texanist barbecue
Is there “no such thing as bad barbecue”?Illustration by Jack Unruh

Q: On a recent trip to the Texas coast, my grown sons got into a heated four-day discussion. My younger son developed a craving for barbecue, so his brother used his Texas Monthly BBQ Finder app to locate a nearby source. Unfortunately, there wasn’t one, and that’s when the fight broke out. Younger son didn’t care if a place wasn’t on the list; he just wanted barbecue, comparing it to the old line “There is no bad pizza.” Older son refused to eat anywhere that wasn’t on the list. It was the longest vacation ever. WWTTD: What would the Texanist do?
Name Withheld, Atoka, Oklahoma

A: The Texanist is sorry that your vacation was so fraught with intrafamilial turmoil, but such are the passions aroused by barbecue. Like the impetuous younger brother in this meaty melodrama, the Texanist also used to stubbornly adhere to the belief that there is no such thing as bad barbecue. But that was a long time ago. Between those devil-may-care-what’s-on-the-plate-so-long-as-it’s-got-lots-of-sauce-on-top-of-it days, when the Texanist was but a wide-eyed young buck with horizons that lay not much beyond the outskirts of his hometown of Temple, and the present day, there have just been too many unpleasant encounters to carry on with an overoptimistic charade like this. The Texanist is here to tell you (and your younger son) that there is, unfortunately, such a thing as bad barbecue, and he knows this because he has ingested it. It may not be easy for the lad to swallow this bad news all at once, but he’ll understand this unfortunate fact of life very clearly the first time a sliced Spam-like “brisket” substance is served to him off a dirty electric griddle by an old woman with long whiskers and grimy fingernails, like it once was at a joint outside Ozona. The Texanist, who was dining on the go, took one bite, placed the putrid stuff back in the bag, and then trepidatiously glanced at it there on the passenger-side floorboard all the way to Comstock, where it was disposed of. But he digresses.

So, is it better to risk an encounter with inedible barbecue or to go without barbecue altogether? Even knowing, as he now does, that the possibility of a truly horrific barbecue experience is real, little brother would probably choose the former, while big brother, the barbecue idealist in the family, would likely choose the latter, opting instead for a nearby Olive Garden. When a man has a hankering for some BBQ and there is no texas monthly BBQ Finder app–rated BBQ around, these are the options with which he is left. What would the Texanist do, you ask? Always a gambling man, the Texanist will roll the BBQ bones every time.

Q: In which of all the great cities in this state do you think a person is apt to find the outdoor bars and restaurants filled with the most dogs? I’m from Austin, and it’s gotten downright ridiculous here. Is it the same in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio?
Stacy Sames, Austin

A: Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio have their fair share of canine-friendly bars and restaurants too, but the Texanist suspects that Austin may reign above all other cities that have gone to the dogs (rim shot!). According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, Texas is home to more dogs than any other state, about 7.2 million. That group estimates the number of pets per city by way of a formula related to the number of households, which puts Austin at number four in the state, with nearly 200,000 pooches.But Austin is a perennial favorite among nationwide tabulations of both the most pet-friendly cities and the booziest cities, whereas Big D, Space City, and SA are not.

As a resident of the Capital City who enjoys an occasional happy hour out on the patios of his favorite local watering holes, the Texanist can attest to the fact that it is indeed many an Austin dog owner who believes that what is enjoyable for the human will be just as pleasant for the overly effervescent labradoodle, the ginormous, slobber-slinging Dane, the diarrheic dalmatian, the pee-peeing pit bull, the barking basset, the shedding Shetland sheepdog, and the manageably sized, well-behaved, hypoallergenic, non-shedding, cute-as-the-dickens bichon frise alike. Yes, you are correct. The Texanist’s family dog, Lulu, is a puffy and loyal bichon. You will recall her from her appearances in previous columns. No, the Texanist is not ashamed of her.

Though Lulu doesn’t go out to the bars, preferring instead to spend her happiest hours lazing wherever she damn well pleases, if she did ever choose to tag along with the Texanist as he headed out to have his thirst for alfresco libations quenched, even she might be surprised at the number of canines on the patios these days. It seems that just as with venues that are known to be “kid friendly,” a bar or restaurant that is known to be “dog friendly” will serve as a beacon to those who enjoy bringing their dogs (or kids) with them, and that place will soon be overrun with dogs (or kids). This can be either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your own level of dog (or kid) friendliness.

Q: Help settle a bet between me and my husband. He says that in addition to rodeo clowns, rodeos also have participants called “bullfighters.” But I say bullfighting is an altogether different thing and not part of the rodeo. Who’s right? If it’s me, he’s got to get his back waxed. If he’s right (he’s not), I’ve got to mow the yard for a month. We await your response.
The Bellings, San Antonio

A: Rodeo is the official individual sport of Texas, but it can vary quite a bit in size and makeup. Smaller ranch rodeos, which feature different events than larger Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association–sanctioned rodeos, will in turn have a slightly different cast of characters. The Texanist bets his bottom dollar (as he’s already made clear, he’s a man who likes the action) that this wager has to do with the PRCA rodeo, the kind of rodeo you see on TV. The Texanist is sorry to tell you this, Mrs. Belling, but Mr. Belling’s bristly back thatch will remain intact, while you might want to make sure the gas can for the mower is filled. These are big productions that require the effort of many individuals to work as smoothly and as safely as possible—you know, all things considered. As integral to the rodeo as cowboys, cowgirls, chute bosses, rank bulls, rodeo queens, buckle bunnies, broncos, and beer-stand attendants are the rodeo clown, the barrelman, and, yes, the bullfighter, although not the matador-style bullfighter of which you were thinking. It’s not uncommon for people to confuse those last three, all of whom dress silly but play distinct roles. The barrelman hangs out toward the center of the arena, in or near, as one would guess, a barrel. It’s his job to distract the bull after a ride and, if need be, offer the cowboy a place of refuge until the bull exits the arena. The barrelman, sometimes along with the clown, also entertains the audience during lulls in the action. The bullfighter’s responsibility is to protect the bull rider after the rider dismounts or is thrown by putting himself between the bull and the rider and distracting the snorting beast until the cowboy is out of harm’s way. Better luck next time, Mrs. Belling. But take heart—the Texanist bets that yours will soon be the prettiest lawn on the block.

The Texanist’s Little-Known Fact of the Month: Plano-based Frito-Lay once mixed 200 pounds of white corn with 25 gallons of water, rolled the dough out with four 50-pound rolling pins, and then fried it in a 100-square-foot fryer for two hours, producing a tortilla chip that, at eight feet tall and nearly an inch thick, was 10,000 times as large as the average chip.