During my first stint in Austin, I managed to organise a few days 'working' with the highly regarded, up-and-coming Mickelthwait Craft Meats, a BBQ food truck in East Austin. The owner, Tom, kindly agreed to letting me hang out for a few days to see how they cook their meats and generally handle service during busy lunchtime. It's an impressive operation which involves 4-5 guys dishing out 150-250 covers of top nosh from an old caravan.
The first two days I spent the mornings (6.30am start) with the early guy, Matt, making sure all the meat was ready for lunch at 11am. As I am someone who enjoys a large breakfast and therefore a later lunch, I have struggled to understand why Texan's seem to prefer lunch at 11am, but at Mickelthwait's I started to understand. It gets pretty hot in Texas after midday, so when your dining table is an outdoor picnic table, with a little shade if you are lucky, it pays to get it done and dusted before the hottest part of the day. It was a pleasure to watch and learn as Matt, methodically and precisely prepared and then served the meats. As much as I'm easily impressed by fast knife-work and sauté skills in busy kitchens, there's something equally admirable about calm and consistent chef-work like Matt seemed to show.
The next two days, I was with Pat, the night guy, making sure all the meat that needed to go on for a long time (beef brisket and ribs, pork shoulder) was ticking over nicely. Pat, who liked to listen to loud heavy metal music whilst working, was also the sausage maker. It seems there are a few small elements which tend to separate a good BBQ joint from a great one. My view, thanks to those who I've worked with and spoken to, is that a 'good one' is one that recognises and upholds traditional Texas BBQ values and has some good meats (preferably brisket) some of the time. A 'great one' is one that does all meats very well, but also makes its own sides, sundries and bread from scratch and dares to create innovative menu items too. Mickelthwait definitely tick this box, and their ever-changing sausage recipes, made fresh every day, are a good example.
My first night shift (4pm-Midnight) coincided with the end of 'Beer Wednesday', a rolling weekly tradition where Mickelthwait trade some BBQ food for some beers with one of Austin's many craft breweries. This means free beer for customers and staff alike. Good times...until the cooler box of beers got raided by a tramp who couldn't believe his luck when he saw free, cold, unclaimed beers.
And with that, the Texas phase of my adventure was complete. So much learned, so much eaten and so much to try out for myself. Next stop, North Carolina.