On a ritual father-Daughter drive outside Austin, Texas, bonding happens over the perfect brisket
By Clay Nichols
Some “Hey, Dad” requests get an automatic “Yes.” Like:
When my younger son asks to toss the Frisbee.
When my older son asks to practice Spanish vocabulary.
And when my daughter asks to go get barbecue.
I particularly enjoy granting that last request. Looking at my willowy sixth-grade daughter, you might not take her for a serious carnivore, but that skinny girl in the ponytail is a discerning aficionado of smoked meat. Riley’s busy weekends full of soccer games and slumber parties had prevented us from exploring beyond the Austin city limits. The bbq havens just a few miles to the south and east of our hometown had remained unexplored.
Until last week.
When asked what she wanted to do with her half day off from school, Riley responded with the magic question: “Hey, Dad, could we go get barbecue?”
The following day, we loaded into the Equinox in the cloudy, cool mid-morning, Riley with her eReader and fleece blanket, me with some new playlists on my smartphone, hoping I might sneak in a few of my own songs before she commandeers the available Chevrolet MyLink* system and programs One Direction into Pandora Internet Radio**.
I sketched out my plan and, using OnStar***, forwarded my destinations to Map Quest (which automatically downloaded them to my Equinox’s turn-by-turn navigation system): We could head out for an early lunch, kill a few hours looking at the local sights, then hit another joint for an afternoon snack. Riley nodded crisply, ponytail bouncing in assent, before easing into her seat, game for anything. Love and pride welled in my chest as I shifted into drive.
We head south on 130, en route to Luling, Texas and the Luling City Market, our first stop. The speed limit on this newly opened stretch of toll road is the nation’s highest at 85 mph. Although the Equinox glides along effortlessly—the cabin as solid, quiet and cozy as a study—I almost wish the limit were lower, so the journey would take longer. Looking at my tween girl, I wish that just about everything would slow down.
The Market is on the corner of a strip mall of sorts, an unassuming wooden storefront, but the smoke is in the air, and my daughter is bouncing on the balls of her feet as we approach the door.
We pass a sandwich counter and head to a second set of doors at the back of the restaurant. Passing through the doors, our eyes adjust to the smoky semi-darkness. Standing behind a small counter is a beaming young man of large proportions. Behind him, the pit master works the brick pits, a hardhat protecting him from the massive cast-iron lids he heaves open and closed, retrieving whole briskets, racks of pork ribs and round links of sausage. The walls are darkened with years of accumulated soot and fat. The smell is savory.
We order portions of all three meats, which are sliced before our eyes, placed in the center of several sheets of butcher paper, then twisted into an origami boat—platter, plates and napkins all rolled into one.
We spread the paper between us, pinning it down with bottles of mustardy sweet barbecue sauce and containers of beans and pickles. The brisket is perfectly crusted and smoke-ringed, delicious when paired with the sauce. The sausage has the perfect snap and smoky flavor. But Riley and I agree that the ribs are the star of this show, perfectly smoked and seasoned, falling off the bone, moist and tender. These are the best ribs either of us has ever eaten.
We left stuffed, uncertain we would be recovered in time for round two.
Between stops was a lazy drive through pastureland with a vague idea of visiting local shops or the outlet stores. The Equinox cruised like a dream. Riley snuggled in her blanket and read. I listened to Pandora and pointed out livestock, funny signs, interesting farmhouses.
After parking on the town square in Lockhart, Texas, we followed the smell of smoke to the handpainted sign over the entrance to Smitty’s Market. Riley looked a bit uncertain as we entered the long, dark hallway, but we knew we were in the right place when we saw the blaze of open flame. A young man gently placed an oak log on a pile of glowing red coals. The smoke from the fire sucked completely into the waiting pits and up through the flues in the roof.
We settled into a spot at the long tables, again spreading paper containing brisket, ribs and sausage. Riley turned up her nose at the sausage, which leaked grease all over the paper once it was cut into (it was delicious), but she clambered for the ribs. We tasted the brisket at about the same time and exchanged significant looks. Perfectly crusted and smoked, the meat was nonetheless fork-tender and juicy. It needed no accompaniment, though the traditional red sauce was tasty. This was a true masterpiece. Maybe the best barbecue anywhere.
On the ride home, we compared notes on food, ambiance, small towns. I marveled at her barbecue precociousness. It had taken me 45 years to find barbecue that good. She’d tracked it down in 12. Looking at the windshield, I sincerely hoped that wouldn’t stop her from looking for better, and taking me along for the ride.
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This is the third in a series of food road trip stories on Chevy Culture.
Clay Nichols is co-founder and editor of DadLabs.com. He can often be found in a high-quality camp chair cheering his face off for his kids.
*MyLink functionality varies by model. Full functionality requires compatible Bluetooth and smartphone, and USB connectivity for some devices.
**Data plan rates apply.
***Standard for six months. Visit onstar.com for coverage map, details and system limitations.