When you’re a food writer, people are always asking about the best meal you’ve ever eaten. I know they’re expecting tales of an unforgettable lunch at Michel Bras or a poetic kaiseki meal in Kyoto or a beluga extravaganza on the banks of the Volga, but what always pops into my head is brisket. Specifically, the brisket I had in 1996 at City Market, in Luling. I had eaten plenty of barbecue before that day and was expecting the usual—something tasty but not transcendent—when all of a sudden my mouth was filled with a perfectly balanced bite of meat, fat, smoke, and fire. The elements almost evaporated before I had a chance to chew. I took another bite and another, chasing the taste—there was something magical in the tenderness of this beef. I kept going back for just a little more and a little more until my hair smelled of burning oak and the taste of that brisket was imprinted on my brain.

I have yet to encounter another brisket like the one I had that day. Still, I keep trying. In the meantime I hold the memory close, and anytime I want to, I can close my eyes, conjure that taste, and take myself right back to Luling.

— Ruth Reichl, the editor in chief of Gourmet, secretly enjoys a little white bread with her brisket.