The Golden Age of BBQ?
A few weeks back, the estimable periodical, Texas Monthly, crowed about The Golden Age of BBQ. That’s nice. They listed best places for BBQ in Texas, and in the passing, I started to see a pattern. Should be “Best new places for BBQ,” Texas-style.
My anecdotal, strictly verbal version of Texas BBQ? Started when the Longhorn (cattle) ruled the prairies, the south Texas plains, and most, seldom acknowledged fact, most of those were used for leather in the old world, shipped to Spain and its ilk to make latigo-leather.
Be a good car ad, you know, “Rich Corinthian Leather.”
From Corinth, Texas.
That production process left a lot of left-over byproduct, and the brisket, never a choice cut, had to be roasted, low and slow, to make it the moist, meaty tender bits we get now.
That’s the lore I currently subscribe to, not fact-checked, and probably not valid in a court of law. Not that it matters.
Folks from far afield sent me links about BBQ, Texas BBQ, and the current list of best places.
Over the years, pause, stick a fork in it, and let’s circle back, my favorite book was named for a particular dive’s weekly special, Two-Meat Tuesday. That book-like collection carried 2003 copyright date. That predates most of the new Best of picked by the magazine.
I think around 80% of those places, mentioned in the magazine, weren’t even around when I was writing about Two-Meat Plates, and I’ve been sampling BBQ much longer.
One of my earliest inspirations came from a sign in BBQ joint, north of Austin (perish the thought), sign read, “Politics, religion, and BBQ are the most hotly debated topics in Texas. Of the three, BBQ is the most important.”
I recall the sign, I recall the woman I was dating, I recall the setting, and I recall the brake job.
The strip center might still be there, I don’t know — these days? That far north is “untrustworthy” to me.
“Just don’t feel right, you know?”
Texas and BBQ
The heritage runs deeps. Couple of passing mentions, noted elsewhere in my body of work, but the “bark,” the crusty, outer layer on smoked brisket, what no one has mentioned but me? The best bark I ever had was Rudy’s in Corpus Christi, TX — on SPID, the weird, and to me, dangerous, freeway-like South Padre Island Drive.
Each Rudy’s is some kind of a franchise or chain, but the one on the way to the beach had the most remarkable of brisket. It was rather distinct bark; set it apart from all others. Mostly just salt and pepper, a very basic rub. Nothing fancy, just smoked according to the chain’s guidelines, I’m guessing, but just more remarkable — doubly so — because it was a Rudy’s — “the worst BBQ in Texas” — and noted for the sign, “Your mother isn’t here, clean up after yourself.”
While it’s been almost a year since I was last that way, yeah, the brisket was always better, there. Location, proximity to the beach, salty tang in the air, might be any number of factors. Near two hours distant from any other chain members?
Texas and BBQ
Passing through South Austin, the day before Mother’s Day, paused long enough to pick up a BBQ spread from the old Green Mesquite — now surrounded by high-rise, mixed-use developments. Feller manning the board, the cutter, same guy as before, “Hey Kramer,” we talked about old times, been seven years, and he added several names to the list of people who were still employed there.
One test of BBQ is brisket. As a suitable benchmark fro BBQ? Brisket that needs no BBQ sauce is the perfect example. That Rudy’s in on SPID? Perfect.
I’ve tried Rudy’s in El Paso, Waco, Round Rock, North Austin, New Braunfels, and Shertz? So far, the SPID location outshines them all. Rudy’s SPID brisket is so good, no sauce required. Which is funny, because Rudy’a BBQ Sauce is better than almost any other.
What set my original timbre was the pork ribs at Green Mesquite — that’s the original location, Barton Spring Road, Austin, Texas. By the old trailer park that is no longer there. Swim in the creek, then gets some BBQ. Gave rise to —
Which isn’t about BBQ, at all. Just takes its name from that one location.
The Golden Age of BBQ?
If this is The Golden Age of BBQ, then why is the golden age BBQ served like tapas, like a single slice of beef, and maybe one pork rib, then four ounces of artisanal potato salad?
When it get written about in national press, I have to wonder, is the good BBQ? Or good advertising?