Booker [yes]

Booker [yes]

Okay, so I haven’t blogged in a bit. Sorry about that. Moving on. I was moved to blog tonight by a bourbon that I’m in the middle of tasting.

Booker Noe bourbon is the entrancing glass I have the pleasure of getting to know this evening, specifically Dot’s batch 2015-02. What can I say about this bourbon that hasn’t been said about Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory? It’s magical, everything about it is delicious, and spoiler alert: the snozzberries taste like snozzberries! I think that about covers the movie references.

Tasting this bourbon started with a heavy nosing session, but don’t worry, I used protection. On the nose I found some of the following notes: chocolate, burnt sugar, luxardo cherries, oak. My nose could live in this glass for the rest of my life, and I don’t know if the spectacular scent of this tasty beverage would become tiresome.

If you thought the praise would be confined to the nose, you would be sorely mistaken. Let me preface by saying that this particular dram weighs in at 127.9 so the sips I’m taking are tiny. I also added about 10 ml. Of water to the glass after the first two sips. The mouth feel of this is thick, and syrupy, and the flavor envelopes all of the oral cavity as one gently sways the bourbon from side to side. I always turned my nose up at the Jim Beam syrup they sell at the store, but now I may think twice before I pass it again… The flavor of this bourbon without water contains toffee, cocoa powder kind of flavor, but once I added the water this bourbon very nearly took on all the notes that I was smelling to start this glass. Heavy chocolate flavor, Nutella, and roasted nuts (teehee) were at the fore of, and the finish is where the char from the oak comes out to play with the other kids. 

Overall, this bourbon ranks probably within the top five I’ve got on my shelf. I am definitely getting to be a bigger fan of some of the barrel proofed bourbons that are out there. There’s something about their body, and flavor complexity that is simply unmatched by most proofed down bourbon. The only thing that is holding this bourbon back for me, is that the sweetness, while pleasant, is almost overwhelming to the other flavors that present themselves in good bourbon.  If you have the means, I highly recommend picking up a bottle of Booker’s bourbon special batch. 

Franklin BBQ

Franklin BBQ

It’s been nearly a month since I was in the heart of Texas sampling the best BBQ the Lone Star State has to offer. The thought of smoked meat still weighs heavily on my mind a month after the journey was completed. In an effort to complete drawing the picture that was so explicitly put in front of us over the course of three days, I’m going to try to finish writing about my BBQ experience.

Consistent Perfection are the words that come to mind when I think about the food at Aaron Franklin’s joint in Austin. There was no better BBQ to be had once we had eaten there. Naturally, we were inclined to get some of everything that they offer (including a cold beer). I wish my grasp of the English language was adequate enough to describe the meat that we got. Please bear with me as I attempt to write in an hour what it has taken years for people to understand.

Let’s begin our story at the ass-crack of dawn, coincidentally the time we got up to wait in line at Franklin BBQ. In order to get the world famous BBQ at Franklin, one must be prepared to pay the piper by way of at least a three hour wait, and if you’re not there by about 8:30AM you probably won’t get any BBQ. Some people tailgate for football, I tailgate for BBQ. The line for us started a few minutes after 6:30 in the morning so we had about a four and a half hour wait ahead of us. I don’t assume that you visited my blog to read about waiting in line, but this gives you an idea of where our heads were at by the time we ate at about 11:00. At Franklin, there’s a staff member that takes your order as you wait in line to plan about how much meat will be left at the end of the line which is nice, and it also gets your head in the game fairly early on. After the whole rigamarole of waiting, our much anticipated moment of truth was upon us. As we told the meat cutter what we had ordered, the meat was cut right in front of our faces. You might not think that you can heighten anticipation much after a four and a half hour wait, but if you do think that, then you’ve never been to Franklin BBQ. It was all I could do to keep from catapulting myself over the counter, and burying my face in the cutting board that our order was on. As we sat down at the table to eat, there was only time to snap a couple of quick pictures before we could not control ourselves any longer.

The Meat.

In the catholic church, it is believed that as you take communion, the wine turns into the literal blood of Christ, and the bread, into his literal body. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, like communion, this meat was transcendental. It was on another plane of existence.

This is the part where the English language fails me. The brisket would end up being the best I had on the whole trip. There was an intense beefy flavor that poked through every other great characteristic. It would hold on, and not let go. In addition to the great flavor of meat that was used, the preparation, and execution of this serving was flawless. There was moisture that was coaxed out of these brisket slices that I’m convinced by all rights shouldn’t have been there… thank goodness it still was. Encasing the whole circumference of the slice was a expertly formed bark that was the perfect combination of salt, pepper, smoke, and fat. That same term that I’ve used before comes to mind – meat candy. This was meat candy if it ever existed. Fat that was partially rendered throughout the brisket, and what was left on top was a sticky translucent layer that handily complimented that strong beef flavor.

The turkey that is served is 100% white meat sliced from the breasts of a smoked bird. The turkey was cooked perfectly, and retained a joyous amount of moisture within the meat that was augmented by a quick dunk in liquid right before it is slapped on the tray. The turkey tasted just like that, turkey. There was not an overpowering sense that this meat had been smoked which can happen with lighter poultry flavors in a smoker. The texture was great not simply because the meat was supremely tender, but because they nailed the balance between keeping tender meat, but also maintaining the texture that meat should have before it is cooked to a pulp. I know that if you go to Franklin BBQ you may think that you don’t want to waste time with anything, but red meat, but I implore you, at least get a quarter pound of turkey. You won’t be disappointed.

The sausage at Franklin was surprisingly not the best I had on the Trip. In my opinion the casings on these links were a hair too tough to bite through easily. The flavor, however, was definitely worth biting into. There was a lot of great flavor coming from pepper, and what I could tell were not the dregs left of an animal after the slaughter which can often be the case.

Big fat full spare ribs are what’s on the tray at Franklin BBQ, and they are good to the last shred of meat left on the bone. The first thing I think about these ribs is the rub. These ribs did not need a drop of sauce which is not often the case with pork ribs. The rub that they use is a magical combination of spices that impart all the flavor that these ribs need. I cannot stress to you how common it is to have a perfectly cooked full spare rib, only to find the rib ends where all the cartilage is, dry and overcooked. These ribs were cooked perfectly all the way down the bone, and into the rib end. Once again the meat had juices that I could tell wanted to come out of the pores in the meat. This is indicative of perfectly rendered fat within the meat on the ribs. In my opinion, it is the brisket, and these ribs that stole the show at Franklin. Everything was superb, but these two meats stood out above the rest.

Of course there was also pulled pork. The pulled pork at Franklin was very similar to the pork we were served at La Barbecue with the exception of the already added sauce at La Barbecue. It was great that I got to try the unadulterated pork before I inevitably added the vinegar sauce that is kept on the table at Franklin BBQ. The pulled pork seemed tender enough that I might have been able to smear it over a slice of bread with a butter knife, (note to self – pulled pork spread). Even though the pork was amply tender, and moist, it still retained a good texture that allowed for a tactile chewing experience that should accompany a great pulled pork experience.

Only moments after I left Franklin BBQ I couldn’t wait until the next time I would be in Austin to eat there again. Even though we knew there were three more stops on the day ahead, we did not regret eating almost four pounds of meat for an instant. If you ever find yourself among the privileged few that get to sample what is, in my opinion, the zenith of smoked meat, please do not hold back. Make every effort to maximize your experience here; you will not have many more like it.

La Barbecue. Austin, TX

La Barbecue. Austin, TX

There are few better things than a perfectly smoked brisket, beef rib, pulled pork, etc. When the proper combination of heat, smoke and meat come together, the results can be an experience as opposed to a meal. I had that experience today at La Barbecue in Austin, Texas. Even though I was dripping in sweat by the time we were at the front of the line ordering, I could not get my mind off of the smells, and sights that were engulfing my senses. In addition to the BBQ, I was also reminded of the BBQ experience that has been missing in my life since the last time I was in Austin. There is almost always going to be a significant line to wait in if you want to get some of the best BBQ, at least that is the case in Austin.

We arrived at about 10:00am to start waiting for what would turn out to be the best BBQ of the day. I had high hopes initially because this particular establishment came highly recommended by my brother, whose taste I trust supremely. This particular joint is a food truck that is situated in a densely developed part of the city, and I could see how it would be possible to drive right past it if you’re not looking for it. By the time we would leave not only we found the barbecue, but we had also found the Texas BBQ experience at La Barbecue.

I cannot say enough good things about the food we had. Brisket, turkey, pulled pork, and a beef rib that could destroy the buoyancy balance in a nuclear submarine! I honestly don’t see how it can get much better than this which does not bode well for the assuredly longer line that awaited us at Franklin BBQ the next day.

For starter’s I have to address the beef rib. This is by far the best beef rib I have ever had at a restaurant. There was a great render of the fat that comes with the cut. the bark on these ribs is out of this world. A very peppery crispy bark greets any patron who is lucky enough to nab one of these ribs before they sell out early in the afternoon. The meat that occupied the prehistoric looking bone left on the bottom was tender enough that one could easily poke a finger down through the whole thickness of the rib. The beef flavor was heavily offset by the amount of fat that was coursing with flavor that now courses through my veins. If you have a friend to share it with this is one of the best ways to go at this joint.

Next, we should probably have that important conversation about pork. the pulled pork that came on our tray was cooked to be very tender, and was pre-doused in a vinegar sauce that gave things a nice twang on the initial bite. The marriage of this sauce, and this pork definitely hits the spot in a BBQ jungle that is dominated by un-sauced brisket.

Turkey is not just for thanksgiving. Never has been, never will be. Thank goodness there are BBQ joints across the country that agree with me on that point. I would imagine that La Barbecue has some of the best turkey available from those BBQ joints! I liked the thickness of the slices that the turkey cam in, and I also liked the seasonings that were on the top of the slices we ordered. There was a good smoke flavor, but it was not overpowering like turkey can get in the smoker against a lighter flavored meat. even though the slices were a little thicker than what you might normally find at a BBQ joint, I think there was a great texture, and tenderness to the slices. It’s definitely worth a shot if you find yourself in line for La Barbecue.

Now time for the main attraction… the brisket. I don’t think there are enough good things that I can say about this brisket. From the burnt ends that were cut for us to try to the last bites we took off our tray was all sublime. For starters, it is cooked to a perfect tenderness in the lean, and fatty cuts. I feel obligated to create an official tenderness scale just so I can rate this at the top. The Bark is perfectly seasoned with the rub that is midnight black when it is served. The interaction of fat cap, and salt/pepper in the rub in this brisket has created what I have heard referred to as “meat candy.” When brisket is cooked wonderfully, and there is a great rub interacting with a great piece of meat this magical substance is found, and occupies your whole brain as you are eating it. I believe that in the interest of time, I have said enough good things about the brisket.

It’s a good thing that there were no emergencies in the immediate area while I was eating La Barbecue because I’m not entirely sure that I would vacate the area if it was deemed “necessary.” Even though this was BBQ that came directly after a trip to Snow’s in Lexington it felt like eating BBQ for the first time while I was enjoying it. I cannot see any scenario in which one goes to La Barbecue, and doesn’t have a good meal. I implore you to try this joint if you find yourself anywhere near the Austin area!

Snow’s BBQ

Snow’s BBQ

Today I found out that it’s never too early for BBQ. 6:00AM wake-up, on the road by 6:30, and in line by 7:15. This is the proper sequence of events for obtaining the sought after fare of Snow’s in Lexington, TX. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to ignore my alarm this morning, but my overwhelming love for BBQ, and motivation for this particular trip easily won my will this morning. The line was quiet, probably due to the odd hours that owner Kerry Bexley keeps, (doors open at 8:00AM). There was, however, no shortage of excitement from the 50, or so people that had already gathered to get a bite of this classic Texas establishment.

As we arrived onsite, we were greeted with what one would think of a quintessential Texas BBQ restaurant. Everything was open air, under a metal covering, and the indoor area was smaller that the housing for the four large smokers that occupied the outdoor area. Even the aural senses were stimulated as you could hear cattle faintly from down the street. There was no shortage of experience for this place, they even had it down to the Patsy Cline playing on the radio. Everyone at the restaurant seemed very friendly, and it wasn’t long after 8:00 before we were able to get our hands on a half pound of brisket, a link of sausage, four slices, of pork steak, and two pork spare ribs.

The food was good. Better than most anything you can get in Oklahoma, but unfortunately my high praise stops there.

Good brisket is a thing of beauty. I would equate what we had this morning to being halfway through cosmetology school. We got both lean, and fatty cuts of brisket which come from different sides of a whole brisket. By all common reasoning, a fatty cut should be more moist than a lean cut which was not the case. Both cuts were fairly dry, and were very salty, even by Texas standards. I think the lean brisket had a better flavor though, and was not quite as dry as the pieces that were cut off of the point for us.

The pork ribs. These were probably the best thing that we had at Snow’s. The flavor of the rib was quite good, and the meat was not falling off the bone, but would come off easily. I would say that there was no shortage of flavor from the rub either. The rub was peppery, but also contained a few other flavors, and colors from some ingredients that I can’t quite recall (it was early).

The sausage. There was no shortage of flavor, texture, or experience in eating the sausage that we were served. For good smoked sausage, there is an unique snap that should occur when one bites through the casing, and into the contents of said sausage. This had it. There was a distinct snap that was quickly followed by juice that ran down my chin, and probably into my chest hair. We got a jalapeno sausage which was bursting with flavor, and had distinct texture instead of a meat mush inside the well cooked casing.

Pork Steak. I must admit that the pork steak was a BBQ first for me. The pork steak is a cross section of a Boston butt with the bone in, seasoned, and cooked over wood fire coals. I’m a fan! I think the the meat was cooked well, and it had, perhaps, the strongest pork flavor I’ve ever experienced in BBQ. The only thing that I was not a huge fan of on this was that the fat in the pork slices was not rendered all the way from the cooking process. As their claim to fame, the pork steak was certainly unique, but I don’t know if it was a show stopper in the world of BBQ.

I had really high hopes for Snow’s, and I think that is one of the reasons it let me down as much as it did. I can’t say I was disappointed, but I don’t think I would have driven an hour out of Austin for it, had I known what I was getting into. Perhaps on another day, or in another life I would have been more taken with Snow’s. I was definitely enamored with this place before I ate there, but alas, it was never meant to be.

This will be the first in a series of BBQ experiences that will be had over the course of a few days. There may be incoherent text speech, or general silliness due to massive intake of smoked meats. I hope you enjoy what I have to say!