An Englishman in BBQ Sauce

An expatriate Brit learns to love Texas, one pound of brisket at a time.

An Englishman in BBQ Sauce
Lori Bandi
British barbecue lover Gavin Cleaver girds his loins at Lockhart Smokehouse.

Leaving the cozy confines of the British countryside and pretty much everyone I'd ever met 5,000 miles away wasn't an easy thing to do. I'm still surprised I did it. I didn't grow up (in Watford, and then the Cotswolds, since you're asking) thinking to myself, "One day, I'd really like to live in Texas." We Europeans have a very fixed idea about what Texas must be like, and those fixed ideas aren't immensely appealing. Many of those stereotypes have been confirmed. There is a surfeit of hats, trucks and guns (I had never seen a live gun before moving out here, and then a friend took me to a gun show downtown, and I am yet to recover), a mind-boggling amount of freeways and roads, precious little rain and intense heat.

I have, however, been surprised on many levels. First, you guys are some of the kindest and most welcoming people I have ever met. In Britain, we treat each other with a lingering sense of suspicion, and if someone tries to talk to one of us, we normally take it to mean they are either insane or want something. That's if we can hear them over the howling rain and the deafening roar of our own indifference. In Texas, people try to be genuine, nice and personable. It's a world of difference, and I would think the effect has been doubled by my accent, which means I get treated like an unwilling minor celebrity wherever I go (my favorite example of this being a group of Mexicans in a downtown sushi bar insisting on buying me shots all evening just so I would keep talking in a progressively more slurred British accent).

Second, the food has been a revelation. I'm fairly sure, as a sweeping generalization, that we Brits don't have the most discerning palates. We are well-known for our deeply bland foods, for stodgy, hearty meals that occupy the stomach for days. I was prepared before I moved for every restaurant to be a McDonald's-style chain, and them all to be full of people on mobility scooters. It turns out that is only one in every four restaurants, which has been a very pleasant surprise.

Having to stand in line for Hard Eight's brisket is almost enough to make a Brit impolite.
Gavin Cleaver
Having to stand in line for Hard Eight's brisket is almost enough to make a Brit impolite.
Omi's do-it-yourself grilling is terrifying for the unprepared.
Gavin Cleaver
Omi's do-it-yourself grilling is terrifying for the unprepared.

The mystique of Texas barbecue appealed massively to me. In Britain, a barbecue is something you do in between rainstorms, in the six weeks or so of good weather we get once every two or three years (we're also fantastic at complaining about the weather in Britain), and it always features a previously frozen hamburger, an unwilling chicken leg and, for the extremely adventurous, a lone sausage. A packet of crisps and a lettuce are purchased as prime accompaniments, and everyone has a beer. These are big events for us. If we hear a friend of a friend is planning on braving the weather forecast and putting on a barbecue on a Saturday, we'll be round there at 11 a.m., thus ensuring access to the eighth-of-a-pound hamburger and the pick of the Tesco sesame seed buns.

The first time I stepped into the original Sonny Bryan's, I was mesmerized. Everything was made of wood, we all sat at school desks, the sauce was like some sort of delicious alien goo and nothing mattered except the meat (well, maybe their dinner-plate sized onion rings). Even though I'd never really written a blog in my life, I thought I'd write one about this, as it was my favorite thing about Texas so far.

I wrote one blog, posted it to reddit.com to see if anyone would like it, and there it was picked up by the Observer's esteemed web editor and person subsequently responsible for the blogs of the last few months, Nick Rallo. He decided that a confused man with no experience or even frame of reference regarding what he was eating was the perfect fit for the Observer's food blog, which was clearly full of too many people who were eating things they were vaguely aware of. My complete inability to distinguish between "good" and "bad" (except in the case of Dickey's, which was like eating a child's sandpit) when it comes to barbecue is alive and well. Really, it's all good. A pile of smoked meat is a wonderful thing. I am sure there are many tricks, important techniques and key things to remember when making good barbecue. I remain totally unaware of any of these aspects, or how they might relate to the flavour of the meat. In this way, I remain fresh, the virgin that Nick first exploited, if you will (and I know he will).

I rather like it here in Dallas. I have picked up an excellent job I enjoy up in Lewisville, I spend my spare time writing this absolute bunkum you currently read and I grow fatter and fatter at an alarming rate. Treating the entire journey like an adventure, which is I think the best way to tackle being ripped out of your comfort zone, country and continent for a few years, means that you purposely seek out new and strange situations, leaving you with some tall tales to tell when you return to wherever it is you're from. Really, all that's left of an adventure after it ends are the stories you can tell. As an English barbecue writer in Texas, I've been to some weird places, had some bizarre stories to tell and eaten myself half to death, so I must be having a hell of an adventure.

RELATED: The City of Ate Chronicles of An Englishman in BBQ Sauce
Hard Eight BBQ
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31 comments
FarleyFlavors
FarleyFlavors

'In Britain, we treat each other with a lingering sense of suspicion, and if someone tries to talk to one of us, we normally take it to mean they are either insane or want something'.

Absolutely true for where you hail from and absolutely false for the North and Scotland. Don't tar us all with the same brush, you fat wanker.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

Still can't wait for the curry spinoff.

Joshstruckoutagain
Joshstruckoutagain

Gavin, keep on keeping on..I very much enjoy hearing about the Great State through the eyes of a Englishman.  You need to head down to Lockhart,Tx and trudge through Black's, Smitty's and Kreuz..maybe stop by Franklins on the way back.  (Franklins is the finest brisket I've ever had, and I've had a large herd of brisket inhabite me intestines over the eons.)

WestTX_BBQ
WestTX_BBQ

@BBQsnob When reading my inner voice was in a British accent the whole time.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

Please don't tell us your middle name is Ray or Wayne, because that picture is, well... unsettling.

Gavin Ray Cleaver? Very catchy - in a serial killer sort of fashion. (The actual cleaver is a nice touch, though. Very cheeky.)

Keep up the good work, and good call on the idea to review BBQ as a novice. It's fun to get a look at our culture from your POV.

EliotLandrum
EliotLandrum

Keep it up, sir! I get a hearty laugh and amusement out of your posts. And I'm usually in complete agreement. Love it.

EnglishmanInBBQ
EnglishmanInBBQ

@nickrallo I hope as the architect of this insanity you are proud of yourself... you've collectively lowered Dallas' IQ

kenlowery
kenlowery

@rusty_shackles @jessnevins @jason1749 Rusty are you down for this, I have a four-door sedan and can drive.

kenlowery
kenlowery

@jessnevins @rusty_shackles @jason1749 MABOT. MEAT AND BEER ORGY TOUR. Maybe it needs work I dunno

kenlowery
kenlowery

@jessnevins @rusty_shackles @jason1749 I am OK marking off a week next summer (or spring or fall or whatever) to do this.

kenlowery
kenlowery

@jessnevins @rusty_shackles @jason1749 We need a Meat & Beer Orgy Tour of Shiner, Dublin and Lockhart.

kenlowery
kenlowery

@jessnevins I haven't been baaaaaackkkkkkk #shameonmyhouse

kenlowery
kenlowery

@jessnevins @rusty_shackles @jason1749 To be clear: it's Lockhart Smokehouse (with Lockhart sausage) IN DALLAS, not the town itself.

kenlowery
kenlowery

@jessnevins @rusty_shackles @jason1749 I was a little overwhelmed.

kenlowery
kenlowery

@rusty_shackles My brother swears by Off the Bone but I haven't been yet.

kenlowery
kenlowery

@rusty_shackles Lockhart is GREAT. I went there for the first time when @jason1749 is in town. Didn't get the sausage, stupidly.

kenlowery
kenlowery

@rusty_shackles Sonny Bryans is kind of inevitable if you live here, but yeah it's our go-to if we don't want to drive a lot.

DallasLockhart
DallasLockhart

@rusty_shackles @kenlowery check out our Facebook page if you need more #Qporn !

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Big Kitty saw your picture and she's fallen head over paws in love.

ewanmacdonald
ewanmacdonald

As a fellow expat from the British Isles this had me nodding in agreement throughout. Perfectly said. Y'all here in Texas are just fuckin' brammer, by ra way.

cohenesque
cohenesque

@Dallas_Observer c'mon, you made that byline up.

OakClifflady
OakClifflady

You need to go to Odom's BBQ and try their ribs.  There is one on Singleton Blvd in Dallas and one on Oriole Blvd in Duncanville.  Great ribs and the best fully loaded baked potato.

DallasLockhart
DallasLockhart

@RoadrunnerEats Isn't it!?! and it was such fun to shoot

kenlowery
kenlowery

@DallasLockhart we are in line!

RoadrunnerEats
RoadrunnerEats

@DallasLockhart though I expected @EnglishmanInBBQ to look more like Hugh grant and less like @gordonkeith

kenlowery
kenlowery

@DallasLockhart You too. We're all very sleepy.

 
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