2 Mexican Coke.
Owners Stacy and Aaron Franklin started the barbecue eatery in 2009 in a travel trailer in a parking lot on Austin’s east side. Now, with publicity from the Washington Post, the Cooking Channel and other media, they are among barbecue’s elite joints.
“We were not open yet in the trailer when the last barbecue issue of Texas Monthly came out. Texas Monthly has been familiar with our food ever since we opened,” said Stacy, whose customers stood in long lines prior to the couple’s move to a brick-and-mortar building on the same side of town.
“We definitely want to keep our best brisket title from last year, and give people who have been unable to wait in our line a chance to try our food. Starting in the next few months we’ll be expanding our building and our cooking abilities. This should give us the ability to have a walk-up, to-go window,” said Stacy.
This year’s newcomer is the Pecan Lodge. Diane and Justin Fourton, former consultants with Accenture, opened the Pecan Lodge in 2010. The barbecue joint is based in the Dallas Farmer’s Market.
It has already garnered rave reviews from the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” television show and others. Pat Sharpe, TM magazine food editor, selected the newcomer, Casey explained.
In 2010, the festival’s inaugural year, tickets sold as fast as slow-cooked brisket. This year, tickets went on sale in July, and sold-out within hours. The tickets sold for $58 apiece. VIP tickets were much more, but were equally hard to obtain.
“As in prior years, tickets to the festival sold quickly. We even increased the total attendance from 1,000 to 3,000 between 2010 and 2011 festivals. Since it’s a sell-out, no tickets are available for purchase at the door. But I understand that some are available for sale on Craig’s List,” said Casey.
So anyone planning a Texas vacation next fall, with barbecue in mind, needs to be on the lookout for TM’s BBQ ticket sale announcement. In other words, Super Bowl tickets have nothing on this Texas festival. Another caveat, don’t wear boots. Texas in September can still be a scorcher.
That’s one reason organizers are sure to have plenty of cold beer and refreshments available from a host of vendors. Some festival participants will be selling their T-shirts and tasty Texas products as well.
Other barbecue joints invited back to the festival’s third edition are: Palestine’s Baby J’s Bar-B-Que & Fish; Dallas’ Baker’s Ribs; Lavon’s Big Daddy Roadhouse BBQ; Kerrville’s Buzzie’s Bar-B-Q; Lillian’s Casstevens Cash & Carry; Giddings City Meat Market and Clarksville’s Coleman’s BBQ.
Additional participants include Kilgore’s Country Tavern Barbecue; Houston’s Goode Co. Texas Bar-B-Q; Austin’s Lambert’s Downtown Barbecue; Taylor’s Louie Mueller Barbecue; Austin’s Mann’s Smokehouse BBQ & Catering; Spicewood’s Opie’s BBQ; Belton’s Schoepf’s; Lockhart’s Smitty’s Market; Lexington’s Snow’s BBQ; Taylor’s Taylor Café and East Bernard’s Vincek’s Smokehouse.
Sponsors of the event include Texas-based Shiner beer, RAM trucking company, Central Market, Dripping Springs Vodka, Crown Royal Black, Sweet Leaf Tea, Tillamook Cheese and Texas A&M University. Festival entertainment includes Rosie Flores and the Riveters, The Relatives and Hayes Carl.
The event will take place on September 23, 2012, from 1-5pm.
For more information, go to: texasmonthly.com/bbqfestival.
Or contact Giant Noise, the magazine’s public relations firm at natalia [at] giantnoise.com Some information used in the story was obtained from the website of a barbecue joint participant.
Rosie Carbo is the Lifestyles Editor for Wandering Educators
Feature photo: "Only Open Pit in the USA!" Photo courtesy and copyright Salt Lick Bar-B-Que in Driftwood, Texas
Photos courtesy and copyright Giant Noise, unless otherwise noted.