Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Home Team: Messin' with Texas, Day Four

Crafty meats

Posted by Aaron Siegel on Wed, Jul 31, 2013 at 12:54 PM

The final day in Austin proved a feat of endurance for the guys of Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ. Aaron Siegel reports from the front lines. 

Our last day in Texas and we had two things on our minds: Tex-Mex food and Mickelthwait Craft Meats. We gathered our belongings and ourselves off the floor of our lake house and headed for downtown Austin one last time.

Several people had recommended Torchy’s Tacos, a popular chain taco joint in Texas. We also got a late recommendation for Maudie’s Tex-Mex, which also has multiple locations. We were hungry so we hit up the place that was closest to us on our navigation system. Maudie’s it was. Maudie’s was a cool little joint that was off of Lake Austin Blvd on W. 7th Street and was packed with the Austin lunch crowd. We sat down and ordered some margaritas, some waters, and started getting down on some chips. There were seven of us so between all of us we ordered a ton of food. I'm sure I gained ten pounds since Tuesday morning. Enchiladas, rellenos, Al Pastor tacos, we had it all. The food and air conditioning were satisfying, and so was the Tex-Mex. Probably the coolest thing about the place were the old tequila bottles made into wall-mounted lights.

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Mickelthwait Craft Meats came highly recommended by two guys I follow on Twitter and Instagram, Dustin Moody (@Georgiabbqhunt) and Daniel Vaughn (@BBQsnob). Vaughn has written a book called The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey through Texas BBQ, an invaluable resource for our trip, and is now the barbecue editor of Texas Monthly.

Mickelthwait, open since December 2012,  consisted of a converted camper trailer flanked by a simple, well-constructed smoke room. It was the end of the lunch rush and there were a few people scattered around at the picnic tables in the parking lot (a.k.a. the dining room). No AC here, just straight up Texas heat, which is dry and blazing hot. As I stood in line, the tops of my feet, adorned only with flip flops, were beginning to catch on fire like ants under a magnifying glass. As we sweated and struggled, I heard some horrifying words fly out of the service window: "I think we are almost out of sausage.” Holy crap!

The mother and son in front of us in line went back and forth. Trailer guy, after a little shuffling around in the converted camper, proclaimed that he had a half pound of the lamb sausage left. “Should we take these guys out?” I joked to Madison. After some consultation with his mother, the son ordered that last half pound of sausage.

We were screwed. What had we done? Had we sacrificed the experience of consuming some of the best sausage in the area for lunch at some run of the mill Tex-Mex joint? Man, we were feeling stupid. The evil duo in front of us finished ordering, and we stepped up to the trailer guy and begged, “Tell me you got some sausage in there somewhere my friend!? Like maybe some leftovers or something?”

The bewildered trailer guy scanned the trailer looking up and down as if there might be some on the floor, and said that they were totally out. He then walked into the neighboring smoke room and returned with the best news of the day. “Sausage will be out in 20 minutes. Y'all have time to wait?”

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We were set. We had plenty of time to wait, eat, and scurry to the airport. A sigh of relief came over me, and we headed to the the car and blasted the air conditioner. About that time, Tom Mickelthwait contacted us through Twitter and said he was on site. We headed around to the back of the smoke room and met the man behind the sausage.

Like many of the folks we had met or come across on our travels through Central Texas, Tom was welcoming and happy to show us his operation. We checked it out and stood by the firebox, just because we weren’t hot enough already, and chatted it up for while. Another awesome dude covered with ash and sweat doing what he loves and glad to talk about it to total strangers.

In addition to two pounds of sausage, we ordered one plate with brisket, a smoked chicken thigh, jalapeño cheese grits, and potato salad. We grabbed our food and headed to the closest picnic table. I whipped out my phone to take a few pictures of this gorgeous spread. The sausage was perfect.

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Tom obviously used some pork fat to complement the lamb, and the sausage was laced with fresh herbs and just the right amount of spice. The sides were the best of the trip, very thoughtfully put together. The chicken was really moist, smoky, and reminded us of our own chicken.

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Next was the brisket. It was some of the best we'd had, right up there with Franklin. It was not over seasoned and we had a fatty cut. The fat on brisket, if done right, should almost taste like a smoky version of the fat on a ribeye steak, the kind of fat that melts in your mouth like bacon. It had the perfect balance of smoke, fat content, and texture. As we drove away, filled to the brim one last time, we talked about how fired up we were that we had saved one of the best for last. Mickelthwait left a great taste in our mouths.

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So on down the road we went to the Austin airport with a slice of leftover sausage resting on the dash like a little hula girl. We were happy campers filled with memories of an incredible journey through Central Texas barbecue. Mission accomplished. Ten joints in 72 hours. Even with missing a few spots on our list, we were completely satisfied and grossly bloated all at the same time. 

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As I fell in and out of consciousness on the two plane flights home, I kept coming back to the idea that barbecue is a unique passion. It’s kind of like sports, everybody has their own team. You root for that team as hard as you can, boasting of its superiority over any other team that someone proclaims is better. But despite all the chatter about what region, state, town, city, or barbecue joint is the best, there are a few things about good barbecue that are true no matter the style. There are always good people behind the scenes with great dedication and passion for their craft, and no one will ever be able to tell anybody what is the best barbecue without serious backlash. Texas was good to us, and we were good with Texas. We traveled there for inspiration and experience and that's what we got. I hope next year we get the chance to go “messin" with some other place on the barbecue map. Wanna come?

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