Texas Barbecue Made Me (Sort Of) American

In honor of Sunday's sold-out Meat Fight, we're celebrating smoked animal flesh all week long in our inaugural Meat Week, in which we celebrate the procuring, cooking and face-stuffing of dead-animal flesh.

When I first came to America I was a man adrift. Sure, I had a family I loved, but we lived, car-less, in an apartment near a strip club and a Humperdink's. We didn't even have any furniture, assuming as we did that American apartments came furnished like the ones back home. Requiring two buses and one train to get anywhere even approaching civilization, we lived in a city we had no connection with. One we'd been dropped in on almost by accident -- a job offer to my wife (at that time just my girlfriend) and here we were, two people in their late 20s from a small city in rural Britain 5,000 miles from home, in some sort of concrete metropolis we had neither the tools nor the desire to navigate.

Some time after that, once we had furniture and I had learned to drive -- and realized British people don't have credit in America, which I suppose is fair, what with the revolution and all, but which left me paying cash for a 1991 Honda Accord -- I was working a job answering phones for a friend of a friend's small start-up. I had a few friends, sure, but the city was still incredibly alien to me. I had been to Deep Ellum a couple of times (I think once for a haircut, which is probably the strangest reason to visit Deep Ellum on a weekend), maybe once to a bar in exotic Addison. I had no idea what I was doing, basically.

See also: An Englishman In BBQ Sauce

Most of my life was confined to my small commute between Carrollton, where I lived, and Mockingbird Lane, where I worked. I was still too scared to use freeways, which I'd tried once and almost shat myself as 50 trucks instantly cut up my Accord, which had a malfunctioning window to add to the "realism" of the freeway experience. So on my way to work, I passed through the most intriguing section on Harry Hines. It contained a couple of "barbecue" restaurants, which were apparently entire restaurants dedicated to a pursuit I only associated with being outside in a garden in the pouring rain. I became a regular visitor to these strange establishments, generally getting something pork-based, having never heard of "brisket."

That could have been anything. How should I know what Texans eat?

Upon a visit to the old-school Sonny Bryan's on Inwood Road, I decided to write about the whole thing. I hadn't really written anything before, beyond university work, which was the opposite of riveting and contained precisely zero jokes about meat sauce. I heard that all the kids these days were doing a "blog" wherein they wrote something hopefully worthwhile about a facet of their lives. Why not? This whole situation is ridiculous to a British person. Maybe I could articulate that and give some British people a good laugh. As it turns out, via Reddit, a bunch of American people thought it was funny too, and so I started out down that oft-trodden path of "man on wrong continent tries local cuisine, is suddenly addicted, writes Blogspot piece, goes viral or something, comes to be accepted by the locals apart from Gabe48."

Almost immediately I was brought into the bosom of the barbecue family. In Britain, we fear outsiders. Hell, we don't really like each other very much. To suddenly be a person who could be on friendly terms with restaurant owners in this strange foreign place was unimaginable to me. I dashed all over this and other nearby cities (and, in one unforgettable day, hitting every place in Lockhart), bashing out one review a week, always getting positive feedback, gradually acquiring more and more friends.

The folks at Lockhart Smokehouse have been wonderful since the very beginning, chastising me for liking sauce and explaining exactly what it is I was actually meant to be doing. Daniel Vaughn, the barbecue editor at Texas Monthly and a Meat Fight judge, has been endlessly supportive, always ready to discuss anything and everything to do with barbecue. Justin and Diane from Pecan Lodge, too. There's a real barbecue community in Dallas that I'm proud to be a part of, no matter how minor my contribution.

And so here I am, dear reader, fully employed by a newspaper to spout bollocks, off the back of a series of barbecue posts. I went to the NRA Conference in Houston. I've been reviewing concerts all over Dallas for the last 10 months. I did stand-up at the Dallas Comedy House. None of this bizarre shit could possibly have happened without two things, and they are the love of a good and extraordinarily patient woman, and Texas barbecue.

Something about the smoke and the beef has not only brought together a state (as well as divided it, in the case of deciding which place is the best), it has allowed the most outside of outsiders, a man who doesn't even really like human contact, to develop an incredible circle of friends, acquaintances, supporters and family. Just because I ate a lot of meat and made some dick jokes. The level to which I have ended up integrating into America, probably more so than I was back in Cardiff, is unbelievable to me. Sure, I've been lucky, but I owe all the luck to the strange cooking methods of the loveliest state in the Union. Texas barbecue, and indeed Texas, forever.

Previously In Meat Week: - The Making Of Meat Fight - Five of Dallas' Best Barbecue Sides - Yes, Even Texas Barbecue Needs Sauce

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Gavin Cleaver
Contact: Gavin Cleaver