Monday, April 8, 2013

Hipster pitmasters? Young guns of BBQ? Resurgence of Texas tradition? There's a BBQ revolution happening and we don't know what to call it

Pecan Lodge pitmaster Justin Fourton and his infamous "Slim Pickins" sign. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves)

As Posse member Jim Rossman and I ate at Pecan Lunch Thursday, we talked about how to characterize what's happening now in Texas barbecue. Something big is going on and it needs a name.

We had just heard BBQ Snob and new Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn call it a "resurgence." He referred to young pitmasters, like Justin Fourton at Pecan Lodge, adopting the old school ways and using only wood to cook for a new generation of barbecue fans.

(Note: To hold our place, Rossman arrived at 10:45 a.m., 15 minutes before opening, and was about 40th in line. Vaughn, by coincidence, was about 10 people ahead. So, we chatted.)

Previously, in Posse circles, we've talked about the new "young guns" of barbecue redefining how we eat the national food of Texas. Nice term.  Good for headlines. But does it really describe what's happening?

Then Rossman said: "Hipster pitmasters."

Catchy.

While I'm not yet ready to declare it the perfect descriptor, because it does carry some negative baggage, let me think on the run for a while and try to construct a case for what to call the people behind this renaissance in Texas barbecue. That's what blogs are for, right?

Pitmaster Aaron Franklin poses by his newest smoker at Franklin Barbecue in Austin. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves)

The term hipster, in its best sense, certainly describes Aaron Franklin, the young, non-conventional  creator of Franklin Barbecue in Austin, hailed as the best BBQ joint and one of the most important restaurants in America. Franklin is legitimately hip.

He has a laid-back, almost nonchalant attitude, but he pays painstaking attention to detail. Cooking great barbecue is a long, hard process, but he, and other pitmasters leading this new Texas wave, make it look easy, as if they have some secret knowledge.

Franklin started in a trailer in 2009 and has made standing in lines -- as long as three hours -- cool. No easy task. But culinary guru Anthony Bourdain is among the many thousands who have done just that. Franklin uses only wood to fire his pits and he closes when the meat runs out.

While consistently great barbecue is the main attraction of these pitmasters, the concept of scarcity -- no more brisket today! -- helps create a mystique for some of them. Standing in line becomes a social event, an urban bohemian experience. And even people who never, ever, ever would stand in line to eat, do just that. Go figure.

Fourton and his wife, Diane, abandoned corporate careers for the food business. On some days, the lines at Pecan Lodge rival those at Franklin. Fourton has a special sign -- "Slim Pickins" -- for the last person in line expected to get a full choice from the menu. Guy Fieri loves the place. Justin and Diane have visited with Aaron and Stacy Franklin to learn and share experiences.

Stanley's pitmaster Nick Pencis poses with longtime customers Judy and James Wilkins. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins)

In Tyler, Nick Pencis of Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Q is the classic hipster owner/pitmaster. A musician, Pencis adopted the old school ways of the original owners of Stanley's and improved them. We saw lines there on our last visit. Pencis and his crew have won the Texas Monthly summer competition for ribs and he's now trying to make his joint a cool night-time music venue, too.

John Lewis at La Barbecue in Austin helped Aaron Franklin get his start. A year ago, Lewis, who has three pet pigs, was talking about moving to Napa Valley and serving great barbecue with great California cabernet. Then, in November, he joined forces with LeAnn Mueller of the legendary Texas barbecue family and launched La Barbecue.

There are certainly other pitmasters who fit the pattern, such as Lance Kirkpatrick at Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew in Austin. And owner/operators Jeff and Jill Bergus and Tim McLaughlin at Lockhart Smokehouse in Oak Cliff. McLaughlin was trained in culinary school. In Dallas, it's hard to get more hip than the O.C.

For the record, while we wonder whether Snow's owner Kerry Bexley would ever score high on the coolness scale, we do think Ms. Tootsie, his pit matriarch, is definitely hip, if not a hipster.

In fact, when all the roots for all the sources of this new era in Texas barbecue are eventually traced, we'll no doubt find a few of them leading directly to Snow's BBQ and its beginnings a decade ago when it started "smokin' the good stuff" just one day a week in Lexington and staying open only until the meat ran out.

I'm going to keep thinking on this...

Austin's La Barbecue "Cuisine Texicana" pitmaster John Lewis. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

6 comments:

  1. Kerry Bexley is a miner, auctioneer, and rodeo clown! There is some hipster in there.

    It seems like Austin has many hipster BBQ spots. Tom Mickle­thwait of Micklethwait Craft Meats would need to be added. The guys of Blue Ox Pancakes and BBQ also.

    What ever it is decided to call them, on thing is for sure, everyone you mentioned puts out amazing smoked meat.

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  2. I live about 75 miles from Tyler, but we have go to there fairly often to see medical specialists. Fortunately for me, Stanley's is just a few blocks from the hospital complex. For Christ's sake, I ate there following a procedure placing four stents in my arteries. I won't eat the Q around Mt. Pleasant anymore. I'll just drive.
    I love this blog!

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  3. Thanks Jacob, we're heading to Austin in a week or so & Micklethwait Craft Meats is high on the list. Thanks for the info..... Cheers/Chris

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  4. Stiles Switch it putting out some great stuff in Austin, Texas. I dont think Lance Kirkpatrick has ever been called a hipster...thats pretty funny. Taylor, Texas boy would get a kick out of that one. You need to meet the guy if you havent..as good as they come!

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    1. We ate at Mimosa's in Taylor when Lance was there. Loved it...Stiles Switch is on our agenda next week.

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  5. Most of these Barbeque hipsters can be directly traced back to the iron clad roots of Barbeque guru legendary pitmaster Louie Muellers franchise in Taylor Texas. Still hard pressed to find an all around better spot for Que.

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