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Monday, November 18, 2013

Meat Fight...where everyone was a winner.

Judges panel. Photo by Cody Neathery.
Similar to Bo Jackson, Alice Laussade is a skilled dual threat on the field of life. No, she doesn't play football or baseball, but she writes at a comedic elevation rivaling Dallas' sky erection (Reunion Tower), and she can throw one hell of a party -- all for a reputable cause.

Started as a backyard contest among friends, 2012 was the first year Meat Fight was open to the public. It's an event like no other held in town.

With 300 tickets selling out quickly and weighing down the upstairs floor at Sons of Hermann Hall, they were able to raise $20,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. With much appreciation and gratitude toward all involved, Alice had a bigger plan for the following year.

Tiffany Derry. Photography by Cody Neathery.

Hosted at Four Corners Brewery this year, with the same blue print as before, the city’s best chefs came together to cook barbecue -- something none of them typically dabble in at their restaurants.

Usually, you will find Omar Flores piecing together seafood dishes like a puzzle at Driftwood while Tiffany Derry can sculpt elegant American cuisine. Other notable chefs included, Brian Luscher, owner of the Grape, Neighborhood Services Chef Jeff Bekavac, David Uygur of Lucia with Nathan Tate from close by Boulevardier in Bishop Arts, and CafĂ© Momentum's Chad Houser, among others.

The twist to the contest was that the best barbecue slingers from across the state would be judging their meat products. After winning "best brisket" in 2012, Slow Bone's Jack Perkins was on the judging panel along with Tim Byres of Smoke, Stephen Joseph of Riverport Barbecue, Dallas' very own barbecue highbrow and Texas Monthly's Barbecue Editor, Daniel Vaughn, Stanley's Famous Pit's Nick Pencis, Justin Fourton of Pecan Lodge, and the ZZ Top of barbecue, Lockhart Smokehouse's Will Fleischman.

Matt and Nick Offerman, Daniel Vaughn and Nick Pencis. Photo by Cody Neathery.

Adding to the table of judges was a celebrity of sorts -- the ultimate kick in the pants. Nick Offerman is a man who knows as much about wood as he does growing a voluptuous mustache. He also portrays Ron Swanson on NBC's Parks and Recreation. On the show and in real life, he is the turbulent meat loving, government disapproving, whiskey guzzling craftsman. 

Sporting a noble beard with an uncanny thirst for craft beer and hunger for smoked meat was Nick's brother Matt Offerman, who made the pilgrimage as a second guest judge. After a hearty conversation with Matt, one would discover his love of craft beer comes from being a brewer at Solemn Oath brewery in Illinois.

Team Meatallica's meat things. Photo by Cody Neathery.

With 500 tickets selling out within 5 minutes this year, doors opened at 4 pm for VIP ticket holders and 5 pm for general admission. All in attendance were bamboozled by a cornucopia of cooked animal and yes, there were veggie options for the extra-terrestrials cloaked in human flesh walking amongst the carnivores.

Three teams slugged it out for idol-like trophies of gold spray painted animals. Team Notorious P.I.G. anchored by Derry took home awards for best ribs, sausage and fish while Luscher's band, Meatallica, carried the best brisket award back to their kitchen. Scrappy team, Cool Arrows, led by fearless leader and rib diver, Houser, unfortunately wound up empty handed -- but seemingly had a fun time doing so.

Bacon donuts from Hypnotic Donuts.Photograph by Cody Neathery.

With the first annual 'Uncle Benjamin's Meatvember Beard Pageant' (which I made to the second round before a woeful dismissal) and live auction concluded, Laussade and husband Mike, made an announcement, followed by a raucous cheer from the crowd.

The total raised by Meat Fight for this year was $50,000, thus pulverizing last year's amount. And therefore, more than doubling her vision whilst raising the awareness of the fight against Multiple Sclerosis. Although being stalked by a woman convinced I was a reporter who had calmed Lady Gaga during an interview on Good Morning Texas, I give this two beefy thumbs up for a great night and an even better reason to break meat.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Texas Monthly BBQ Fest by way of Hutchin's BBQ.

It’s fairly safe to claim the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival held every November in Austin is the Christmas of smoked meat. Only the best barbecue joints in the world (which so happen to ALL lie within Texas’ borders) receive invites and tickets sell out within minutes of being electronically released. For those who are technologically challenged, a walk up option was available with food not necessarily being guaranteed.

Every ticket purchaser should leave fat from the food and happy from the food and beer. If one did not waddle away 10 lbs. heavier while in an intense state of transcendent happiness combined with an overwhelming sense of contentment – you clearly screwed up somehow.

Photo by Cody Neathery.

Five of the 21 restaurants in attendance were from Dallas-Ft. Worth or the surrounding area, with all serving stellar cuts of brisket, ribs and sausage. The line-up included Dallas’ Pecan Lodge and Lockhart Smokehouse, Ft. Worth’s Cousin’s BBQ, McKinney’s Hutchin’s BBQ, and Stanley’s Famous Pit out of Tyler. Unfortunately several other local nominees didn’t attend but from previous year’s festivals – this was a strong showing and something for north Texas to celebrate.

As a man who often gets pulled into conversations relating to the best barbecue around, one would be surprised the amount of locals who still have not tried Pecan Lodge even though they have heard the buzz surrounding them. Most don’t even know its location. Let that sink in for a bit. We’re talking about the #2 joint in the world. Dallas, wake up. It’s located in your backyard. To the mayor of Dallas – wake up because you could potentially lose them. Asinine right!?

Imagine being the owner of a top ranked joint in Texas located roughly 30 miles north of Dallas but receiving not much more recognition than what was published from Texas Monthly back in May. Not a mere mention of congratulations from its hometown that was itself, listed as Money Magazine’s number 5 town in America as a ‘Best Place to Live.’ That being said, don’t you think their hometown would have a greater appreciation and respect for a national list?

Hello McKinney, Texas – have you met what is one of the best barbecue restaurants in Texas – or in the world? If not, Hutchin’s BBQ rests conveniently near your much publicized historic square which draws thousands of tourists annually. That seems to me that there is some missed opportunity in this equation or maybe someone in the tourism department has become complacent.

Dustin Blackwell - Hutchin's BBQ. Photo by Cody Neathery.

Arriving Saturday afternoon in Austin, the ultimate barbecue camp was constructed in the backyard-style parking lot where Pitmaster John Lewis churns out some of the most admirable protein from a food trailer known as La Barbecue. An abundance of fold out chairs, unwavering amount of beer and the congregation of new and old friends alike, you couldn’t ask for a better way to spend a Saturday.

Adding to the mystique of the soft smoke billowing out of the smokestacks and next door to La Barbecue, is a small single room store geared toward the religion of Santeria. Walking myself over with child-like curiosity or maybe spiritually guided by whiskey – there inside were shelves of religious statues, candles and bottles of magical potion. Ironically enough, some find barbecue to be a religious experience with hints of superstition and luck but the real magic begins at the hands of the pitmasters.

Hutchin's BBQ rib. Photo by Cody Neathery.

On Sunday, I had the privilege of attending the fourth annual Texas Monthly BBQ Fest as a guest of Hutchin’s BBQ. Tim Hutchin and long-time best friend, Dustin Blackwell, have turned this restaurant, established in 1978, into a barbecue mecca. The consistency they brought to the Fest bested some of the state’s more highly rated barbecue joints and it showed by the constant demand from the public.

You’re always going to have an understandably or baffling (however waiting three hours rubs you) long line for the usual suspects like Franklin Barbecue, Pecan Lodge, and Snow’s BBQ, but the line for Hutchin’s was one of the most unrivaled in length between all attendees.

Understandably or baffling long lines for Franklin and Snow's. Photo by Cody Neathery.

When pointed out, Hutchins and Blackwell both quit cutting for a brief moment, visually taking in the line which had formed in front of them. Even Tim’s father and restaurant namesake, Roy Hutchins, who initially started Roy’s Smokehouse in Princeton, was present to see this achievement. There was a realization of the work and determination that their family had put into this restaurant, even overcoming a recent fire in 2012 which Tim and Dustin both claimed to be one of the “darkest moments of our lives.”

While usually overshadowed by the local favorites of Pecan Lodge and Lockhart Smokehouse, it’s refreshing to see the little guy shine on such a monumental stage like the Texas Monthly BBQ Fest. With Tim Hutchins, the quality of his brisket and ribs were on the forefront of his mind as he carefully tried to pick the best cut for each customer. Not often does one witness this consideration and humble gratitude.

Tim Hutchins - Hutchin's BBQ. Photo by Cody Neathery.

Sure Blackwell may have torn a chunk of flesh from his leg on the side of a trailer thus resulting in a gaping wound that John Lewis wanted to seal with hot coal while I readily stood by with a bottle of moonshine ready to flush out any bacteria. Of course the night was elevated with the arrival of the Stanley's Famous Pit crew when shots were appearing left and right which may have had something to do with us temporarily having no clue where we were early Sunday morning. As expected the next day was a grind, but experiences such as these make stories worth telling.

In hindsight, all the superstitions and luck charms could be tossed to the side. Mostly all it takes are years of preparation to meet one opportunity. And it all begins at the hands of a pitmaster.