Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review: The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael Twitty 

Michael Twitty's Website, Facebook & Twitter 

The Cooking Gene Website & Amazon Page

And now for something a little different. 

When I heard that Michael Twitty was writing a book exploring African American culinary history, I knew it was a must-read.* For those who don’t know him, Michael regularly blends the history of food into his thoughts about African American history, Jewish history and cultural understanding. I suspected I wouldn’t be getting a cook book, but a look at history from a perspective I haven’t seen (and grew up on the other side of).**  
“The Cooking Gene” is many things: a look at history, an autobiography, and a genealogy. It’s Michael’s journey of self-discovery of his roots and culture. Woven throughout is how African culture and cuisine played a role in life and growth in the US. It is a hard look, being open and frank about the role slavery played in bringing African influence to American cuisine, and does not soften that role in the slightest.  
Michael tells the story in much the way he discovered it. As a result, it’s not a linear journey. We’re reading parts of a life journey of discovery of faith, gender, heritage, and identity. And in almost every page are subtle nods to the role food plays, both for him and for the people of the times in question. Whether BBQ, veggies, or sugar cane, we learn how African culture has influenced it to this day.  
Let me be clear: this is not an easy book to read. It’s going to make you question a lot of what you knew (or thought you knew) about food, but also about race and history. And that’s a good thing, because if it didn’t make you question then it would have failed in its job. This is definitely a success.  
Is it worth a read? Absolutely. 
Is it worth owning? I certainly think so. Again, let me clarify that this isn’t a cook book (although there are quite a few excellent looking recipes). This is history.  

* “The Cooking Gene” was crowd sourced funded. I did contribute a small amount. I was not paid for the review and purchased my copy. 

** One of the places Michael visited was Middleton Place in Charleston, SC. I’ve visited there myself as part of a family reunion, since I am a Middleton on my father’s side of the family. It’s definitely eye-opening to get a perspective from the other side.

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Revisit to Freedmen's BBQ (Austin, TX)  

Freedmen's Website, Facebook, Instagram & Twitter  

Scott, James, Mom, and I went to Freedmen’s Saturday. Mom wanted BBQ, I needed to revisit them to continue my BBQ Passport, and James and Scott came along for the ride (literally in James’ case, as he joined us after his 20 mile bike ride).  

We won’t go into as much detail about the place this time, as you can read it all in our earlier post. It is still sit-down, and still has a heck of a whiskey selection. We get moist brisket, pork ribs, pulled pork, sausage, and turkey. 

Brisket: The brisket is still moist and tender, but not quite as much as last time. There’s a nice smoke flavor and some good black pepper (Mom thinks it is a bit much). Scott and I both agree it is good, but not quite as good as last time. Mom and Scott: 7.5/10. James and Tom: 8.0/10.

Ribs: The ribs are tender and juicy, with a nice crust. They have a great flavor, nice smoke, and lots of pepper. The flavor goes to the bone. We have a unanimous consensus. Mom, Scott, and Tom: 8.5/10.
Sausage: It’s still the jalapeno blend, so no score from Tom. It is juicy and tender, although the casing is somewhat tough and chewy (no real snap). However, for those who love the jalapeno, this one is excellent. Scott and Mom: 9.0/10. James: 7.0/10. (Tom: Ignoring flavor, I’d probably drop one point on whatever score I would give because the casing was extremely tough this time).

Turkey: The turkey is extremely tender and moist. There’s a lot of spice in here, not just pepper (although that is present as well). It actually has a bit of a burn, but the flavor is wonderful. They are definitely doing this right. Mom finds the pepper a hair much. Mom: 8.0/10. Scott, James, and Tom: 9.0/10.
 Pulled Pork: Tender and moist without being greasy There’s some nice spice in here similar to the turkey, but also a sweetness. This is good enough that it is worth getting extra to take home. James, Tom, and Scott: 9.0/10. Mom: 9.5/10.  
Scott and I finish with a shot of whiskey each (since this is my first meal of the day does that mean I had whiskey for breakfast?). They have a huge selection and our server seems knowledgeable, so Scott gets some advice before making a selection. I’ve heard that there are some good things coming out of Japan, so try a shot of the Hakashu 12 year. Both are excellent.  
Freedmen’s is definitely a worthy entry into Texas Monthly’s Top 50 list. It’s a great place to get some BBQ in a relaxed sit-down setting, and enjoy a good drink while eating.  

Let the Meat Coma commence!
Still worth both a visit and a trip.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Review of John Mueller's Black Box Barbeque (Georgetown, TX)  

Black Box Barbeque's Website, Facebook, Instagram & Twitter  
Jason Voorhees. Michael Meyers. John Mueller. What do they have in common? They never stay down for long. (Scott: No Godzilla on the list?)  With Black Box Barbeque, John (related to the same Mueller family who runs Louie Mueller’s in Taylor) is on his third business in six years. And he’s come out swinging. Scott and I headed there Saturday to see how this one compares to the others.  
Scott double-fists beer and coffee??
Black Box is currently a food trailer, which opened in late April around the Georgetown Red Poppy Festival, although there are plans for a brick and mortar. As he has in the past, John offers beer to those waiting in line. Lone Star is today’s offering (a good breakfast beer as my German brother-in-law calls it). But we aren’t here for beer (Scott: Officially). Scott and I order turkey, sausage, ribs, and brisket, and sit down to eat.  
Turkey: The turkey is extremely tender and juicy. There’s lots of smoky flavor, and a ton of black pepper adding a wonderful kick to it. It almost melts in the mouth. Scott sums it up thusly: “When the spice and the turkey got together, Barry White was playing in the background”. Tom, Scott: 9.5/10. 
Brisket: We get moist. It has a nice thick bark with a lot of the black pepper 9it’s a theme). There’s a good smoky flavor as well. Scott: 8.5/10. Tom: 9.0/10.  
Ribs: The ribs have a nice meat to bone ratio. They are tender and juicy. There’s a good smoky flavor. The pepper is present, but a bit more subdued than the other items, which works well. Tom, Scott: 8.5/10. 
Sausage: It’s a coarse ground beef sausage. There’s a nice snap, and it is moist without being greasy. It starts very smooth on the flavor and then the heat kicks in about 15 seconds later. Tom, Scott: 8.5/10.  
Note: Coarse ground pepper is a prevalent part of the rub on the meats.  It's presence in the meats is a theme, leitmotif - (checking a thesaurus or Wikipedia).
A few people had asked me what I thought about John opening a new place, and if it would be as good as his old ones. I could get nostalgic, or poetic, but I think paraphrasing a John Wick quote will sum it up best: 
“People keep asking if he’s back and I haven’t really had an answer, but yeah, I’m thinking he’s back.
Is it worth a visit? Absolutely.  
Is it worth a trip? Again, absolutely.

Friday, June 23, 2017

City Market Review (Luling, TX)  

City Market (Luling) Facebook & Yelp  

Our second stop of the day was City Market in Luling. Located in downtown Luling, it has been in business for over 35 years. Interestingly, they have a room inside a room for ordering the BBQ, as the main outside room is a store. We order brisket, sausage, and ribs.
Brisket: We ordered moist. It’s extremely uneven. Some of us got some that seemed reasonably moist. I… didn’t. I actually have to work to tear mine. It’s dry, tough, and has little to no flavor. This is easily the most contested ranking of the day. James: 7.0/10. Mike: 6.0/10. Denise: 5.0/10. Hank: 4.5/10. Julie: 4.0/10. Suzanne: 3.0/10. Tom: 2.0/10. Average: 4.5. 

Ribs: The skin is still on some of them, which a few of us don’t like. There’s a nice rub on them and a touch of sweetness, but not a lot of smoke flavor. They are tender. Mike: 7.5/10. Tom, Denise, James: 7.0/10. Hank: 6.0/10. Suzanne, Julie: 4.0/10. Average: 6.07.  

Sausage: The coarse ground sausage has a nice snap, an excellent flavor, and a fair amount of heat. It’s still a bit greasier than I like, but not as bad as the day’s earlier offering, and overall seems to be the pick of City Market. Mike: 8.5/10. Denise, James: 8.0/10. Hank: 7.0/10. Tom: 5.5/10. Julie: 5.0/10. Average: 7.0.
City Market keeps a low profile (no webpage and minimal social media (unofficial Facebook page)), but they are turning out some solid ribs and sausage.  
Is it worth a visit? Definitely. Seems like a solid place to stop.  
Is it worth a trip? Not at this time. Only one item had anyone score it 8 or higher. We usually want three 8 or higher scores for a trip.

Kreuz's Market Review (Lockhart, TX)  

Kreuz's Market Webpage, Facebook, & Twitter  

Since a few of us are going to try and complete the TMBBQ Passport Challenge (we aren’t really trying for prizes so we aren’t rushing), we made a road trip. First stop was Kreuz’s Market.  
Kreuz’s has been around since the early 1900s, and is one-half of one of the biggest BBQ rivalries in Texas history (Smitty’s being the other half). People in Lockhart are very passionate about their respective favorite, and Food Wars even did an episode on the rivalry back in 2010.  
But how are they today? I went along with James, Mike, and some of Mike’s family (Denise, Hank, Suzanne, and Julie) to see how they rate. After meeting up, we ordered. As usual, not everyone tried everything, and we didn’t get as much as we normally would since we had other spots lined up.  
Brisket: We ordered moist, which turned out to be fortunate, as it was a little tough, It did have a solid flavor with some nice smoke, but was just a bit tough to call excellent. Quality seemed a bit uneven in the various servings, as some ratings varied substantially from others.  Tom, Hanks, James, and Denise: 7.0/10. Mike: 6.5/10. Suzanne: 5.5/10. Julie: 4.0/10. Average: 6.29 

Pork Rib: I was the only one who tried it. It was huge, with a nice meat to bone ratio. It was tender without being overdone, and there was a nice peppery smoke flavor. Tom: 8.5/10.  

Chicken: The chicken is tender and juicy. There’s a light smoke flavor, but not much else, and most of it is concentrated in the skin (it doesn’t carry through to the bone). Tom, Denise: 7.0/10. Mike: 5.0/10. Average: 6.33

Original Sausage: It has a coarse grind, and there’s definitely some spice to add a bit of heat. The underlying flavor is good and might have had a decent snap. Unfortunately, it is loaded in grease to the point of dripping out when the sausage is open. The grease overwhelms the flavor of the sausage. There’s a line between moist/juicy and greasy, and this has crossed it. Of course, opinions can vary. Hank: 6. Denise: 5. Tom: 4. Mike: 2. Average: 4.25.  
Kreuz’s certainly has some good BBQ. The ribs are excellent and the brisket and chicken are solid. The sausage is more hit/miss depending on how you feel about grease.  
Is it worth a visit? It seems like a solid place to go for lunch.  
Is it worth a trip? We’d have to say no at this time. With the exception of the rib (and only one of us scored that), nothing really stood out in the exceptional range. I’d call them good, but not great. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Snow's BBQ Review (Lexington, TX)  

Snow's BBQ Webpage, Facebook, & Twitter 

Snow’s is one of the legendary BBQ places in Central Texas, and pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz has been putting out BBQ since 2003. Unusually for a BBQ place, Snow’s is only open on Saturdays, and is definitely a trip from Austin. Mike, James, other James, Ric and I headed on out with the goals of enjoying a good drive and having some good BBQ.

The lines at Snow’s used to be long enough that if you weren’t there by 8am you were walking away empty-handed. With the rise of other BBQ places closer to Austin, the lines have died a little. We get there about 10:30 and spend about 45 minutes in line waiting to order. It’s definitely worth the wait. Most of us get some to go as well as something to eat there. They offer chicken, sausage (regular and jalapeno), brisket, pork ribs, turkey, and pork shoulder. Note: I’m the only one scoring this trip.

Chicken: The chicken is extremely tender and juicy, and has a wonderful smoky flavor. There’s a lot of pepper, and something that I suspect is mustard seed in the rub as well. It’s one of the best I’ve had.  9.5/10. 
Brisket: The moist brisket has a lot of smoke and is very tender. There’s a nice amount of pepper as well. 8.5/10.

Pork Ribs: There’s a good amount of meat on the bones, and a lot of pepper (I’m noticing a theme). They are fairly tender without being overdone. The smoke goes through to the bone. 8.5/10.

Turkey: The turkey is tender and juicy, and has a nice light smoke flavor with lots of pepper. 9.0/10.

Original Sausage: The sausage has a nice snap and a good flavor. It is a tad bit on the greasy side. 8.0/10.

If you are wondering if Snow’s deserves the praise it gets, wonder no further. They are turning out some excellent BBQ that is definitely worth traveling for. 

Is it worth a visit? Yep. 

Is it worth a trip? Absolutely. It’s a very nice drive out there, and you’ll have some excellent BBQ waiting at the end.  


Sunday, April 9, 2017

A Visit to the 2017 Houston Annual BBQ Festival (Houston, TX)

Houston BBQ Festival Webpage, Facebook, & Twitter 

For the second year BBQ Recon hit up the Houston BBQ Festival. A lot of popular Houston names were there, and this festival truly shows that Houston has come into its own as a BBQ destination spot.

One of the true joys of a festival like this is getting to sample the creativity that people can bring to BBQ. While we all love a well-prepared brisket or some juicy ribs, there's something to be said for trying something a little different and adventurous. Even if some of the experiments don’t work out that well, it's still good to see people taking chances and pushing the boundaries a bit. After all, places like Valentina's didn't get where they are by playing it safe.

Loni and I were here last year, so we knew what to expect. Joining us was our friend Bryan (no, not the excellent @bbqbryan), who was attending his first BBQ festival. And was he in for a treat. While there was plenty of brisket and sausage to go around, there were a lot of special treats to go with them!

What were some of the high points?

Gerardo's came out with some excellent Baracoa tacos. While this may seem basic, they were well seasoned and show that Tex-Mex BBQ is here to stay.

Pappa Charlies had a wonderful candied pork bite, along with a great sausage!

Corkscrew convinced me that I need to smoke my next prime rib. Why would you do it any other way?!?

Louie Mueller brought their beef rib (always one of the best around), and their lamb popper was outstanding!

Spring Creek BBQ had some really great glazed ribs and some excellent jalapeno poppers (and I say that as a person who doesn’t normally like jalapeno).

Pinkerton's had some great burnt ends (I got their late and missed the other good stuff). But they also had some awesome shirts!

And there were quite a few other good things as well that I may not have gotten pictures of. All of it was good. But if I had to pick my top two favorite things I tried, it's a tossup….

Roegels BBQ teamed up with John Brotherton and was offering smoked pastrami that I could have cheerfully eaten all day. Seriously, this needs to be a regular menu item if it isn’t already!

Killen's had their (always excellent brisket) and an excellent rib. But they also offered a pork belly bite that probably needs to be classified as a controlled substance. In other news, reports that a man in a BBQ recon was hitting people on the head and taking their pork belly have been taken completely out of context!

Hats off to Houston BBQ for throwing an excellent festival! Things went very smoothly, and I love that they had us pre-banded before opening. It made getting much smoother. I have a huge list of places we need to visit more formally, so better start making plans!


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Brotherton BBQ/Leroy & Lewis BBQ -
Pop-up Event at the Growler Bar (Pflugerville, TX)

Leroy And Lewis BBQ Webpage, Facebook, & Twitter
Evan Leroy's Webpage & Twitter 

Brotherton BBQ Webpage, Facebook, & Twitter 

The Growler Bar Webpage, Facebook, & Twitter  
John Brotherton of Brotherton BBQ and Evan LeRoy (former pitmaster at Freedman’s Bar) teamed up for a popup event at The Growler bar in Pflugerville. These are two of the best pitmasters in the area, although neither has a brick and mortar or permanent trailer spot at present (but each have plans in the work as I understand it?). But they keep their fans happy with events such as this (and judging from the line I suspect the Growler Bar is pleased with the business it brings in as well).  

There’s a nice crowd. I arrived at 3:45 and was about 25 spots back in line. I was joined by my friend James, and had a nice conversation with Tim (and later his friend Jeff) whom we ended up sitting with.  When I left at 7:15, I’d estimate there were still 70-80 people in line.  

The meat menu for this event is a combination of classics and unusual. John is providing brisket, pork spare ribs, and a bacon cheeseburger sausage. Evan offers up arroz con pollo boudin, boudin stuffed quail, and a bacon chop. I’ll be trying everything, and you’ll get ratings from James, Jeff, and Tim (guest scoring) based on their orders. 

Bacon Cheeseburger Sausage: We all agreed this was well-made, with a nice snap to the casing. It was juicy and tender without being greasy. But for some reason the flavor didn’t really wow any of us. It was good, but felt like it was missing something that kept it from being great. On the way home I finished off my last bite and I think I figured out what it was (IMHO): it’s TOO much like a cheeseburger. I’m tasting the beef, and the cheese, but I’m not getting that spice flavor that makes me think sausage. This may be a case where too much accuracy wasn’t ideal.
Scoring Disclaimer: We all agreed that the quality of the preparation was well done. It was flavor that was the weak link for us. Tim - 6.0/10, James, Jeff, Tom – 7.0/10. Avg: 6.75/10. 

Bacon Chop: The bacon chop had an excellent flavor. There was some nice smoke and spice. It was a bit tough on the outside parts, although more tender as you got closer to the bone. The toughness was more of an issue to some than to others. Jeff – 6.5/10, Tim - 7.0/10, Tom – 8.0/10. Avg: 7.17/10.  

Arroz con Pollo Boudin: A nice snap on the casing. Could be a bit more tightly packed, as it is a hair soft even for boudin, but it has an excellent flavor. There some nice pieces of pepper to compliment the spices. Tom – 8.0/10.  

Pork Ribs: The ribs have a nice crust. There’s pepper, but also a nice sweetness at the finish. There’s a lot of meet on mine, and the flavor goes to the bone. Tim – 8.0/10, Tom – 8.5/10. Avg: 8.25/10.  

Brisket: I forgot to specify, and I ended up with lean. Despite that, it is extremely tender and flavorful. There’s black pepper but also something a bit hotter this time? I can only imagine what the moist was like, because this is close to melt in the mouth anyway. Tim and Jeff – 8.0/10, James and Tom – 9.0/10. Avg: 8.5/10.  

Boudin Stuffed Quail: I’ve always found BBQ quail to be very hit or miss, primarily because it is very easy to dry it out. Not in this case. It is perfectly juicy, with a nice crusty skin that is excellently seasoned. The boudin adds a wonderful flavor as well. This is perfect. I’d be happy eating nothing but these all night. Tom – 10/10.  

I’d heard someone in line wondering why two pitmasters would team up. Why aren’t they doing it by themselves to promote their own business? I can’t (and won’t) speak for their reason, but I do think a collaboration like this shows one of the best things about BBQ. There’s a lot of different things out there to try. No one pitmaster is going to be the best at every type of smoked meat or creative combination there is. A collaboration like this allows two excellent pitmasters to combine their skills to bring us an offering that is more than the sum of their parts. They get to show their talents to a potentially wider audience, and we…we get to taste the results.  

Can’t really do the normal summation since neither of them has a permanent location (yet). But if you can catch one or both somewhere, they are both worth trip distance (60 miles or more one way).