Thousands of credentialed sports writers, photographers and television reporters thronged the House of Blues last night for the Super Bowl host committee's "Welcome to Texas" smoked meat bonanza, but I wish a few local restaurant owners who have the gall to charge $20 for a dry chicken breast or stick pork in the oven and call it barbecue could have been there. The samples offered up by eight of the state's leading pit masters were uniformly excellent, and an elegant riposte to fancy restaurants that can't get flesh right.
Worries about the weather climaxed early in the day, when it was unclear whether the decision to have participating joints handle preparations at their home pits would pan out -- or whether contributors would end up stranded on the wrong end of an icy road to Dallas. All but two joints successfully made the trip: Meyer's Smokehouse of Elgin and Earl Campbell, a Fort Worth pit master tapped to represent the local barbecue scene, were forced to bow out.
The event featured a few standouts, including the smoky, well-crusted beef ribs from Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Q (which I thought derived their Asian-esque stylings from a coriander rub, but Full Custom Gospel BBQ blogger Daniel Vaughn assures me the secret's a cumin-rich glaze).
Also succulent chicken courtesy of Schoepf's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que; Black's garlic sausages, with paper-thin casings straining to contain all the fat and flavor, and -- of course -- Franklin Barbecue's brisket.
According to a tweet from Texas BBQ Posse, fellow pros were blown away by Franklin's brisket too:
"Stanley's Nick Pencis after trying Franklin brisket: 'Aaron Franklin is a rock star'."
Agreed. And since I was at the party not just to eat barbecue, but to watch non-Texans tackle it, a few other observations:
* Snow's is famous. News of Texas Monthly's anointing Snow's as the state's quintessential barbecue joint seems to have reached Poughkeepsie -- or was perhaps recently rehashed in Super Bowl travel stories printed in papers around the world. The line for a nugget of Snow's brisket consistently numbered about 30, while the other pits stayed on a "step right up" system.
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* Sports writers aren't 'cue crazy I was surprised by the collective lack of appreciation for the level of barbecue genius at work, especially considering the overlap between athletics and smoking meat. Minding a pit is a physically intense, primal and potentially dangerous activity. Football fans should love it. Instead, most of the media members piled their plates high with the House of Blues' mediocre chicken and waffles and gumbo, reserving their most breathless praise for the bar's margarita machine. I'd call it a missed opportunity, but I suppose it's not fair to demand culinary sophistication from guys who subsist on press room box lunches. They probably wouldn't be too impressed with my understanding of the 3-4 defense either.
* Outlanders consider beef ribs an excellent souvenir
Not the rib itself, although a writer with foresight might have pocketed a clean bone to serve as a paperweight in his cubicle at The Three Rivers Times. What attendees seemed to like most was posing for pictures with massive beef ribs that out-measured their faces. What they didn't like was the mess -- or being asked to eat brisket with their hands.