I read Jim Shahin’s recent piece in the Washington Post concerning possible future trends in the world of barbecue in 2012. The writers over that way made some good points and it inspired me to peer inside the crystal ball at headquarters in East Austin to see what the future of barbecue in Austin, Texas looks like. Looking back over the past year of activity on www.scrumptiouschef.com and www.chowpapi.com I noticed one very strong trend. Articles concerning barbecue or even with the word barbecue in them consistently rose to the top of page views.
It’s not surprising. Two of the biggest stories of 2011 were Aaron Franklin’s rise to national prominence with his East Austin brick and mortar; Franklin Barbecue and the redemption of the hot tempered John Mueller via his JMueller BBQ food trailer in South Austin.
Y’all could not get enough articles about these two area pit bosses. I’ve crisscrossed the state since the early 90s in pursuit of smoked meat and now is the first time Austin can rightly contend with Lockhart and Taylor for the title of king of all barbecue cities in Texas. And we have these two men to thank for this exalted state.
But what does the eating public’s barbecue future hold? I’ll offer a few predictions:
1] I Couldn’t agree more with what Vaughn of Full Custom Gospel BBQ [http://fcg-bbq.blogspot.com/] had to say in the Post piece about the rise of “other cuts”, meaning “not beef”
We’re almost certain to see a move away from beef as the primary meat offered in Texas smokehouses. With wholesale beef prices skyrocketing, we’ve now seen brisket being marked up to an astonishing $16 per pound in some Austin smokehouses. It’s currently $18.69 at County Line out on 2222 but they’re in the business of soaking folks in West Austin and are not to be seriously considered when the barbecue discussion veers toward quality.
With this development you will see many former brisket houses turning toward pork shoulder, pork butt, turkey, pork hot guts sausages and chicken. The reason is simple. We can still get pork cheaply from giant mid-western purveyors who haven’t had to thin their herds like the Texas cattle ranchers have. Hell, the only way some area barbecue houses are staying afloat is by selling beans, potatoes, cabbage and beer. One local pit boss told me straight up “if we weren’t moving so much draft beer we would have shut down last year.”
2] The rise of the Alto Shaam. You can make a reputation quick for top quality brisket if you’re willing to dance with the devil. We’ve seen the Alto Shaam in use in the past year in Texas barbecue joints from Austin to Lubbock and back and it’s a great way to make a brisket as tender as butter. We spoke with one old-school pit boss who refused to be quoted by name but said “he ain’t nothing but a carny” when speaking of a Central Texas barbecue pit boss who Alto Shaams his briskets and ribs to general acclaim.
What is an Alto Shaam?
Since 1955 this company has been making some very fine, warm-holding cabinets [hot boxes if you will] and in recent years they’ve moved into making all sorts of fancy cookers. You can take a brisket, put it on the pit for two hours, get it nice and smoky then put it in the Alto Shaam, dial it up to 166 degrees and go home to the old lady instead of carefully tending your fire all night long. We’ll know the world is coming to an end when we see one of these machines at Taylor Cafe, Davis Grocery and/or John Mueller Barbecue. Three Austin area barbecue houses that cook with fire and fire only.
3] Young bucks report to the main stage. When Aaron Franklin moved his brisket cooking out of his backyard and into the French Place neighborhood, Austin suddenly had a new star in the barbecue world.
I hit backyard barbecue parties all the time and truly this is where I eat some of the best smoked meat being served in this area. How long before some of these cats stop cooking for their friends and start doing it for money? The food trailer scene allows someone with 20-30k to get into the restaurant business and if they do so the right way with the right work ethic they could go broadway and soon find themselves surrounded by mountains of blow, Chilean supermodels and writers from New York City pounding the keys and feting their efforts.
4] The nationalization of former regional barbecue chains. Dickey’s, the corporate Texas barbecue outfit is spreading like a legionnaire’s outbreak at a convention center in Pensacola. They opened dozens of new storefronts last year and plan on opening dozens more in 2012. As ambassadors of Texas barbecue they should be horsewhipped. They’re simply getting rich off franchisees who’re looking for a quick buck via the good name of Texas barbecue. Voodoo BBQ is coming to Austin [supposedly] in 2012. The corporate Louisiana chain is making noise about invading our fair town along with Southern Hospitality, the New York City-based barbecue chain where we imagine part owner Justin Timberlake puts in quite a bit of time out back by the woodpile where he carefully tends his fires through those cold New York nights.
5] The continued fetishization of what was formerly simple country food. I was weaned on hickory smoke. Pork ribs were one of my first solid foods and I was roadtripping 700 miles to eat barbecue before I even started grammar school. It goes with the territory of having a father who lives, breathes and eats roadfood with barbecue vying with fried chicken for destination dining.
I really wasn’t surprised to see barbecue step onto the main stage nationally but I am surprised at its lasting power in the coast to coast media glare.
It will be interesting in 2012 to see what kind of staying power this genre has. While it’s the king of foods in Texas and always has been, I notice visitors from Rhode Island, the Dakotas, West Virginia and a host of other states regularly visiting the barbecue articles at http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/Barbecue and http://chowpapi.com/wordpress/wordpress-2.8.6/wordpress/?cat=84 maybe they’re all planning a trip to Texas or are just living their barbecue lives vicariously.
Keeping up with the day to day world of barbecue via the web has never been so easy. Here are some sites I like to visit.
Roadfood, the authoritative site from Jane and Michael Stern has a great barbecue forum http://www.roadfood.com/Forums/BBQ-f2.aspx
Locally, Shaggybevo’s food board; GM Steakhouse is not totally devoted to barbecue but you’re not going to find a more dedicated group of smoked meat hounds anywhere in the US http://www.shaggybevo.com/board/forumdisplay.php/15
and last but not least http://kevinsbbqjoints.com/ is a great, nationwide compendium of barbecue from a smoked meat maniac out of California.