DAN ALDERMAN, Adventure guy, Austin, Texas
BBQ isn’t a meal, it’s an experience
As we made our way down Hwy 77, past the family farms and little white churches, the one thing that became apparent was the nervous cows. The road that’s typically traveled by livestock trailers and 18-wheelers, turns into a pilgrimage of sorts each Saturday with a line of mini vans, SUV’s and sedans making their way to Snow’s BBQ https://snowsbbq.com/. Since Texas Monthly placed their BBQ crown on top of that little tin roof, the town of Lexington (pop. 1177) swells with brisket lovers every Saturday morning. All of them lining up for hours to experience Snow’s BBQ unassuming perfection and hoping they make it inside before the meat runs out.
But this isn’t an overnight success story. Far from it. The story of Snow’s BBQ is one of experience in every sense of the word. Snow’s pitmaster, Tootsie Tomanetz has been smoking meat for 50 years and this 84 year old legend shows no signs of slowing down. Since seeing her in a Yeti Films short, I made it mission to introduce myself to her. Not only is she one of the top pitmasters in the world, she is one of the sweetest, hardest working people you’ll ever meet and always has time for a photo or hug. Owner Kerry Bexley, aka The Snowman, had been eating Tootsie’s cooking for awhile and knew he needed her to open his restaurant. And after several years of convincing, the collaboration opened Snow’s BBQ in 2003.
No Sleep Til Brisket
Approaching Main Street, past the rusty buildings, there’s a bit of anticipation that you feel in your stomach. Is the brisket going to be THAT good? And is the line going to be 500 deep? For people that see BBQ not just as a meal but an experience, the struggle is real.
Maybe it was the soon-to-arrive cold front but the crowd was thin and we took our place outside the little red shack with the rest of the herd. For anybody who hasn’t actually waited in line for BBQ, it’s a pretty social experience. First of all, it’s totally acceptable to crack beers at 8am without judgement. Secondly, the cast of characters you meet is simply priceless. We meet three post-grads that were traveling across the country filming a food documentary. A group of guys wearing t-shirts from other BBQ joints like badges of honor, debated their favorite brisket. We talked to a guy from Lake Charles, LA that was there for a week for the Round Top Antiques Fair. There was a family in matching Family BBQ Tour t-shirts and a group from Michigan that was popping champagne for mimosas.
As the cattle trailers drove down Main Street on their way to the Saturday auction (which was very ironic) the conversations were all the same. “What do you think you’re going to get?” “Where are you guys from?” With half a dozen items on the menu, and brisket is a given, that was a short subject and the next thing on our mind was trying to get a peek inside.
As I mentioned, brisket is a given and the only thing to decide is the quantity of lean, moist and if burnt ends are available. However, from there things get muddy. Since I’m originally from the Southeast, I need my pork fix so ribs are always in play. And I’m usually good with a bite of sausage. But I can’t say I’ve ever ordered turkey until now. One of the guys in our group has a theory that because turkey dries out, it’s the hardest meat to BBQ. So with little margin for error, smoked turkey is the measuring stick that shows the talent of the pitmaster. And at 8am, with four hours sleep and two beers in me, I thought it made total sense.
Kids in a Candy Store
The only logical thing to do was order everything. Along with the brisket, ribs, turkey and sausage, Snow’s BBQ also features smoked pork steaks that come from the shoulder. This is the same cut most use for pulled pork but Snow’s cuts them into steaks and smokes them for six hours over direct heat. The result is a sweet & smokey flavor with a carmalized bark. Solid choice.
Because of the lack of fat content and before it dried out, next up was the turkey and it was the best I’ve ever had. It was moist with a well-balanced smoke flavor. If you aren’t a white meat guy (like me), it will change your opinion of breast meat. Definitely worth an order.
Since brisket is what every Texas BBQ joint is judged on, I moved on to the ribs, saving the best for last. The pork ribs were outstanding and cooked perfectly with a nice bark of salt and pepper. The smoke ring added the perfect balance and it was one of the few ribs I’ve had that didn’t require sauce. Highly recommended and you can use the bone to stir your Bloody Mary – trust me.
Finally I went elbow deep into the brisket and yes it is THAT good! A perfect brisket is a blend of art and craft that takes on the personality of the pitmaster. Each Saturday morning, Miss Tootsie puts her 50 years of smoking meats to work making sure every brisket is done perfectly with the right amount of salt, pepper, fat and smoke that you won’t find many places. The bark made a great crust without being overpowering. Flavor wise it was as balanced as any I’ve had in Texas. Doneness wise you could have spread the fat on a bread and eat it. I guess when you’ve been doing something for 50 years, you’re damn good at it.
Besides the extra three pounds of brisket, our overall takeaway was that it was well worth the trip. Not only were our expectations exceeded with regards to the meat, but the experience was like no other. Sure there’s BBQ all over Texas and some of the best are closer to the metros. But none of them can stake claim to the title as #1 in Texas. And none of them have Tootsie Tomanetz.