Queuing Up for 'Q

Clear eyes, full bellies, can't lose

There is one singular truth in this life: No one can eat 21 slices of brisket at once. However, the Texas Monthly BBQ Fest certainly provided folks the opportunity to put the lie to that notion, with thousands of guests lining up on a perfect fall afternoon to sample the wares of those deemed most worthy by the state’s foremost authority on slow-smoked meats.

From among the 21 of Texas Monthly’s top 50 barbecue joints in attendance on Sunday, roughly half a dozen represented Austin, including reigning champion Franklin BBQ, up-and-comer La Barbecue, and Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew, all three of which could be described as members of the Louie Mueller Barbecue family tree.

Austin's brisket king, Aaron Franklin (Photo by Angela Clawson)
Unsurprisingly, these were among the vendors with the longest lines, even during the quieter VIP hour before the general admission hordes arrived at one o’clock. ‘Cue slingers from the surrounding areas included the aforementioned Louie Mueller’s (Taylor), Opie’s (Spicewood), and Black’s (Lockhart), which some people copped to having visited more than once during the festival.

While all of the barbecue purveyors present had something worthwhile to offer, a few offerings stood out among the pounds of flesh. Of the briskets on offer, Dallas’ Pecan Lodge was the unqualified champion, tangy with mesquite smoke and boasting a gorgeously caramelized bark. Aaron Franklin had better watch his back. Despite rhapsodic chatter about La Barbecue’s brisket, it was flavorful but a bit mushy. However, John Lewis' hand-made sausage was peppery and snapped pleasurably when bitten. Cousins BBQ out of Fort Worth offered up an unapologetically-spicy jalapeño cheddar sausage, while the beef rib from Stiles Switch was exceptional and felt like a secret treat in the sea of brisket and pork.

The team from Stiles Switch BBQ in Austin (Photo by Angela Clawson)

Despite the fact that the Long Center City Terrace was full to bursting and people spent the bulk of their time standing in long lines for generous samples, the festival felt like a party, with Crown Royal and Deep Eddy Vodka flowing like water and diverse musical entertainment provided by Shinyribs, Bobby Patterson & the Disciples, and Hacienda. Strangers congregated underneath the shade of expansive tents and compared tasting notes and shared best practices for gathering tastings. Texas Monthly Barbecue Editor Daniel Vaughn glad-handed and signed copies of his first barbecue tome, The Prophets of Smoked Meat. While it’s doubtful anyone left having sampled all 21 offerings, it is guaranteed that everyone left with a full belly and the lingering smell of smoke in their hair, ready to do it all again next year.

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