Barbecue in The Lone Star state

How y’all doing today? Pilgrimage 2014 has landed in Texas, The Lone Star state, nicknamed so to signify Texas as a former independent republic and as a reminder of the state’s struggle for independence from Mexico.

To realise actually how bonkers it is to consider covering Texas in one of five states to visit as part of Pilgrimage 2014, you first have to understand its size. This incredibly beautiful land is 268,820 square miles of prairie, desert and coastline. That’s 10% bigger than France. 

Texas is famous for its cattle, and for those in barbecue, that means beef, or more to the point, brisket, lovely corn fed, fatty, juicy, wobbly brisket. Many an American will tell you that if you want to taste real, true barbecue, Texas is the only place to come. 

The origin of the state name is from the word, “Tejas”, which means ‘friends’ in the Caddo language, so we set about making some new buddies…

Buddy #1 – Daniel Vaughn 

Due to Texas’ size, we needed some guidance to make our short time here worthwhile, so who better to help out but the man whose job title is BBQ Editor. Daniel Vaughn, BBQ Editor at Texas Month, and the writer many charge with kick starting a renaissance in true Texas barbecue, was kind enough to meet up and share some of his hints and tips. First stop, Pecan Lodge…

James chatting meat with Daniel Vaughn

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Buddy #2 & #3 – Justine and Diane 

Tucked away in the Dallas Farmer’s Market, Pecan Lodge’s boutique size disguises a much bigger reputation for incredible ‘cue. It’s run by husband and wife team, Justine and Diane Fourton, and Daniel was excited for us to try it. It runs two queues; a meal for a few portions, which had a huge, winding queue wrapping its way though the market, or an Express Line, where the minimum order was 5lb or more. Suffice to say, we weren’t pussy-footing around and avoided the queue by ordering two $69 Troughs (Beef rib – although they had run out of this, Brisket, Spare Ribs, Pulled Pork and Links).

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Brisket
Sausages – jalapeño & original
Spare ribs
Pulled pork
Pickles and fresh onion
North Carolina mopping sauce
Mac-n-Cheese, BBQ Beans, Slaw, Turnip Greens

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This was easily the smokiest barbecue we’d had so far, with deep, rich natural flavours coming from the oak and hickory wood he uses. The brisket was lovely and extra fatty, with an awesome bark, flavoured with powerful rough cracked pepper from the rub (Justin uses 9:1 pepper:salt ratio – bold!). Each slice consisted of flat (lean) and point (fatty), so you got the best of both worlds.  We always prefer the point as it’s the most moistiester, but honestly, you could barely tell the difference between the two it was that good. They make all their sausages on site, using 100% beef, and these too were excellent. Smoky, peppery and the Jalapeño Cheese Links were a tad spicier than the original ones. Unlike the Carolinas, Texas isn’t known for its pork, but Justin has taken a slightly different approach, stripping back the tart liquor so it is less traditionally ‘soupy’. A spicy, vinegary mopping sauce is provided on the side, much like our North Carolina table sauce back home.

Brisket sandwich a.k.a “The Pitmaster”

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Hot Mess (that’s a giant sweet potato)

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Sides too were equally as good, with the turnip greens being a particular surprise favourite. We ended the meal with peach cobbler-come crumble, banana pudding without the meringue and a pecan cookie, all of which were 10/10. If you’re in Dallas – no, let me change that. If you’re in the US, go to Pecan Lodge.

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Pitmaster chit-chat

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Pork Butts smokin’

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Buddy #4 & #5 Honey French and Yiannis

Driving this mahoosive RV, it’ easy to get lost or miss a turning or ten. We got caught up in a spaghetti junction in Dallas, and accidentally found World Famous Hickory House, located on wasteland in the shadows of the interstate bridge. Fuc* knows what it was famous for, probably not for their BBQ; perhaps it was for its latrine advice (see later on)?

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Our server Honey French (greatest name ever who’s not a porn actress, right?), took the order before bringing out some Bud Lites in a old plastic bucket. As with all stops, we negotiated a visit back of house to check out the pit. The room was completely blackened from years of smoke, plastic prep tables lay covered in grease and dirt; EHO back home would vomit at the sight, no doubt. The pit was truly old school. A huge brick smoker with counter-levered steel doors, built in 1950 by the original owner, gave some promise to the food. Oh how we were duped.

The ribs were reheats with a heavy tomato puree-based sauce glaze, the pork was really moist but lacked smoke flavour, and was more akin to roast pork.  The Mexican-style beef brisket tacos were unfortunately swimming in grease, which was the overriding flavour. We were gutted, cuz they looked decent. The chicken fried steak – a sirloin covered in breadcrumbs, was perhaps the saving grace.  The accompanying side of mash and gravy was also good.

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It dawned on us that this place was genuinely world famous for its latrine guidance and not barbecue.

Buddy #6 Lauren

We love our craft beer at Red’s and so a recommendation by Daniel’s publicity agent to visit Four Corners Brewing Company was the order of the day after all the crap Coors Light we’d been suppin’.

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We learnt this place – which has only been running two years – is already running at capacity and isn’t shipping any more orders in Dallas (their current license only allows for local distribution), so our request to buy a pallet was politely declined.

The micro brewery operation was incredible, super slick, and boasting its own canning line, able to roll out 20 cans a minute. In contrast to UK craft beer hipsters, the American market looks favourably on the aluminium can as preferred choice for craft ale, and we need to get there as a nation; a can offers so much better protection for its contents, yet we see it as the poor cousin to glass.  Of course, we’ve been waxing lyrical about stubbies since we launched in 2012  :o)

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We popped the 360 ring pulls on a selection of their beers, all of which featured cool, bespoke branding made even more impressive sounding by the fact they do it all in house.

Local Buzz: 5.2% Their session lager, a honey rye golden ale which was crisp and light.

El Chingon 7.2%: A heavy IPA with an intense hoppy flavour.

Block Party 5.7% – An English-style Porter which was not too bitter and really smooth (it’d go great with BBQ).

El Super Bee 7.0% – A dry hopped golden ale.

El Muerte 9.2% – A blend of all nine of their craft beers – its name says it all.

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Buddy #6 & #7 Moose (professional eater) & Bradley Wright

Big D BBQ Battle

The final stop of the day was a personal invite from Daniel to hit up the Big D BBQ battle, an event he was judging. In its randomness, the cook-off was hosted outdoors in the middle of a shopping centre car park, organised by the local Chamber of Commerce to bring the local community together.

Rows of tents sprawled out across the parking spaces, each home to different BBQ teams from local businesses; Dallas PD, the fire brigade, a school, an energy company and some backyard barbecuers from the general public. These weren’t professional pitmasters, merely average Jo’s that love their ‘cue. I found it hard pressed to think of another food culture in the world that brings people together like American barbecue does.

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Bradley Wright, ex NFL star

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Swapping Twitter handles with the poooolice

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Despite it being an amateur event, the rigs on show were impressive, and only equalled by the quality of the food.

While there we met Moose, a professional eater who had been inspired by our mate Adam Richman (Man vs Food). This man gets sponsored by Major League Eating, a genuine body set up to encourage outrageous feats of feasting. Only in America baby! After swapping numbers, we agreed for Moose to visit Red’s to scratch up a notch on his bed post of gluttony…

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This had been an epic introduction to The Lone Star state. There’s a Texas phrase “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I came here as fast as I could” and so far, it was ringing true. Bring on Rosebud, Taylor, Lexington, Elgin and Austin.