Letter from London: What Texas Barbecue Tastes Like Overseas
It wasn't Texas, but it wasn't bad.
Gavin Cleaver is the former web editor and clueless barbecue correspondent of the Dallas Observer. He lives in
England Great Britain the UK somewhere over there ------>
Hello from overseas. I hear you've been having some weather. Well, I'm here to inform all of you that you are now considered cool.
Yes, after years of stereotyping Texas as a place where cowboys cavort, wearing only oversized hats, in geysers of oil falling like expensive rain, you finally did something that people around the world are starting to consider cool.
No, not street cars, or endless debates about highways. Your brisket. It's cool now.
I'd like to say I helped, but I didn't. As with so many things in life, I was gormlessly sitting there at the right time, as the positive thing unfolded in front of me. In my new capacity as web editor at a glossy British food magazine, I stumbled into what, to me, is like some kind of twilight zone of meat, a veritable fourth dimension of cow parts.
When I first arrived in Texas, I found a lot of things distressing. Most of all, though, was the nagging familiarity of some aspects of Western living, laced with the jarring realization that I was 5,000 miles away and it had been lost in translation.
Let's take a food example, as this is meant to be a food blog. To you, cultured progressives that you are, fish and chips is some sort of fancy gastropub dish, to be served on hilarious faux newspaper, battered in the finest beer and accompanied by fries that have been triple-fried by a celebrity.
In the UK, fish and chips is served to you by a spotty teenager for three dollars on a dingy British high street, complete with fries that have been outside in a rainstorm for three days. You see? The same, but very different.
I'm having the same bizarre experiences with barbecue, but completely in reverse, and it's freaking me out. Ridiculously, I've managed to arrive back in the UK at the exact time American barbecue is cresting a wave here. I blame True Detective and House of Cards. Suddenly all that deep South Americana is cool again, and Frank loves him some ribs.
And so it was that I found myself invited to the opening of a new barbecue restaurant in North London on a cold, dark Thursday night. The owners have visited Austin and Lockhart. One of them knows Daniel Vaughn, the barbecue editor at Texas Monthly. They smoke their brisket (USDA approved and imported, naturally) over a mesquite and oak mix.
I was terrified. I got off the tube, a ride punctuated by the train being so over-full that some poor lady is now frankly over-familiar with my armpit. Public transport barely even exists where they have real barbecue, and if it did, it wouldn't take me to The London Borough of Waltham Forest, because that's exactly the sort of place name you find so hilarious.
Yet, despite clearly being in London, I was being handed brisket. And you know what? It wasn't terrible. I would not be ashamed to see this brisket in Texas. Sure, the smoke flavour wasn't there, but the texture certainly was, and Lord only knows I waded my way through some chewy, flavourless brisket in the greatest state in the Union. Sure, the ribs were disastrous, adding to my distress, but there were decent wings, and the pulled pork was just fine, when the homemade, rustically-named barbecue sauce was added.
You see? This shit is weird. I was more than 5,000 miles from Dallas. No one around me sounded like anything apart from a character from one of those PBS shows you love. There was even a band playing Americana blues (albeit with a tattooed beatboxer, rather than a drummer, which added something of a London flavour to the situation).
Also, whoever designed the place had clearly been to a Twisted Root. It was like a weird carbon copy, only all the kitsch flyers on the wall said place names like "Bristol" and "Manchester" rather than places that sound cool.
I got into work the next day to be greeted by another press release from a barbecue restaurant opening up in London. While it'll never be the same, at least now there's a part of myself I can convince that I'm sitting in Dallas, eating some relatively low quality brisket, the ghost of Daniel Vaughn shouting star ratings into my ear.
I miss you guys.
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