Byte of Texas: The Inaugural Austin Food Blogger Alliance Conference

Next month, the Austin Food Blogger Alliance will hold its first-ever conference, Byte of Texas. This is a really, really big deal for a lot of reasons. Firstly, there isn’t an organization of food bloggers anything like what we’ve got going on with AFBA. In less than five years, this group has swelled to more than 150 members, has hosted several philanthropic events (including this summer’s Big Chill, benefiting Meals on Wheels), published a community cookbook, and is a powerhouse support system for writers and photographers who are passionate about food.

A sip of Texas (the Petey, my favorite cocktail at Salty Sow)

A sip of Texas (the Petey, my favorite cocktail at Salty Sow)

Thanks to the generosity of The Harvard Press and Bob’s Red Mill, the AFBA is able to offer conference scholarships for three lucky members. Here’s why I’d like to attend Byte of Texas:

  • It’s happening the weekend of my birthday, and any birthday weekend that involves thinking and talking and writing about food — not to mention eating good food — is a winning birthday weekend.
  • I’m excited to get inspiration for my blog, which tends to go fallow when I run out of ideas/time. (You may have noticed.)
  • Dinner at Salty Sow.
  • While the entire conference agenda is compelling, I’m particularly interested in the following panels:
    • conversation with Lisa Fain. I’ve long been a fan of Fain’s Homesick Texan blog, and was so happy to meet her at Foodways Texas this past spring (and to review her recent cookbook). She’s sort of become an ambassador for Texas food in the broader national conversation and for that I admire her.
    • Writing Texas Food Culture. Rachel Laudan is highly respected in these parts, and since my interests lie at the intersection of food and culture, this discussion has my name all over it.
    • Writing for Other Publications. I’m always looking for ideas and encouragement when it comes to pitching publications. We all have Achilles heels: pitching is mine.

So, there it is. Just the tip of the iceberg, really. And when you look at the agenda, you can see that there truly is something for everyone at this conference. Will I see you there?

What’s doing?

When I was in college, I spent a summer working at a camp up in the Poconos. I hadn’t spent much time in the northeast, so I wasn’t really conversant with the regional idioms up there. One day, the girls’ camp director, Lois, asked me, “What’s doing?” I had to ask her to repeat herself. “What’s doing? What’s up? What’s going on?” she explained. Duh. Super self-explanatory.

So … what’s doing? Sorry to have abandoned the Downton Abbey recaps so unceremoniously. I got busy. Here’s how busy I got:

Jan 9: Interviewed for job, wasn’t too impressed with my performance in the interview.

Jan 14: Started spring semester, adjuncting at Concordia and St. Edward’s.

Jan 23: Offered a book contract from the History Press based on a proposal I’d written up over the winter break. Deadline: mid-July. (!!!!) Look, I even have a fancy blog button for it:


Jan 25: Offered the job I’d interviewed for on Jan 9.

Feb 11: Started new job (still teaching my one class at St. Ed’s, but departed Concordia, which was AWKWARD).

Add to that the SXSW juggernaut and the start of the Big Kid’s baseball season and the Little Kid’s dance classes and my “I WILL lose 30 pounds before I get any further into my 40s” regimen, and you’ll understand why I haven’t been blogging.

So, briefly, the book is called Historic Austin Restaurants: Capital Cuisine through the Generations, and it’s a history of Austin told through its iconic restaurants. Some of it is really fun, because I’m getting to visit restaurants that I’ve not been to ever or in a very long time (The Tavern, Joe’s Bakery). Some of it is really depressing because I’m writing about restaurants that I loved and have been replaced by stupid corporate chains (Les Amis, Mad Dog & Beans). It’s really fun to have a research-based food-writing project that isn’t a dissertation (and that people might actually read!!!), especially now that I’m entering the interviewing-subjects phase.

So, in short, back in December, I was really depressed about the state of my career and decided that 2013 was going to be the Aways Be Writing year. In a staggering case of “be careful what you wish for,” I’ve now got a job that has me writing every day (maybe not within a context I find particularly interesting) and a book project that (ostensibly) has me writing every day.

The downside of all this writing (and everything else) I’m doing is that I haven’t been doing much cooking. I’ve been occasionally outsourcing dinner to the Soup Peddler with middling success. This weekend I’m attempting the “cook a bunch of stuff on the weekend and set it by for the week” approach. We’ll see how that goes.

So, that’s what’s doing with me. What’s doing with you?

Downton Abbey recap: S3, Ep3! (Better late than never!)

It’s Friday night at the end of a long and very eventful week. My friends came over to drink wine and play cards and eat brownies, but now they’ve gone home. My family are all in bed. I’m sitting in my living room, eating Bugles (lord, the SALT!) and finally grabbing a spare moment to re-watch and recap last Sunday’s episode.


(Why am I eating Bugles at 10:30 on Friday night? Here is what I’ve eaten today: a little bit of pear-apple-cranberry crisp for breakfast, two vaqueros on corn from Tacodeli for second breakfast, a pulled-pork torta and a small piece of homemade carrot cake for lunch, two Thin Mints while tidying the house this afternoon, a bacon cheeseburger and fries at Five Guys for dinner, plus a bushel of peanuts while waiting for MA and BK to meet up with us, a brownie, and two small glasses of prosecco. There is absolutely no reason for me to be eating Bugles other than that they are here, being crunchy and cone-shaped and salty and tantalizing. I’ve had so much salt today I can barely bend my fingers. STOP ME BEFORE I BUGLE AGAIN.)

Anyhoo. Downton. Dog butt. Downstairs, Anna is hurt because she’s not gotten a letter and even stupid Thomas has one. “Nothing for me, Mr. Carson?” “No, Anna, yet again, nothing for you.” Geez, Carson. Way to tact.

Prison: No letter for Bates. Bates has a sad.

Matthew and Mary beep boop boop boop Anna stiff upper lip.

Mrs. Crawley visits Mrs. Hughes downstairs and explains that she’s seen Ethel the Unnecessary Plot Device again; Ethel has been working as a prostitute. Mrs. Hughes recoils at the word because Victorianism  and says, “My my, that’s not a word you hear in this house every day,” she pearl-clutches. Oh, come off it Hughesy.

Upstairs, Carson wants to know if he has two daddies now. Matthew explains that he’s merely made an investment in the estate, but nothing else has changed. Carson wants to get the staff back up to snuff, bringing on a housemaid, a kitchen maid, and a footman. Matthew walks back his previous statement and puts his oar in about the relevance of a large staff, prompting Carson to climb up on the cross. “Well, I would like to return to my duties as a butler, but if you would prefer for me to continue also doing the work of a second footman…” LG defuses the situation, smoothing Carson’s ruffled feathers.

So, apparently some time has passed because the big dinner with the archbishop referenced in the previous scene is now the same night. Edith is having breakfast with Matthew and LG; Matthew asks why Edith isn’t taking breakfast in bed. “Because I’m not married,” she whines. Really? Is that a thing? Does marriage entitle you to breakfast in bed? If so, I am owed a LOT of back breakfast-in-beds. LG reads in the paper that Tennessee is going to ratify the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote. “Boy, I sure wish I could vote,” says Edith. “You should write a letter to the Times,” teases Matthew. “Maybe I will,” says Edith, the Accidental Feminist. Here’s my problem with this: Edith only seems to be turning toward suffrage because the whole marriage thing hasn’t worked out. It’s like, Plan B. To my mind, feminism isn’t something you take up because you weren’t able to follow the script. It’s an ethos, not a punt.

Mary has summoned Matthew to the nursery, which she has commandeered for their sitting room. Matthew was confused, because Mary had been to the doctor earlier and now they are meeting in the nursery. Nope, hay fever meds. “But what shall we do for a day nursery, should the need arise?” he asks, suggestively. Mary looks mildly alarmed, but brushes it off. TENSION, Y’ALL.

Edith has brought Violet a bottle of perfume. Violet’s worried about Edith after her jilting, and suggests that she keep busy. “There must be something you can put your mind to,” says Violet. “But what?” whines Edith. “Gardening?” “Well, no, you can’t be as desperate as that,” Violet retorts (this caused me to guffaw). “Then what?” “Edith, you’re a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do!” Violet just took Edith to CHURCH, y’all!

Carson is taking Alfred under his wing. Anna is weepy because she zzzzzzzzzz. In prison, Bates’ ally explains that he’s a target or whatevs. Bates is just relieved to understand why he’s not been getting letters.

Back at Downton, Alfred can’t even tell the difference between a soup spoon and a bouillon spoon. WHAT A MAROON.

At Crawley house, Ethel tells Hughesy that she wants to give up Charlie for adoption to his paternal grandparents (remember that Ethel’s babydaddy was an officer convalescing at Downton in S. 2, then went and got himself killed near the end of WWI). Mrs. Bird, Mrs. Crawley’s maid, refuses to help Ethel with her coat. Mrs. Crawley says, surprisingly pleasantly, “Some manners wouldn’t go amiss.” Have I mentioned that I LOVE Mrs. Crawley? She’s my second-favorite character behind Violet.

At the dinner, LG tells the archbishop that the Catholics are like foreigners. Wha? Edith takes a cryptic phone call from Sybil. Someone knocks on the door. It’s Tom. Mary sends him upstairs and covers for him back at dinner. Ok, I’ll be honest: I am not following what’s going on with Tom and setting someone’s house on fire and … LG shouts and makes Tom cry? I know it has something to do with the Irish war of independence, and to do with the fact that Tom is a Republican, but really, zzzzzzz.

In other news, Hughesy has treated herself to a toaster. Carson is scandalized. Meanwhile, a handsome young man who looks like that guy from that show arrives to interview for the footman job. The maids all look like this:


Thomas comes in, peeps Jimmy, and is like:


Only Hughesy has it together enough to move things along. We learn that Jimmy had worked for some dowager who’d moved to France and begged him to come along. Jimmy;s a player!!

Ethel gives up her boy. This was a hard scene to watch. Not quite sure why this storyline was in here. (Although it looks like Mrs. Crawley hires Ethel next week, which I’m sure Mrs. Bird is really excited about!)

Sybil arrives at Downton. Cora, wearing a hella-dowdy hairdo, fusses at Tom for abandoning Sybil. If you ask me, of all the Grantham girls, I think Sybil is the most suited to shift for herself. She ain’t no hothouse flower. Mary is pissed at Tom because he burned her some other debutante’s house down. A telegram arrives from LG; Cora and her bad hair tell Tom and Sybil that they are not to leave Downton.

Thomas comes upon Jimmy getting dressed (Jimmy manscapes!) and does an unsubtle


(My friend Elizabeth wondered on Facebook why the villain on the show a predatory gay man. I had the same thought; it’s such a lazy trope and it seems like we’re in a progressive enough moment to think up new, more responsible ways to portray gay people. Apparently, the issue is resolved in later episodes.)

Matthew tells Mary he’s been going over the numbers and realizes that the running of Downton could be much more efficient and less wasteful. Beep beep boop boop whatevs. Tom can’t return to Ireland. Violet wonders why all the Irish rebels are so well born. Tee hee. At dinner, the family is mildly scandalized to learn that Edith has written to a newspaper. LG doesn’t think it will be published. The upstairs folks are amused by how handsome the new footman is. Matthew gingerly tries to tell LG about how badly the estate is being run, but is brushed off.

Prison. I skipped over the part earlier where Bates got his revenge on his cellmate for planting drugs in his bed. This gets Bates back in the guards’ good graces and is handed a hefty packet of letters from Anna.

Toaster shenanigans. Silliness


Sybil takes a stand with Tom and insists that they stay at Downton for their baby’s sake. Edith’s letter has been published in the paper denouncing the limitations for the women’s suffrage bill. Matthew and Tom are impressed and supportive. LG is incensed. Carson grunts his disapproval. (Ugh, Carson. You turd.)

Daisy’s about to confess to Alfred that she lurves him, but Mrs. P brings in Ivy, the new kitchen maid, who is cute. Alfred is googly eyed and Daisy is disappointed.

Matthew seeks advice on how to handle the mismanagement of Downton from Violet. Violet advises him that there’s no way he can address it without misaligning people’s noses. The only way out is through, I guess. I smell a showdown at the Downton Corral!

The episode ends with Anna and Bates reading their backlog of letters. Aw, bless. GET OFF MY TV YOU MOST BORING PEOPLE WHO EVER BORED ME.

Ok, that’s it for this week! Look for another recap soon (Tuesday?), unless I die of a salt overdose between now and then.

Smitten Saturdays: Wild Mushroom Tart

This week’s Smitten Saturday recipe is the Wild Mushroom Tart, chosen because I’ve only ever made one tart before and why not try a savory one this time? I knew that, at the very least, my husband and I would eat it, even though it’s pretty much guaranteed that the children will cry if I attempt to feed it to them.

I worry about crust. So much so that I was well into my 30s before I attempted to make a pie crust from scratch. I don’t know why I’m so intimidated by it, even when by now I have made some very delicious crusts (my favorite is Martha Stewart’s pate brisee). So, naturally, I worried about this crust. I worried that it wasn’t coming together right in the food processor. I worried about whether it was going to roll out successfully (rolling is my bete noir of crustmaking).

Not bad.

Not bad.

And when I followed the instructions about transferring the crust (with a sheet of plastic wrap underneath; I highly recommend the use of a bench scraper to aid in this maneuver), I kind of stopped breathing because this is one fragile crust, y’all. It WANTS to fall apart on you. And once you wriggle the plastic wrap out from underneath the crust after you’ve centered it in the tart pan (I really couldn’t see a way to follow the placement instructions as written without sprouting a third arm), a technique mastered by shy girls everywhere who remove their bathing suits in the locker room while fully clothed, you are good to go. The rest is gravy. Unless, of course, you get so busy with PTA stuff while you are parbaking the crust that you forget about it and quite possibly overcook it in the process.


My version of the tart isn’t as pretty as the one in the book, but it is quite tasty. I realized as I was eating a small wedge of it (beats the Honey Nut Cheerios I had for breakfast!) that I forgot to add the salt and pepper, but it absolutely is not missing the salt. Mushroom is the dominant flavor here (obv), rounded out nicely by the thyme and shallots. I would prefer a bit more garlic, and next time I won’t forget the pepper. I can’t wait to hear what my husband thinks of it! This would make for a really lovely vegetarian dinner with some roasted beets or some lovely balsamic braised green beans on the side. Or even a simple green salad.

Be sure to check out my writeup of Deb Perelman’s appearance at BookPeople last night! It was kind of an ideal night for me: I listened to Perelman answer questions (she is quite funny and dry), sit in a comfy chair reading a compelling book, then got to meet Perelman and talk to her about picky eaters (i.e., our small children).

Smitten Saturdays: Big Breakfast Latkes

Photo by the amazing, talented, and very youthful Christian Remde.

I’ve never made a latke before today. I was raised Southern Baptist, a religious tradition that looks askance at anything less New Testament than Bisquick. But when the Smitten Kitchen cookbook came out a few weeks ago, Ms. Perelman did an interview on NPR that my husband happened to hear during drive time. That night, he came home, saw me perusing the cookbook, and said, “That Smitten lady was on the radio today. She was making latkes with an egg on top.” And then he kind of smacked his lips in a “wow, I sure wish someone who loved me would make some of those” sort of way, and who am I to deny my man a homemade potato pancake?

And, I will admit that these latkes are a bit of emotional blackmail, as I am leaving him alone tonight with the Big and Little Kids while some girlfriends and I go see BREAKING DAWN PART 2: THE BREAKENING. I figure, ply him with a hearty breakfast he can really get excited about and I can go indulge my guilty pleasure without feeling additional guilt for abandoning my family.

Fortunately for me, these latkes are quite tasty, although I’m not sure why in the cookbook Perelman makes the yield four latkes when on the blog the same recipe yields 12. Because I had invited our friends the Remdes and Laura over to help us eat them (because the kids wouldn’t touch them, no way no how), I doubled the recipe and got 7 latkes out of it. Next time I make these, I will go smaller because I prefer a crispier pancake and these large ones could have been crispier. I also have to call foul on the instruction to cook the latkes over “moderate heat.” I interpret “moderate heat” as “medium,” but the latkes I cooked at that temp were less crispy and starchier than I would have preferred. But when I replenished the oil and cranked up the heat a notch, they crisped up beautifully.

I served the latkes with fried eggs (that Christian cooked because I am not confident with fried eggs; I can poach and boil and scramble eggs, but fried eggs are not in my wheelhouse), some freshly cut pineapple, and some bacon-and-cheddar biscuits I’d made on Friday night. Literally not kosher, but no one seemed to mind.

“You make good latkes for a goy,” said Laura. Not perfect, but I’ll keep trying. Shalom, y’all.

Smitten Saturdays: Big Breakfast Latkes! Leave your link.

Tomorrow is the second installment of Smitten Saturdays; we’ll be making Big Breakfast Latkes (p. 31)! I am rather excited to be making latkes for the first time and have invited a few friends over to share in the carby joy, so I’d better not mess it up. If you’re playing along, leave your link in the comments section of this post and I’ll do a roundup of posts on Sunday/Monday!

(Check the calendar here for upcoming Smitten Saturdays posts!)

Smitten Saturdays calendar!

I’ve planned out the Smitten Saturday’s schedule through the end of February. Please let me know if there’s something from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook you’d like to see on there!

Smitten Saturdays: Mom’s Apple Cake

I get so frustrated when my students don’t follow instructions. They get failing grades on their essays and assignments because they didn’t read the assignment description all the way through, or were confused and didn’t ask for help or clarification. I know it’s part of learning how to be a grownup, falling on your face and learning from your mistakes, but I want them to succeed just as much as they do, so it bums me out when that first, most important step is overlooked.

And really, so much in life depends on following instructions. Assembling an IKEA dresser. Inserting a central line in the ER. Filing a brief in federal court. Preventing pregnancy.

Read the directions. That information is on the syllabus. The key to success often starts with following instructions.

So it really chaps my royal hiney when I don’t follow (or in this case, misread and misinterpret) instructions, as I did for this first installment of Smitten Saturdays. I ran headlong into making Mom’s Apple Cake (p. 239 in the cookbook) without contemplating the difference between a tube pan and a bundt pan. (You know where this is going, right?)

You see, when you use a tube pan as the recipe indicates, the cook time as written will probably work for you. And when it comes time to remove the cake from the pan, you get something gorgeous. When you use a bundt pan, the cook time is a lot longer, your cake cooks unevenly, and it looks like this after you try to wrestle it from the pan:

Beautiful, no? No. But it’s tasty and my house smelled incroyable while it was baking, like crunching leaves and crisp fall wind and apple cider (never mind that it was nearly 90 degrees here yesterday). I’ve already had a generous hunk of it for breakfast, and every time my husband walks past the wreckage of the cake, he pinches off a bite and makes yummy noises.

How did your first Smitten Saturday go?

Smitten Saturdays

So, the new Smitten Kitchen cookbook came out this week and I know it’s short notice, but I want to do a cook-and-blog-along from the book. Please join me! Here’s how we’ll go: Following the Baked Sunday Mornings model, I’ll plan out a schedule of recipes from the book for us to cook “together” every other weekend. You make the recipe, blog about it (please don’t post the recipe on your blog), and come back here with a link to your entry. I’ll publish a “leave your link” entry on Friday night, and you leave a link to your blog entry in the comments by noon your time on Saturday.

We’ll kick things off with Mom’s Apple Cake (p. 239 in the book, and also here, although it is likely different from the version in the cookbook) because apples are in season! Hooray! So, if you want to play, leave your link in the comments section of this post by noon your time tomorrow. And tell your friends!

Austin City Guide: The Top 5 Barbecue Joints Outside Austin

This post is the first in a series of entries dedicated to the Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide 2012, aimed at helping visitors and newcomers sort out the city’s most notable food establishments. Over the course of the next week, I’ll be covering a broad array of topics dedicated to the best places to eat and drink and socialize in Austin.

You can’t visit or live in Austin without experiencing the centerpiece of Central Texas foodways, barbecue. (I might know a little bit about the topic.) While Austin certainly boasts a number of remarkably delicious barbecue restaurants, there are a number of long-established, iconic barbecue joints beyond the city limits. Long before Aaron Franklin, the brisket ninja, took Austin by storm (indeed, long before he was a twinkle in his parents’ eyes), these folks have been smoking brisket and sausage to great acclaim.

Opinions differ on what constitutes excellent barbecue. For me, it’s brisket that’s tender and moist (nothing gets under my saddle like dry brisket), with a bright smoke ring and a dark, flavorful bark. Sausage should have a nice snap from the casing, a slightly coarse grind, and a peppery bite. Ribs should have a nice caramelization on the outside from the rub, and the meat should be fall-off-the-bone tender. Sauce is a sacrilege; if you serve me a plate of barbecue smothered in sauce, you’re dead to me. Again, though, this is all a matter of opinion. Some people — people who are wrong, wrong, wrong, I should note — think sauce is important. Some people prefer lean brisket. Some are vegetarian. (I can joke because I’ve given up meat for Lent and am totally okay with that.)

The rankings here are the result of a survey taken of the Alliance’s approximately 100 members. As such, I should note that these rankings do not reflect my personal opinions about what constitutes the best barbecue beyond Austin city limits. That said, I do offer my personal opinions on the restaurants because, well, I have opinions about barbecue.

5. Kreuz Market

Kreuz Market photo courtesy of Matt Abendschein,

Located about 30 miles southeast of Austin in the small town of Lockhart, Kreuz has long been a beacon on the Central Texas barbecue landscape. Indeed, Lockhart is home to so many fiercely loved barbecue joints that it has long been a destination for out-of-towners looking for an authentic barbecue experience. Kreuz Market started out as a grocery store and meat market in 1900, where the proprietor, Charles Kreuz, would smoke the meat to help prevent spoilage. It has been a dedicated barbecue restaurant and meat market since its second owner, Edgar Schmidt, converted it in the 1960s, and is a very popular stop for barbecue road-trippers. (Seriously, go to any of these spots on a weekend and you’ll see great clumps of pudgy, red-faced, middle-aged fraternity brothers in khaki shorts and Robert Earl Keen t-shirts sat at large tables, surrounded by giant Styrofoam cups of iced tea or a dozen six-packs of crappy beer, going at huge mounds of brisket and sausage. It will likely be their first stop of many for the day/weekend.)

It’s been a while since I ate at Kreuz, but I really like their jalapeno sausage. It’s got a nicely textured grind and the zing of the jalapeno is a message from the sausagemaker that says, “Yeah, you’re a grownup. You can take the heat. Don’t be a pansy.” Kreuz is cash-only, and plan to stand in a long line of a lunch hour. Also plan on using your hands (no forks!) and being offered saltine crackers with your meat.

4. City Market, Luling

Meat at Luling City Market. Photo courtesy of Cooking For Engineers,

Head about 15 miles farther south from Lockhart and you’ll find yourself in Luling, home to City Market, another general store converted into a barbecue restaurant. When you walk in, you’ll probably feel some dismay when you realize that not only is the end of the line about six inches from where you walked in, but all of the tables are full. Good luck getting to the bathroom! As you get closer and closer to the pit room at the back of the space, where you will order your meats by the pound, you will have had plenty of time to inspect the display of various chips, homemade pralines, ice cream, watch the cashiers in action, and so on. People watching is part of the fun of a trip to City Market; not only will you see fellow city slickers like yourself, you will get to watch the locals in their natural habitat. (Pro tip: if the locals outnumber the tourists, you’ve found a winner.) But then when you get your meat and you’ve knocked over a little old lady to get your bum in a seat at a recently vacated table, you’ll forget the wait. Brisket, sausage, ribs: you can’t go wrong. (I’m partial to the brisket, tho.)

Part of the charm of Luling City Market is the small-town Texas experience you get as part of the barbecue meal. Another pro tip: if you time your visit for late May/early June, you will be witness to the aggressive campaigns of ambitious high-school girls angling to be elected the Watermelon Thump Queen. (Luling’s trademark crop is watermelons, and they hold an annual Watermelon Thump in the summer. The entire town is decorated with a watermelon motif.)

3. Smitty’s

Smoking sausages at Smitty's. Photo courtesy of Cooking For Engineers,

Smitty’s was established in 1999 by Nina Schmidt Sells, the daughter of Edgar Schmidt, in the wake of a bitter split with her brother, who now owns Kreuz Market. Smitty’s is situated in the original Kreuz space on the square in Lockhart. I’ve never been to Smitty’s, but I hear the brisket is the star here. Smitty’s also offers a smoked pork chop, which is pretty unusual for a barbecue place.

2. Louie Mueller

Wayne Mueller, son of the late, lamented Bobby Mueller

This is hands-down my favorite barbecue outside Austin. If you love Franklin Barbecue, you also love Louie Mueller, because Aaron Franklin learned from the masters. Located in Taylor, about 30 miles to the northwest, Louie Mueller’s, like so many other barbecue joints in Texas, started its life as a grocery store in the 1940s. Bobby Mueller took over operations at the barbecue place in the 1970s and established himself as a major player on the Texas barbecue scene. When he died suddenly in the fall of 2008, he had worked more than 150,000 hours at the pit, and his loss was keenly felt. His sons, John and Wayne, were forced to contend with the business; Wayne took over the business in Taylor, while John foundered for a while before opening his new trailer in Austin. (The February 2012 issue of Texas Monthly has a very moving profile of John Mueller and Aaron Franklin, and I highly recommend you check it out.)

At any rate, the brisket at Louie Mueller in Taylor is the best brisket I’ve ever had. Period. Hands-down. Yeah, if you get there too late in the morning, you’re going to wait in line, and it’s smoky and the sticky brown patina on the walls and photographs bear testament to decades’ worth of that smoke. But the brisket, my god, the brisket.

1. The Salt Lick

Finishing pit, The Salt Lick. Photo courtesy of Cooking For Engineers,

Okay, here’s where I part ways with my AFBA peers. I don’t think that the Salt Lick has very good barbecue. But, whatever. It’s a fun experience to drive the 22 miles west out to Driftwood (BYOB, by the way), hang out with your friends and family while you wait for a table, and eat family style at the same picnic tables I scrubbed down as a drink girl (and waitress) in high school. But just know that when you go to the Salt Lick, you’re not getting the same quality of meat that you would at Mueller’s. I will say, though, that the blackberry cobbler is the best I’ve ever had. The bottom line? Go for the experience, not the food.