On Sunday, Texas Monthly threw its third annual BBQ Festival, in Austin, on the open air terrace of the Long Center. Twenty-one barbecue joints handed our samples to an estimated crowd of 3000, who listened to live music, swigged beer and other adult beverages, bought T-shirts, got tips from the “barbecue genius” booth manned by Texas A&M, and ate till they were bug-eyed. The participating pits had been featured in our 2008 story on the fifty best barbecue joints in Texas, plus there were two newcomers of the year representing places that opened after 2008. The heat, in the nineties, drove many fans inside the Long Center for some air-conditioning, which is where we found most of these folks below.
Daniel Delaney, Brooklyn, mastermind of the Brisketlab project, a series of brisket-by-the-pound pop-up restaurants in New York. “We missed all the meat! We came up here to the VIP Lounge and started talking, then the floodgates opened for the general admission crowd, and that was that.” [Delaney, below right]
Daniel Vaughn, the “Barbecue Snob,” and Texas Monthly barbecue blogger, Dallas. “The biggest surprise of the day was Stanley’s brisket. Nick [Pencis, owner] said he was going to do a salt-and-pepper-seasoned brisket and it is really great. I could gush about Pecan Lodge, too. And the line to get Franklin’s was longer here than at the restaurant.” [Vaughn, above left]
Max and Andrea Castillo, Houston. Max: “We ran from place to place getting samples without stopping to eat them. When we sat down, we couldn’t remember which was which! I saw one guy with a Sharpie and Ziploc bags, labeling them. Smart.” Andrea: “We should sell bibs!”
Matt Diffee, cartoonist for the New Yorker and Texas Monthly’s “critter page.” “I tried to talk Jake [Silverstein, editor of Texas Monthly] into letting me do portraits of the pitmasters on butcher paper using a piece of fatty brisket instead of a pencil, but he just said, ‘How’s that critter page coming?’”
Doug Wallace, defense contractor, Fort Worth. “I got to all 21 booths—the first 12 I ate the whole sample. After that I just tasted it. I use the Texas Monthly barbecue app, and today I rose from number 13 to 8 on the leaderboard rankings of who’s visited the most barbecue joints. Back in 1997, my dad had a heart attack [and we knew his time was limited]. He and I started visiting barbecue joints every Saturday. We’d leave at 8 and get back at 5 or so. It was all about the drive and the visit.”
Jo Ann, Chris, and Isabella Bjornson. JoAnn: “Chris made all 21 tents at the festival today—he is a connoisseur. Brisket was one of the first meats our daughter Isabella ever ate. She’s been tasting it all today. I’m from Virginia so I was only familiar with pork. After I tried barbecued beef, I told Chris it was a religious experience.” Chris: “I’ll be in a meat coma by the end of the festival.” [JoAnn and Isabella pictured]
Esaul Ramos and Kristen Toscano, San Antonio. “This is our first TM BBQ Festival. We saved up all our money to spend on food and then we found out the samples were free! We love it. We’ve had everything.”
Ginger, Jason, and Addison Bolen, just moved to Austin from Texas City. “We kept the hand fan from the Texas Monthly festival last year and our four-year-old daughter Addison uses it as a menu in her play kitchen now. She calls it her ‘barbysauce.’ Actually, that means both a menu and sauce.”
Cole Newman, 15 years old, Austin. “The festival is pretty good, but there aren’t enough people. I expected it to be in a park, with grass and trees, like on Town Lake. So far Big Daddy’s ribs are my favorite, but I haven’t gotten into the brisket yet.”
The White Family: Inman White, community behavioral health administrator, Longview, with Banks White, son and chef in Berkeley, Breia White, daughter and film editor in Los Angeles, Kathy White, sister and schoolteacher in Nashville, and Frances White, mother and retired school teacher in Palestine. Inman: “We are a barbecue family. I was born in Luling and I guess I’m just steeped in it. We know that at Thanksgiving we will be scattered all around the country, so we decided to get together here. This is our second barbecue Thanksgiving at the festival, and you can count on us next year.”
Davey Griffin, Professor of Meat Science, Texas A&M University, College Station. “We had a guy from New York last year who asked us, ‘Can I do barbecue up there where it’s so cold?’ He was using a small home smoker. We told him sure, it was a matter of keeping the temperature consistent, no big swings. He came and found us this year and said it worked! The most common error in cooking brisket is inconsistent temperature, followed by having the temperature too hot—lack of patience.”
Adrienne Newman, aka “Madame Cocoa,” craft chocolate maven, Austin. Question: Barbecue or chocolate? Answer: [long pause] Chocolate.
Aaron Franklin, Franklin Barbecue, Austin, and Harold E. “Buzzie” Hughes, Buzzie’s, Kerrville. Franklin: If Texas Monthly throws a dinner to honor the pitmasters, we want a salad bar.
Hughes: With some shrimp. Or maybe have a fish fry. Franklin: Just don’t make us have barbecue.”
Diane and Justin Fourton, with son Henry, owners of Pecan Lodge barbecue, Newcomer of the Year for the 2012 Texas Monthly BBQ Festival. Diane: “It’s a little surreal that we’re here at all. At one point, we were within two days of closing. We had had to stop cooking barbecue at Pecan Lodge [until they satisfied a city of Dallas regulation] and our business had dried up. We took all the money we had in the bank and bought meat and our customers came back. Then the Food Network called, and Southern Living called. When you guys called and asked us to be the Newcomer at this year’s festival, we just about freaked out.” Justin: “We used to wait for the Texas Monthly barbecue issue to come out. The pitmasters who were in the top fifty had been around for years. To be part of that group—we never imagined it could happen.”