This past weekend I attended the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival at the Long Center in Austin, Texas. The annual event brings together Pitmasters from around Texas to showcase the best of Texas barbecue.
While the holy trinity of Texas barbecue is brisket, ribs and sausage, it is well-known that brisket is the centerpiece of this region’s barbecue. Last year at the event, I sampled this cut of meat from each of the bbq joints but by the end my palate was fatigued. This year I focused on sampling variety and seeking out pitmasters that brought something different to the event.
One of my favorite tastes of the day was from Gatlin’s BBQ. In addition to smoked salmon with endive and capers, they made a dish of creamy porcini grits topped with tender beef ribs smothered in a sweeter sauce. The bite was refined enough to be on the menu at an upscale restaurant rather than the lawn of the Long Center.
Despite the departure of Evan Leroy from Freedmen’s, the barbecue joint didn’t miss a beat. Last year they offered creative tastes like king ranch sausage and brisket chocolate chip cookies. Pitmaster Chris McGhee continued with the sweet and savory theme and inventive sausage making. McGhee made a Cuban Sandwich sausage flecked with bites of pickles, cheese and mustard that was a truly tasty bite. VIP entrants were able to taste brisket donut holes topped with brisket marmalade. Eating this transported me back to my childhood eating char siu bao in New York, a sweet and savory steamed bun filled with sweet Chinese barbecue pork. Freedmen’s also served a cured and cold-smoked pork loin too.
Attending this year’s festival was Thomas Abramowicz from The Beast, Paris. Abramowicz trained with Wayne Mueller from Louie Mueller Barbecue, and serves up American-style barbecue in the heart of Paris, France. In addition to sausage and beef ribs, The Beast served perfectly pink duck breast with the skin crisped at the end of smoking with a torch.
Smoked chicken legs with Alabama white sauce and a healthy dose of cayenne pepper from Stiles Switch BBQ was a nice change of pace. Alabama white barbecue sauce is a creamy mayonaise-based sauce that was invented at Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Cue. The sauce isn’t generally served in Texas as the beef-centric barbercue of the region typically pairs better with tomat0-based sauce, or as is my opinion is generally best served without sauce.
One of the more adventurous combinations was a chocolate chip, jalapeño and cheese sausage from Hay’s County BBQ. The unique flavor was something I was glad to try but probably wouldn’t expect to order on a regular basis since their jalapeño cheese sausage is so good to begin with.
Juggernauts of the Texas barbecue scene like Franklin’s, Snow’s BBQ and Pecan Lodge were on hand. In addition to his famous brisket and pulled pork, Aaron Franklin also doled out a housemade jalapeño cheese sausage, a departure from his typical sausage which is generally made off site. Killen’s Barbecue had a limited amount three week dry-aged brisket that had unique beefy flavor. Killen’s turkey sausage was moist and had good texture for poultry sausage. I hadn’t had La Barbecue in a few months and the brisket while still exceptional tasted different then I remembered. Later I found out that a few months ago they switched to a completely grass-fed product which may account for my perception of the altered flavor.
Additional tasty bites included the brisket from Pody’s BBQ. As pitmaster Israel Campos unwrapped it, the expertly cooked piece of meat jiggled, a result of the long slow cook. The rub tasted more complex than the typical salt and pepper rub of Central Texas BBQ I’m accustomed to. John Brotherton from Brotherton BBQ who has been hosting a series of pop-ups lended Campos a helping hand.
I was anxious to try newcomer Evie May’s brisket which didn’t disappoint and was served alongside corn pudding. My favorite pork rib was served by Hutchins’s BBQ; the meat was tender to the tooth but didn’t separate from the bone when I ate it. Lockhardt Smokehouse had monster bone-in prime rib cooked to a juicy medium-rare.
Overall the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival was a great success with tons of great barbecue, music and weather. While I didn’t mention all the barbecue joints, the full list of participants can be found at the event page. If you love meat there is no better opportunity to be able to sample so much great Texas BBQ in one place.