Luckenbach, Texas was made famous in the 1977 song performed by Waylon Jennings. It talks about leaving the big city life by trading in the coat and tie for some boots and faded jeans to get back to the basics of love.

Let me tell you, Luckenbach is one special place and one of my favorite places on the entire planet! Whether you show up on a Friday afternoon for a cold beer and some music in the pickers circle or you go for one of the festivals that bring in thousands of folks, Luckenbach is a place that you cannot miss in any tour of Texas.

Little history… Luckenbach started in 1849 as a trading post with the Comanche Indians back then and reportedly Luckenbach’s owners were one of the few who never broke their treaty with the Indians. Later, a general store and saloon was established on the property. Population of Luckenbach got as high as 492 in 1904, but in the 1960’s, it became a ghost town and put up for sale. Famous Texas folklorist Hondo Crouch with two other investors bought Luckenbach for $30,000 in 1970.

Luckenbach’s association with country music began in the summer of 1973 when Jerry Jeff Walker and the Lost Gonzo Band recorded the live album Viva Terlingua at the Luckenbach dance hall. Then in 1977, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson vaulted Luckenbach in the national spotlight with the #1 country and #25 Pop charting song “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)”.

Female pitmaster Socorro Tanner gives Chef John a pittour

“Pickin’ for the Record” was a fundraiser held in Luckenbach on August 23, 2009, for the organization Voices of a Grateful Nation, where the Guinness world record was broken for the most guitar players gathered at one time to play (continuously for at least five minutes), with the official count at 1868.

Most people don’t realize that Luckenbach has a barbecue joint built in there called the Luckenbach Feedlot. They serve a really great pulled pork sandwich with homemade barbecue sauce (vinegar and mustard based) and cole slaw. Richard and Socorro Tanner have run the pit at Luckenbach for a long time, then when Richard passed away, Socorro took over the reins with the help of her son.

But they do BBQ a little differently here in Luckenbach than at other traditional Texas joints. You don’t get the low-and-slow-over-post-oak here in Luckenbach. Nope, hot and fast over green mesquite is their secret. In fact, Socorro still goes to cut and collect the wood herself on a friend’s ranch every week.

In this episode of Backroads and BBQ, Socorro Tanner tells us the secret of using green, wet mesquite wood to smoke her brisket and pork and impart a unique sweet flavor. Coming from Mexico, she never knew about the Texas tradition of using post oak. She knew that in Mexico they use freshly cut mesquite wood, so that’s what she continues to use to this day.

Dried mesquite used in barbecue can cause the meat to taste bitter. However, using the green mesquite gives a sweeter flavor to the meat and allows the meat to have a gorgeous dark pink tint that you don’t get with oak. I’ve never had barbecue made with mesquite that gives that sweet of a smoke flavor to the meat. You would have to use fruit wood to get that. Socorro definitely taught me something during our visit.

Socorro smokes everything she needs on Thursday for the weekend’s business, implementing the cook once, eat multiple times theory that I subscribe to.

Everyone may go to Luckenbach for the laid-back feeling, the music, and the cold beer, but now I know the secret – you gotta have a pulled pork sandwich by Socorro when you get there.

Written by Chef John O'Neil