Friday, November 11, 2016

Inflation watch: Franklin's barbecue and Austin home prices on same track

All sold out at the original Franklin Barbecue trailer in Nov. 2010. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)
Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins sent me a photo the other day from a trip we made to the original Franklin Barbecue in November of 2010.

It shows the front of Aaron Franklin's little trailer in Austin and his barbecue prices at the time.

"Sweet memories," Wilkins said in his email subject line.

Indeed.

Franklin then sold his terrific brisket for $13 a pound. Now it's $20 a pound, a nearly 54 percent increase.

Ribs were $11 a pound then; now $17, also a 54 percent increase.

Franklin, of course, has since moved to a permanent building near downtown, which increased operating costs. And there was a huge jump in the price of raw brisket a while back.

Still, that 50 percent barbecue increase occurred over a period when overall consumer prices in the country rose by only about 10 percent.

But compared to another staple of life, shelter, Franklin's prices appear right in line. Since 2010,  the median price of an Austin-area home has jumped more than 50 percent, from about $179,000 to about $275,000.

So, Austin not only has one of the hottest residential real estate markets around but also one of the hottest barbecue markets.

More Franklin price comparisons:

Pulled pork, $11 a pound in 2010, $17 now.

Sausage, $9  vs. $12.

Tipsy Texan sandwich, $4.95 vs. $8.

Single serving sides (potato salad, slaw or beans),  $1.35 vs. $2.50.

Quart-size sides, $8  vs $9.

I'm certainly not an economic expert. But I would think that there is still some upside to both Franklin's prices and Austin homes.
Gary Jacobson carries the Posse's first-ever Franklin brisket to the table in 2010. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Going whole hog at CattleAck BBQ on Saturday

Tray of whole hog, brisket & pork ribs with sides at CattleAck BBQ in north Dallas (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)
The Posse first caught wind of CattleAck BBQ in May 2013, when Jim Rossman picked up some Twitter buzz on a new joint in north Dallas near the Galleria. Jim headed up on the tollway to investigate, finding a promising new player on the DFW barbecue scene.

After success in the catering business, owners Todd and Misty David decided to open on Fridays from 11am until the meat ran out. A full Posse contingent made a followup visit  to CattleAck a few weeks later for a rare Saturday opening and was blown away. Gary Jacobson wrote, "After eating at Cattleack Barbecue last Saturday, the Posse declared the Dallas joint the equal of any in town."

Over three years later, the Davids are still catering but are now open Thursdays and Fridays at 10:30am, and starting last month are open the first Saturday of each month. They also recently expanded their restaurant by adding a large dining room in the space next door. As the lines will attest, CattleAck is far from a secret for hard core BBQ aficionados.

We met pitmaster Marshall Cooper out front on Saturday at 9:30am, where we were first in line. Our timing as good, the line started building almost immediately behind us. There was a lot of anticipation in the crowd for Todd's whole hog offering, not a regular menu item and something you don't see a lot in Texas BBQ.

Along with the whole hog, we ordered brisket, pork ribs, turkey, sausage, beef brisket pastrami and sides. Every meat was cooked to perfection, moist and full of smokey flavor. By 11am I counted 80 people in line, which ran from the back of their new dining room, snaking into a queue for the serving line in an adjacent room. The line seemed to move pretty quickly though.

If you haven't been to CattleAck BBQ yet, check your calendar for the first Saturday of the month and plan a journey to have some of the best BBQ in the state.  And if you're lucky, Todd might just be smoking another whole hog, you can check "What's Cooking" on their website for any special offerings that day.

Cattleack BBQ, 13628 Gamma Road, Dallas, 972-805-0999. Open: Thurs & Fri 10:30am-2pm & the first Sat. of the month 10:30am-3pm. Website: www.cattleackbbq.com
The line of customers winds through CattleAck BBQ's new dining room. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The day the Posse flew Chile's national flag (oops) and other tales from Blues, Bandits & BBQ

The Posse cook team celebrates after the first Blues, Bandits & BBQ festival in 2010. (Photo@R.J. Hinkle)
The Posse has always loved Blues, Bandits & BBQ, the food and music festival held in Oak Cliff.

Loyalty is a factor. Some of us lived in the O.C. and the festival does a good job of showcasing a great part of Dallas.

We also liked the fellowship of close friends cooking together around the clock and competing against other barbecue teams. Occasionally, winning was a side benefit.

So with the seventh annual BB&BBQ coming soon (Nov. 11 and 12 at Kidd Springs Park), allow us to reminisce, beginning with a lesson learned.

One year we cooked near Rob Shearer,  a creator of Blues, Bandits and the unofficial honorary consul of Oak Cliff. While we hunkered near our offset smoker, ready to feed it wood all night long because that's the way real barbecue is made, Rob tinkered a bit with the vent settings on his Big Green Egg and headed home to catch a few hours of sleep.

We poked some fun at him as he left. He just smiled.

The next morning, the Posse was tired and Rob was well rested. His brisket looked wonderful. The Egg, indeed, can be an excellent barbecue machine.

The Posse crew unloads smokers at the first Blues, Bandits & BBQ festival in 2010. (Photo@Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)
For many in the Posse, our favorite Blues, Bandits was the first, held in 2010. It was our initial barbecue competition and there was a special energy as the festival blended itself into the everyday life of the O.C.  Jason Roberts even grafted one of his Better Block projects onto the festival.

We cooked on the street near The Kessler and napped on cots on the ground between the buildings. Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins blogged live and we proudly flew the "Texas" state flag at our site. One problem. Fellow BBQ blogger Don O. informed us that it was Chile's national flag, close but definitely not Texas. (How the mix-up occurred is a long story.)

Oops.

While we loved being on the street, the police thought competitors blended a little too intimately into everyday life, i.e., we obstructed roadways. So, after some intense negotiations, everyone had to move their pits, with fires blazing, a few feet onto the sidewalks. We had two pits, with a couple hundred pounds of meat already on the grates. Moving was a job.

It was also the year -- the only year, thankfully -- of what I'll call the organic experiment. Contest rules required us to cook grass fed and organic meats supplied by Urban Acres. The racks of ribs -- and I'm exaggerating only a little -- looked like strips of bacon connected by bones. Cat ribs, we joked. How do you produce great-tasting barbecue with skinny meat that has no fat?

Ricky Lawson's infamous Big Red chicken in 2010.
(Photo@R.J. Hinkle)
Competitors tried different techniques. Ricky Lawson brined his chicken in Big Red. The photo of him holding his scarlet bird remains a classic.

Justin and Diane Fourton of Pecan Lodge competed that first year. Their joint was still at Dallas Farmers Market; they hadn't yet moved to Deep Ellum. They won for best ribs. The next year, with the reputation of Pecan Lodge booming, I asked Justin if he was going to compete again and he said no. He couldn't afford not to win. Success has a price.

All in all, the Posse did well that first year. Marshall Cooper's brisket placed second. And Bryan Gooding won best chicken. We still call Bryan the Chicken King of Oak Cliff.

In 2012, we invited Clyde Biggins, who long ago owned "Clyde's Old Fashion Hickory Smoked Barbecue" on Westmoreland Road, to compete with us. After nearly 17 years in prison for drug conspiracy, Clyde had gotten out a couple years earlier and was dispensing barbecue again from what he called "Clyde's Rolling Barbecue," essentially his pit on wheels. We had eaten his food a couple of times and it was good.

With Clyde, who once worked for West Dallas barbecue legend Chester Hardeman, tending to most of the meats, the Posse won People's Choice. It was fun to see Clyde holding the trophy.

Gooding made his own sausage that year but couldn't attend the festival so I cooked for him. I managed to burn every link but one, which we carefully turned in to the judges. It won, but all these years later, my Posse mates still kid me mercilessly. How can you burn sausage? (It's a long story.)

In 2013, Martha Gooding, Bryan's wife, devised some special culinary treats as we went all out to defend the People's Choice title. During the public tasting period, teams serve regular barbecue and other items to festival goers. The people then "vote" for their favorite with tokens.

One of our appetizers was a homemade crostini topped with a smear of brie, peach preserves, and a slice of smoked pork belly.  "Bribery on a crostini," one Posse member said.

It was, admittedly, a little high brow for normal Posse tastes, but the bribery worked as we won People's Choice again.

Sheriff Lupe Valdez poses with her Posse at the 2011 Blues, Bandits & BBQ festival. (Photo by Daniel Vaughn)
The event in 2014 is still a blur of cold and wind. Shivering for much of two days is not fun. It's much better to cook barbecue and listen to music when the weather is nice.

Last year, we retired and moved to Austin. My wife, Sherry, and I did return to Dallas in November for one more Blues, Bandits with Bryan and Martha. We competed as the O.C. Sausage Co., not the Posse (another long story).

Bryan made his sausage again and had high hopes. It was good and had a nice, subtle aftertaste. But subtle doesn't work in contests, where it's all about the judges' first impressions. While his sausage didn't even place, Bryan did win again for chicken, using his terrific vinegar brine. The Chicken King of Oak Cliff still reigns.

This year, the Goodings moved from the O.C. to Lopez Island, Washington State, where they already are building a food reputation for themselves. Before next year's big island cook off, Bryan promises to perfect rabbit sausage. Lopez has thousands of the critters running wild.

So the Posse (and O.C. Sausage Co.) won't be at Blues, Bandits this year. But we will be thinking about all of our friends there and remembering many good times. Have fun!
Bryan Gooding, aka: The Chicken King of Oak Cliff, at the 2010 festival.  (Photo@R.J. Hinkle)
The Posse cook team works the crowd in 2013 serving homemade crostini with brie & pork belly, winning the People's Choice Award.
Chile's national flag flies over the Posse cook camp at the first Blues, Bandits & BBQ festival in 2010, oops! (Photo@Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Miller's Smokehouse in Belton is moving on up

Dirk Miller, owner & pitmaster of Miller's Smokehouse in Belton. (Photo ©Michael Ainsworth/ Texas BBQ Posse)
We got a chance to visit Saturday with one of our favorite pitmasters in the state, Dirk Miller of Miller's Smokehouse in Belton. Posse member Marshall Cooper & I first visited Miller's in early 2012, after Texas Monthly BBQ editor Daniel Vaughn tweeted about a promising little joint in Belton. It quickly became one of our favorite BBQ places in the state.

Our group of four caught up on all the BBQ news with Dirk, including their move down the street to a much larger space. On our first trip to Miller's four and a half years ago, you walked into a tiny dining room, which has expanded twice since then into a 1600 sq. ft. restaurant. Only 14 months after our first visit, Miller's was named to Texas Monthly's top 50 BBQ joints. Their growing reputation and success since then has been a credit to the Miller family's pursuit of BBQ and dining excellence.

The new restaurant, located a block and a half south on Penelope St., is 7000 sq. ft. and will feature five 1000-gallon indoor smokers. Dirk has the new smokers lined up outside the current building so they will be well-seasoned before the move, which is expected in December. Also, Miller's is now open seven days a week, a rarity in the barbecue business.

I often get the question from co-workers and friends, "I'm heading to Austin the weekend, where's the best BBQ there?" I tell them to pull off I-35 when they get to Belton, then drive a couple of minutes to Miller's Smokehouse. You won't find trendy two-hour lines there, just some of the best BBQ in the entire state. And if he's around, you'll probably get to talk barbecue with one of the top pitmasters in Texas.

Miller's Smokehouse, 208 N Penelope, Belton, 254-939-5500. Open Sun-Thurs 11am until the meat runs out, Fri-Sat 11am-9pm or until the meat runs out.
Work continues on Miller Smokehouse's new location at the corner of Penelope & Central in downtown Belton.
(Photo ©Michael Ainsworth/ Texas BBQ Posse)
Three of Miller Smokehouse's five new 1000-gallon smokers are seasoned beside the current restaurant. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/ Texas BBQ Posse)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

And everywhere the BBQ Posse looked there were other posses


Member of the Bandera County Young Life BBQ group pose for a photo with legendary Snow's pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz.
(Photo ©Chris WIlkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

My memory isn't what it used to be, but I was pretty sure we ran into a first -- for us anyway -- during the Posse's trip to Snow's BBQ in Lexington last weekend.

We met two groups of fellow barbecue lovers, each wearing special shirts championing their meat-loving pursuits.

One group of a half-dozen guys from North Texas wore very nice black and red bowling shirts with the words "BBQ Burnt Ends" above the word "Caliente."

Another similar-sized, but younger, contingent had simple white sleeveless t-shirts that said: "Bandera County Young Life Texas BBQ Tour."

After eating, both groups had their photos taken with Snow's great pit master Tootsie Tomanetz.

"The greatest BBQ Lady in the world," Ric Clark of Burnt Ends wrote when he posted his group's photo with Tootsie on the Posse's Facebook page.

To double check my memory, I consulted with other long-time Posse members. Co-founder Chris Wilkins reminded me that we did run into a couple of California guys at La Barbecue early this year who wore special shirts commemorating their Texas tour.  And while we all remembered meeting many other dedicated barbecue lovers since our barbecue travels began in 2009, no one could remember meeting such similar organized groups.

"It's my impression there are way more organized groups now," Wilkins said later as we discussed the phenomenon by email. "I rarely remember running into groups in the early days. Also, there were no paid tours then either."

He referred to the sponsored tours and other barbecue experiences organized by Drew Thornley at Man Up Texas BBQ, Daniel Vaughn at Texas Monthly's TMBBQ, and others.
The Bandera County Young Life BBQ group digs into a Snow's BBQ feast.
(Photo ©Chris WIlkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

"It's also interesting how many of them have been following us (on the blog) and use that in their planning, much like we did with Daniel's original blog in 2009," Wilkins said.

Before TMBBQ, Vaughn wrote the Full Custom Gospel BBQ blog and still has a Facebook page with that name. In the early days, Full Custom was indeed our barbecue gospel.

So, what's going on here? Is the organized barbecue "posse" concept becoming a thing?

Well, yes, it appears. And the better answer, actually, is "has become" not "becoming."

Jacob Raitz, director of the Bandera County Young Life organization, says this is the fourth year he has led his high school-aged group on a barbecue tour. He continued the idea from his predecessor who started the tours two years previously.

"Barbecue and fellowship just go together," Raitz said in a telephone interview. "They really do. Anything where you sit down and eat a meal together. We're talking about barbecue. We're talking about life."

The Posse couldn't agree more.

Raitz said his group ate barbecue Friday, Saturday and Sunday, visiting Black's, Louie Mueller, and M-Train BBQ as well as Snow's. M-Train is a new joint in Austin, started by a former employee of John Mueller at the trailer site of the former John Mueller Meat Co.

"We do a burger tour in the spring, which is great, but it's nothing like barbecue," Raitz said. "Tootsie gave us all hugs."

To those hugs, and to all the other barbecue posses out there, The Texas BBQ Posse adds its salute.
The BBQ Burnt Ends tour group from the D/FW area pose with Tootsie Tomanetz. (Photo Ric Clark/Facebook)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Cooking up a kosher BBQ storm in Big D

I don't know who invented the double-barreled lede, but old Charlie Dickens had it down:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

After talking to barbecue competition judge Jennifer Shiflett in advance of the Dallas Kosher BBQ Championship next weekend, we found ourselves in need of the same technique.

She said there's no difference in taste between kosher barbecue and regular barbecue. And she wondered if competitors are using too much sauce on some of their entries.

Either idea would make a good lede -- beginning --  for this blog item.

During the interview, we the got the taste question out of the way right at the start:

In a blind test, can you tell the difference between kosher barbecue and regular barbecue?

"Absolutely not," Shiflett, a lifetime member of the Kansas City Barbecue Society, said. "I don't think anybody could."

Shiflett and her husband, Bill, live in Fort Worth and are both Master Certified Judges. They are the KCBS contest representatives at the second annual Dallas Kosher championship at Sunnyland Furniture.

The big difference in kosher competitions, of course, is that there is no pork. Competitors cook beef brisket, beef ribs, chicken and turkey.

All the meats, smokers, grills, knives, utensils, spices and condiments are provided by the organizers to ensure that kosher dietary laws are followed. Teams do their prep work Thursday night. Cooking begins after sundown Saturday and judging begins at noon Sunday (Oct. 30).

The competition is organized by the Men's Club of Congregation Beth Torah in Richardson. Last year, nine teams competed. As of the beginning of this week,  nine teams had registered for this year's event.

Jennifer said that she and Bill do a couple dozen or so competitions a year as judges and competitors. "I bought Bill his first smoker for his birthday in 2010 and it’s been a whirlwind since then," she said.

Regular readers of this blog know that the Posse, generally, is anti sauce. Real Texas barbecue, we think, needs only a good spice rub and smoke. We've been to a few competitions, though, and noticed that many expect sauce. Jennifer concurs.

"It seems like it's gotten sweeter and sweeter over the years," she said. "There's a ton of sauce on chicken and most of the time it's ridiculously sweet."

"I don't think I've seen a dry rib all year," she continued. Judges are even starting to see sauce on brisket. "And I think that's horrifying," she said. Wonderful brisket, with a nice crust, can be cooked with a rub of mainly salt and garlic.

The Posse couldn't agree more. Good luck to all the competitors this week in Dallas.

And, as for Dickens, it's always the best of times in barbecue.
Bill & Jennifer Shiflett at a BBQ competition in 2015. (Courtesy photo)