If being chief strategist at a fortune 500 company establishes your barbecue bona fides then Nathan Myhrvold is made out of gold.
He was the chief of technology at Microsoft for a number of years where, in spite of the company being ruthlessly pummeled by Apple, they still managed to turn a decent enough profit.
Now he’s turned his attention to barbecue. Not just any run of the mill barbecue but barbecue from the great state of Texas.
To be perfectly frank when we saw his byline in a Bloomberg Business Week article on our state’s smoked meat tradition we weren’t overly excited.
Yes, we know him to be the engine that drove the recent multi-volume Modernist Cuisine, the weighty tome on food years in the making that has the hydrocolloid crowd up in arms.
The guy knows his food and is passionate about it but what could he possible contribute to the canon of Texas Barbecue?
As it turns out quite a bit.
Mr. Myhrvold lays the groundwork for some pretty convincing arguments about barbecue in general and Texas in particular early in the piece when he compares the cult of barbecue to other fetishized foods such as bouillabaisse in France, cassoulet in Toulouse and paella in Spain.
Well said, it looks like someone from outside Texas has finally drawn a bead on how important this regional foodway is.
He goes on to lay the framework for a journey he took to Lockhart and Lexington while he was recently in Austin on business.
Lest we forget that he is a scientist at heart, we’re reminded of the fact by his skipping of Taylor,Texas and Louie Mueller’s.
More’s the pity but the guy does yeoman work at the joints he does hit.
First Myrhvold lays out the history of Smitty’s and Kreuz in Lockhart rather succinctly explaining the family feud that turned brother against sister and led to the creation of the bland, gigantic modern-era Kreuz Market.
He stops in at Smitty’s and hits them on a bad day describing the sausage as having meat that had “disintegrated” and was swimming in fat. He gives faint praise to the brisket and the ribs saying that they are “ok”.
To be fair we’ve had bad barbecue at Smitty’s from time to time over the years so we feel like this a pretty level handed review. A lot of people eat with their eyes and Smitty’s is an a+ on ambiance.
Apparently it’s Myrhvold’s lucky day as he then visits Kreuz and enjoys brisket that is “juicy and delicious” and sausage that is “far superior” to Smitty’s.
We’re guessing the counter guy has a copy of Modernist Cuisine at the house and made sure the author got the prime cuts.
We’re no fans of this modern Kreuz but we have no doubt that they can still put out a good plate of barbecue from time to time.
The spectacle of dining in a nigh on to 700 seat barbecue joint though is plainly repellant.
The author then visits Black’s, our favorite of the Lockhart group. He has this to say:
“Our third stop in Lockhart was Black’s Barbecue, which touts itself as the “oldest and best major barbecue restaurant continuously owned by the same family.” You can bet that every one of those qualifiers is needed because, in Texas, tradition is important. There must be a really good place that is family- owned, but not continuously by the same family, and another place that is older but not “major.”
We’ve laughed over Black’s self description many times over the years and made these exact arguments over nomenclature. And we always did it over plates of some of the best barbecue we’d ever had the pleasure of tasting.
Nathan Myrhvold agrees calling Black’s brisket “the best I had in Lockhart.”
Black’s is the best but we can’t seem to find many people to agree with us. That’s ok, we’ll line up with the rest of the mavericks and not have to worry about the crazy lines at the other joints.
The next morning Mr Myrhvold arises at dawn, gets in his limo and adjourns to Lexington Texas where Snow’s, thought by many to be the best barbecue in the state, dwells.
We can’t be certain but our money is on this being the first time a person has ever taken a limo ride, a la Tommy Lee, to Snow’s.
The strategist runs the table and gets ribs, brisket, roast pork, sausage and chicken. He enjoys everything save the chicken saying “….. getting up ridiculously early had paid off”.
The well traveled Myrhvold, who undoubtedly has eaten at many top flight restaurants around the globe, draws a comparison to the Michelin Guide as he makes his closing arguments, saying that if “three stars are “worth a journey,” two are “worth a detour. [then] by that standard, the barbecue I had in Lockhart and in Lexington was three-star — worth the journey.
We’re happy to see a person nationally prominent in food culture make a barbecue trip to Central Texas and actually get it right.
Now if we could just coax Nathan Myrhvold back to Texas and take him to some of our under the radar joints that should be legends…….
Read his piece http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-09-01/texas-s-cult-of-smoke-barbecue-land-journeys-nathan-myhrvold.html
all barbecue coverage here http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/Barbecue