Longform

An Englishman in BBQ Sauce

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.

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
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Gavin Cleaver
Contact: Gavin Cleaver