This past weekend carnivores and music lovers from near and far gathered in Tyler, Texas for the second annual Red Dirt BBQ & Music Festival. Barbecue aficionados packed downtown to sample smoked meat from eighteen joints from across the state. The lineup was formidable with eleven of the eighteen ranked on the Texas Monthly Top 50 Barbecue Joints. In addition to great BBQ, Josh Abbot Band headlined the music portion of the festival. Here’s my roundup of the weekends action slice by slice.
The sun shone bright as VIP ticket holders entered at 2 pm and general admission an hour later. Hutchins BBQ was positioned at the entrance and their brisket was a good first bite. The meat had a thick smoke ring and both lean and fatty cuts were very moist. I was pleasantly surprised by the brisket from The Slow Bone. The hickory-smoked meat was packed with flavor and literally melted in my mouth; it was the most tender piece of brisket I ate all day. Just next door, there was a line to sample Black’s brisket for most of the afternoon. Other brisket notables included Hay’s Co. Bar-b-cue, Lockhart Smokehouse, Louie Mueller Barbecue and Schmidt Family Barbecue.
The day’s most impressive cut of meat was belly. Lockhart Smokehouse killed it with a wagyu beef belly. It was my first time sampling this cut which is found right next to the brisket and behind the short ribs on a cow, and has a similar but fattier flavor profile. Nothing wrong with that since fat equals flavor. It had an intensely flavored dark brown, almost black crust, with a meltingly tender interior. Freedmen’s and Meat Church served pork belly but differed significantly in flavor and texture. The belly from Meat Church was reddish-brown, likely from the signature rub, with crispy edges and a flavor more reminiscent of traditional smoked bacon. Freedmen’s belly was seasoned simply with salt and pepper and didn’t crisp, but the rendered fat and moist meat yielded an unctuous bite. Multiple festivalgoers commented that this was one their favorite bites of the day.
Only a handful of joints served beef ribs. Louie Mueller Barbecue and Stiles Switch BBQ were the standouts. The flavorful profile was very similar between the two with a pronounced pepper flavor (not surprising since Lance Kirkpatrick worked at Louie Mueller before moving on to his current gig). Wayne Mueller served larger three-bone beef racks while Lance stacked up a big ol’ pile of bones from smaller chuck ribs. Stiles Switch had a deep line most of the day and with good reason; the turkey and pork loin served along side the beef ribs were both moist and juicy.
Jalapeño cheddar sausage was ubiquitous at the festival. While most were solid renditions, eventually they all seemed to run together. My favorite was from Buzzies, which offered a crisp snap, medium heat and balanced cheese flavor. I also appreciated the pronounced cheddar flavor of Opie’s sausage. The sausage from Hays Co. had a finer grind and was amongst the favorites of attendees that I talked to. Stanley’s jalapeño sausage was a nice change of pace since it was made with chicken and was lighter by comparison to the others. In addition to his standard house sausage, Evan LeRoy from Freedmen’s differentiated himself by serving a duck and pork sausage dotted with goat’s milk feta cheese, herbs and wheat beer. It was the most creative offering of the day. I talked with Keith Schmidt, the owner of Kreuz Market, and he was very excited that the new Austin Shake Shack opening tomorrow will serve a burger topped with one of Kreuz’s signature sausages called the Lockhart Link Burger.
While all the baby back ribs I sampled were tender and flavorful, one didn’t stand out above the rest. The ribs from Country Tavern were the best looking with a beautiful red-lacquered sheen. Black’s Barbecue and Hays Co. served some tasty turkey but as previously mentioned, Stiles Switch served the juiciest of the day.
It was a great day with perfect weather, tasty barbecue and a hoard of satisfied Texans, likely still recovering from their meat-induced comas. Many thanks to the organizers of the Red Dirt Barbecue Festival for putting on such a great event. Until next year, and happy meat sweats.