In June, 2017 the new Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ list came out. Every 4 or 5 years, Texas Monthly BBQ editor Daniel Vaughn and his team travel the state and create a list of the best BBQ in Texas. I picked up a copy off the magazine rack and something clicked.
Inside this magazine, tucked into the centerfold, is the BBQ passport. Inside the passport is a list of all the Top 50 restaurants. I had visited several of these places before and heard of many more. It was a child-like fantasy to plan in my head all the trips it would take to accomplish this. I spent many evenings with this passport open, looking at all the clusters of restaurants on their fold-out map. A conference here, a day trip there, a vacation with friends in another city. I started planning all my trips and free weekends around these places.
Of note – Only the Top 10 are ranked numerically. Places 11-50 are left up to the reader/eater to decide where they rank. The Top 10 on this list are as follows:
- Louie Mueller
- Tejas Chocolate Craftory
- Micklethwait Craft Meats
- Evie Mae’s
The above picture is my passport. Each sticker or stamp represents a different story. Most just symbolize the story, but some tell a story on their own. Look at the sticker for Kreuz BBQ (bottom center) – notice how it’s brown in color compared to the others? They keep their sticker sheet next to their smokers. Kreuz is in Lockhart, known as the BBQ capitol of Texas. Their massive smoker and huge dining hall are an institution. When I see that sticker, I vividly remember looking at this monster smoker.
So why go to all these places?
In addition to the pride of becoming a self-proclaimed BBQ expert, Yeti partnered with Texas Monthly and created a list of prizes you can obtain from their flagship store in Austin. Different combinations of stickers will qualify you for different prizes.
Here is a list of the combinations and prizes:
- Top 50 Joints – All 50 locations. Yeti Tundra 45 Cooler is the prize.
- Louie Mueller Family Tree – Visit all the pit masters who have trained with the Muellers. 5 restaurants in total. Half Gallon Rambler Jug is the prize.
- Texas Pastrami – Visit 3 places with the best pastrami. Prize is a Wild Card! I think it’s mostly Yeti stickers.
- Historic Tour – Visit the 5 oldest restaurants on the list. Prize is a 30 oz Rambler Tumbler.
- Top 10 Briskets – Visit the 10 restaurants with the best briskets. Prize is a Yeti Tank.
- The Four Corners of Texas – Visit the 4 farthest places on the list. Prize is a Hopper 30.
- New Kids on the Block – Visit any 2 restaurants that have only been open two years or less. Prize is a hat.
- BBQ Tacos – Visit the 4 restaurants with the best BBQ tacos. Prize is a Colster.
- Badass Women – Visit 4 restaurants with female pit masters. Prize is a 36 oz Rambler Bottle.
- Hoofin’ It – Visit 4 Austin restaurants all walking distance from one another. Prize is a T-shirt.
Now you’re up to speed on how this Top 50 Passport works and what’s at stake.
My first place on the list to visit was the venerable Pecan Lodge in Dallas. Previously ranked #4 of 50 but now ousted from the Top 10 and in the 11-50 stable, they are still always busy.
I stood at their door on June 7th, 2017 at 9:45AM to start the line. Shortly after I arrived, a fellow BBQ fanatic named Danny showed up. He was in the area (Deep Ellum, Dallas) because his wife was receiving a medical treatment at nearby Baylor Hospital. I showed him my then-blank passport and we talked about all the places we had been. He was just as hooked as me, having already been to Franklin’s 5-hour line in Austin among other hot spots.
When over an hour had passed and it was nearly 11:00, the cashier opened the front door and led me through their around-the-bend line. To my absolute embarrassingly childish delight, he had me ring a big prairie house style triangle to signal they were open for the day. This is the Texas equivalent of ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. I looked back at the line behind me, snaking around the building and out the front door before quickly ordering. I learned a fundamental truth about Texas BBQ:
Good Texas BBQ creates a line out the door.Zach Jones
I am new to blogging, and I can only assume quoting yourself mid-story is obnoxious and sanctimonious, so I apologize. Here is a picture of that first line I stood in, and the glorious plate of BBQ I got as my reward.
In Texas, brisket is king. And few do it better than Pecan Lodge. Look at the zoomed in picture on the right. It’s tender enough to cut with a fork without falling apart. The outer black crust, called bark, is outrageously flavorful with smoke, salt, and perfectly rendered/melted fat that took the better part of an entire day to accomplish. This was a fantastic way to start my 2 year journey across the state. I will post more of these stories as time permits and if interest is there.