Woo hoo!! What a marvelous time was had by all at the second annual Texas Monthly BBQ Festival in Austin, Texas. I do hope I never miss another one. I had planned to attend last year, but was surprised, like many, when the first one sold out in just a few days. This year I was better prepared and jumped right on it as soon as the VIP tickets went on sale. The VIP tix were more expensive, but they got you inside a full hour before the regular tickets. Any BBQ eater would know that was well worth the extra money and it certainly was!!
Scott wimped out, but my buddy Dave from Austin was game and we made it down to the fest site about 45 minutes before opening. After checking into the VIP area, we found ourselves standing in a long line awaiting the appointed hour. There was something funny about standing in a cattle line to eat BBQ, but being bathed in smoke from some nearby pits stopped us from laughing much.
Finally the noon hour arrived and we were off to BBQ heaven. We had planned, first off, to hit Snow's and Franklin's booths, to compare two of the most celebrated attendees at this year's event. We did that and found Franklin's the easy winner.
After that it was just like trick or treat for BBQ hounds. We went from booth to booth collecting samples, then tasting and scoring on the provided cards. I really wanted to walk up to each booth and shout, "Trick or treat, trick or treat, please give us some good smoked meat!" Dave convinced me that would be a bit silly. At first, things were very easy. There were few lines and most were very short.
We began sampling two booths at a time, snapping photos as we went. At 1 pm they opened the gates and the hordes descended. After that the lines got SERIOUS and finding a spot to eat was tough. I wish they would give the VIP ticket-holders an extra 30 minutes with the extra charges. The picture below shows the line for Snows snakeing back 100 folks deep, or so.
After the gates were opened we started sampling just one booth at a time simply because the lines and the wait were too long. Jimmie Vaughan and band started up a bit after 1 pm and provided some fine background music for BBQ chomping. I have to say there was a lot of blues on the sound system throughout the afternoon along with Bob Wills and other "Texas" music and whoever did the mix did a great job.
The booths were interesting and all the servers were very friendly. Some were better prepared than others. The smartest thing I saw were those who included cards or marked paper in their sample dishes. That made it easy to keep track of whose food you were eating. With 22 booths to sample, that became more important as the day went on. Some booths included sides, others just meat, some added sauce, others had it on the side. We tried to sample just the meats, without sauce. If you want sauce, Man Up's "Getting Sauced" is the event to hit! Speaking of which, I ran into Drew and Brad and said "Howdy" but we were quickly drawn back to the business at hand, which was eating BBQ! I'm sure the BBQ snob was there somewhere, but I never saw him.
Inside the adjacent center, we spied the BBQ First Aid station. They seemed to be well prepared with "heart starters", antacids, and all your BBQ first aid needs.
We managed to eat at 21 of the 22 booths. There was some great meats, and some average meats, as well. How did we do it? Simple. I prepared as if for a big BBQ cookoff judging session. I fasted the previous day, we took only a bite or two from each meat before scoring, we brought along ziploc bags for saving the extra meats we liked (which were most of them), and then moved onto the next booth. We could have sold a BUNCH of ziploc bags when folks saw us bagging our leftovers! The one booth we missed?? Smitty's Market from Lockhart. Smitty's has a history of disappointing me, despite being a top rated joint. I was not surprised when they were OUT OF FOOD by the time we hit their booth at about 2 pm.
As we finished up, we sat down and tabulated our scores and made our judgement calls for the "People's Choice Awards". My actual scorecard is shown below.
There were a few TOUGH calls to make. Vencil Mares' Taylor Cafe came VERY close on brisket to being my favorite. They were the only booth which allowed you to select your own pieces from the tray. I picked out a nice piece with a large streak of fat and it just about melted in my mouth. It was some very nice brisket. I still had to give it to Franklin, even though Franklin had only brisket samples and no other meats. On ribs, Big Daddy's had a very nice rib, and deserves an honorable mention. Taylor Cafe's turkey sausage was also very nice. There were only a couple of beef ribs on offer, but Louie Mueller's was very smart to present their offering in a separate basket, with a card, to highlight their offering. It was good, too!
If there was an "overall" rating, for the best presentation of multiple meats, I think I would have given it to Taylor Cafe.
I really had a blast and can't wait to do it again next year. There are three more posts below, showing the booths and food from almost every participant. Enjoy, and remember you can click on any photo for a larger version.