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.

While we were on the road in Dripping Springs, Texas, we had to stop and see the Deep Eddy Vodka Distillery. Cousin Jack Crouch and I ran into Jason Ducharme, the head distiller for Deep Eddy’s who leads the crazy research and development experiments to try to find the next “out of the box” thing. What an interesting guy!

While Jason is in charge of the day-to-day making of the vodkas, like the best-selling Lemon Vodka or my personal favorite the Red Ruby Grapefruit Vodka, he also gets to play a little with science experiments to see what he can dream up. He’s self-taught and loves his job!

Jason shared with us a taste of a concoction he was playing with, aging vodka in a coconut shell in the sun for a week. He also shared another concoction he was again in the back.

If you ever get to Dripping Springs, head on over to the Deep Eddy’s Distillery. Just be careful… their drinks are so yummy that you might not want to drive home.

The current flavors sold by Deep Eddy’s include original, peach, cranberry, lemon, ruby red, orange and sweet tea. They are all wonderful when mixed with a little soda water or Sprite. Here’s a couple of recipes from Deep Eddy’s website just in case you want to get fancier:

Peach Iced Tea

2 oz Deep Eddy Peach Vodka
Top with Unsweetened Ice Tea
Lemon Wedge

Amarillo By Morning

1.5 oz Deep Eddy Cranberry Vodka
.5 oz Lemon Juice
.5 oz Averna Amaro
.5 oz Honey Syrup
(Combine equal parts honey and warm water. Stir until mixed.)
Combine all ingredients into ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake hard and strain into ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

Marfa Lights

2 oz Deep Eddy Original Vodka
3 oz Grapefruit Juice
1 oz Simple Syrup
.5 oz Fresh Lime Juice
Pinch of Salt
Grapefruit Wedge
Fill Collins glass with ice. Add first five ingredients to shaker tin with ice and give a quick two second shake to dilute and blend the salt. Strain over fresh ice and garnish with a wedge of grapefruit.

Sea Breeze

2 oz Deep Eddy Cranberry Vodka
4 oz Grapefruit Juice
Lime Wheel
Combine all ingredients and serve over ice. Garnish with a lime wheel.

2019 has been a great year for Backroads and BBQ! We visited so many interesting places and made so many new friends.

We started our journey in Georgetown Texas at 309 Coffee Company with cousin Jack Crouch. John shared his crazy caffeine order that he tests any new coffee place. There, we met Garrett Hill, chief barista at 309 Coffee and also owner of Apothecary Coffee Company, a local coffee roaster that supplies 309 Coffee. We got to visit Garrett’s roastery and learn about the exacting methods of roasting coffee to specific standards.

We got to skip the line and get a behind-the-scenes tour of Franklin’s BBQ. Having Aaron Franklin make our morning espresso shot was a huge honor and his turkey was the best smoked turkey we had during the tour.

One of the hugest highlights of the tour was giving flowers to the legendary pitmaster Ms. Tootsie Tomanetz of Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, Texas. Her pork steak is the thing dreams are made of and making her smile with flowers was a true highlight.

One of my favorite stops along our way was to visit the production facility of Bloody Buddy, the first vodka-based, ready-to-drink bloody mary in the world. Learning about their background, how they infuse their vodka with hot chiles, and signing their ceiling was what I hope will be the beginning of a long friendship.

Our 2-hour chance encounter with legendary pitmaster Roy Perez of Kreuz Market was truly a once in a lifetime experience. His wisdom and longevity is so impressive. I cannot wait to go back and visit him again someday soon.

Having a Shiner beer with Dustin Lauw, owner of Duck’s Heritage Boot Company, was a lesson in philosophy. Who knew there could be such an ethereal nature to making boots? But we were impressed with the care and precision that Dustin puts into every pair of handmade boots that he makes.

In Dallas, we went with Chef Tom Fleming to visit Slow Bone BBQ. Little did we know that Chef Tom could have a career in stand-up comedy! Slow Bone did not disappoint either. Not traditional barbecue-fare — their fried chicken was divine. And cleaning the ribs just wasn’t enough — I wanted to treat those bones like toothpicks. MMMMMmmmmmm!

Lastly, the Smoked BBQ Festival was in Dallas this Fall and we got to sample the best of the best of the barbecue available in all of Texas. You should really plan to go to next year’s festival.

We have so many more adventures in store for 2020. We get to see behind-the-scenes at the BBQ stand at Luckenbach, Texas. We meet the head of research and development for Deep Eddy’s Vodka. We had beer with the Dark Prince of Texas Barbecue, John Mueller, grandson of famed Louie Mueller BBQ of Taylor. Nate Funmaker fitted a cowboy hat just for my head. And Texana Foods gave us a tour of their production facility.

Episode 1: The Bloody Buddy

Did you know that the bloody mary cocktail is one of the most popular cocktails sold in America? It’s so popular that many barbecue competitions feature a side contest for the best bloody mary. You see quite elaborate decorations for bloody marys, from bacon served as a garnish to even a cheeseburger slider. The World Food Competition 2019 featured its own bloody mary competition.
The Bloody Buddy Episode 2

Here we introduce you to James “Buddy” Jordan and Joey Kindred, the owners and creators of The Bloody Buddy, the first and only ready-to-drink bloody mary vodka cocktail. The key ingredient in the Bloody Buddy is the chili-pepper-infused vodka and homemade bloody mary mix combined in one convenient bottle. Everything is made at their distillery in Dripping Springs, Texas. The Bloody Buddy is  preservative free, non-GMO, and all natural. The Bloody Buddy is a spicy & fresh bloody mary for any occasion. Just shake and pour over ice.

Buddy and Joey created the homemade bloody mary with chili pepper infused vodka when they worked as bartenders at a high-end Austin steakhouse. The drink became so popular, the pair looked into ways to make it happen. With business prowess of Joey’s father Mike, the Bloody Buddy was born into reality. Mike’s fingerprint still appears on every bottle sold as a tribute to his memory and lasting imprint in making the business a reality.

The first episode of the Bloody Buddy series on Backroads and BBQ features Buddy and Joey telling the story of how they got started and what inspires them. The second episode features the behind-the-scenes tour. We got to try the pure vodka, then the vodka infused with the chili peppers. We saw their ingredients, just like you would have at home, except in much larger quantities. We saw their processing plant. And, we were invited to sign the ceiling as with other honored guests.

Did you know that Bloody Buddy is all-natural and gluten-free?! When the Worchestershire sauce became gluten-free, the Bloody Buddy also became gluten-free.

Bloody Buddy makes their own vodka from distillates. They infuse with a proprietary blend of chile peppers. And it’s amazing! They are talking about a special edition hatch green chile Bloody Buddy. What do you think of that? (We think, YES PLEASE!)

They consider themselves a complete day-drunk company! They are coming out with a Beach Buddy in the Spring. We cannot wait for that!

Shout out to cousin Jack Crouch for joining me for these episodes!

The Bloody Buddy is the real deal. Check out their website at and try it today.

This week we visit Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, Texas, the home of BBQ Hall of Famer, 84-year old female pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz. My sidekick-of-the-day is Belle Crouch, who may be Tootsie’s #1 fan, and her husband Jack.

Flowers for a lovely woman
Chef John O’Neil and BBQ Hall of Fame Pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz

Owner Kerry Bexley reopened Snow’s BBQ in March 2003 once he got Tootsie to agree to join him. Open only on Saturdays starting at 8:00 am, the line forms very early and they sell out quickly.

Pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz of Snow’s BBQ

Undoubtedly, Snow’s is the most famous thing in the small town of about 1,000 residents. When Texas Monthly surprisingly named Snow’s as the #1 BBQ joint in Texas in 2017, it kicked things up a notch or two.

Snow’s BBQ plate

I won a package deal at Meat Fight, a charitable event created by Alice Laussade that supports the MS Society, that included lunch for two at Slowbone in Dallas. A friend of mine, Chef Tom Fleming of Crossroads Diner in Dallas, joined me for lunch. He and Chef Jeffrey Hobbs, owner of Slowbone, are friends from way back in the day.

Chef Tom Fleming and Chef John O’Neil waiting for Slowbone to open.

Chef Tom started his career in France where he staged at Paul Bocuse and L’Auberge de l’Ille. Back in Chicago, he worked under the tutelage of his mentor chef Jean Joho at Everest. After five years at Everest, Fleming opened Brasserie Jo for Joho, which later won the James Beard Foundation Award for “Best New Restaurant.” Later Fleming moved to Dallas, cultivating his career as Executive Chef at Mediterraneo. Fleming’s position and contribution to other Dallas kitchens included Executive Chef of Riviera, Lombardi Mare, Pappas Brothers’ Steak House, Old Hickory Steakhouse at the Gaylord Texan, and Central 214. Chef Tom decided to dominate the breakfast industry with Crossroads Diner in Dallas so he could devote more time to his family. Crossroads has won every accolade available for the breakfast industry, recognized by D Magazine, Dallas Morning News, Dallas Observer, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine Magazine, and Zagat.

Chef Jeffrey Hobbs, owner of Slowbone, shares his BBQ philosophy.

Chef Jeffrey Hobbs has quite the pedigree, having worked at well-known Dallas places such as Celebration, Riviera, Toscana, Il Sole, Suze, and Sissy’s Southern Kitchen. Then, he left fine-dining and turned to barbeque. Hobbs’ mantra is Barbecue is Beautiful. And, believe me, it really is at Slowbone. Arguments can be made that Slowbone is The Best BBQ in Dallas if not Texas. Certainly, it is the best fried chicken at a BBQ place. And the sides…. Oh man… you got to try the sides. Who am I kidding… everything is great. You just really have to go check it out.

Now that’s a plate of food!

The Smoked BBQ Fest held its 6th event this Fall and has quickly become the go-to festival in the DFW area if not in the whole State of Texas. The festival features the absolute who’s who of BBQ across the state. I mean, where else can you get some Kreuz Sausage next door to a Louie Mueller dinosaur beef rib next door to a Zavalas bbq taco… no where but Smoked.

A 90 degree day in Downtown Dallas’ Main Street Garden Park provided the perfect setting for stuffing my body full of bbq like an overstuffed teddy bear. It was dumb and yum all at the same time. This year the event sold out, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to get in on this action when the festival rolls into town next year.

Smoked BBQ Fest, Dallas

Pits featured in my video: Kreuz Market, Louis Mueller BBQ, Heim BBQ, Hutchins BBQ, Ferris Wheeler BBA, Micklethwait Craft Meats, Bodacious BBQ, Hurtado BBQ, Schmidt BBQ, Tejas Chocolate and BBQ, BBQ Mobberly, Meat Church,  Black’s BBQ Lockhart, Panther City BBQ, and Zavalas.

Meat Church, Waxahachie

Also featured: Jimmy Ho, Shiner Beer, Pat Green.

Meeting influencers at Smoked BBQ Fest
Dinosaur Beef Ribs from Louis Mueller, Taylor

Ever wonder why the turkey breast is always dry at Thanksgiving? It’s geometry–that’s the problem. The breast is closest to the heat of the oven and has less fat, so it cooks faster and dries out more quickly. The legs and thighs in a whole bird are surrounded by connective tissue and carcass, so they cook by conduction and not direct heat, taking longer. To get the dark meat done to temperature, the white meat is overcooked and dried out. This why I choose to roast a turkey in parts. Of course,you give up the flourish of carving the bird at the table, but in the end its about fellowship of family, expressing gratefulness, and eating a well-prepared meal. It’s not about the carving.Cooking a turkey this way allows the turkey to cook faster. You can also cook more quantity if you need to. Plus, you can take the carcass and boil it into stock at the same time the bird is in the oven.

The Turkey

  • 1 whole turkey, 10-15 pounds
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 large stalks celery, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 medium clove garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 12 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 cup homemade or store-bought low-sodium stock
  • 2 tablespoons poultry seasoning (I like Bell’s brand, see note) divided
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 7 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3-5 sprigs fresh sage
  • ½ cup butter (1 stick) cut into chunks

Using a sharp knife, separate the wings, breasts, and leg quarters (like you would do to a chicken). A sharp knife really helps here because a turkey has more connective tissue than a chicken. Put the turkey pieces in a pan (I like to use a disposable pan to avoid cross-contamination). Season both sides of each piece with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of poultry seasoning.

Mix onions, celery, and carrots together. Place in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Add ½ cup of the stock to the pan over the vegetables. Season the vegetables with a little salt, pepper, and remaining tablespoon of poultry seasoning.

Take the butter chunks and insert between the meat and the skin of each piece, leaving a few chunks to put on top of the skin of each piece. Arrange the leg quarters and wing pieces around the pan, on top of the vegetables. Leave room for the breasts in the pan, but put them aside for now. You won’t put the breasts in the oven at the beginning of cooking.

Cover the pan of dark meat turkey loosely with foil and place in the oven at 350 degrees for about an hour. Remove the foil and turn the leg and wing sections over. Lay the breast pieces meat side down in the pan. Replace the foil and bake for another 45 minutes to an hour or until the deepest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees and the breast reads 150 on a thermometer.

Remove the foil and turnover the breast pieces so the skin side is up. Turn the oven to broil and put the pan back in the oven on the lowest rack until the skin of the turkey is golden brown. Remove the turkey from the oven, recover with foil, and let it rest for 20 minutes, basting every five minutes or so with pan juices. Put the vegetables from the pan into a blender and turn the blender on medium high. Slowly add about half of liquid from the pan into the blender until pureed.Pour into a sauce pot and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to simmer and reduce until thick. Add remaining liquid as needed to maintain desired consistency. Use as gravy over the turkey.

Thanksgiving Gravy

  • 2 cups chicken or turkey stock
  • 4 tablespoons More Than Gourmet brand Glace de Volaille roasted turkey stock
  • ½ cup evaporated whole milk
  • 1 can beef consume
  • 2 tablespoons arrowroot
  • 1 drop of thyme essential oil
  • 1 drop of black pepper essential oil
  • 2 drops of sage essential oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a 2 quart sauce pot, bring stock, glace, and evaporated milk to boil. In separate container with a lid (like a mason jar with a sealable lid or shakerball mixer), mix together consome and arrowroot and shake vigorously for 1 minute until smooth and frothy. While broth mixture is at a full boil, slowly whisk in the arrowroot mixture. Bring to boil for 3 minutes, whisking constantly until thickened. If too thick for your preference you can thin it out with a little more broth, stock or water. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.The “More Than Gourmet” brand does not contain any added salt, so you will need to season accordingly.


Arrowroot is a tropical plant.One-year old roots are dug up and soaked in hot water. The soaking removes the bitter fibrous covering. The root gets mashed up to separate the edible starch. The starch dries out and becomes the arrowroot powder. Arrowroot powder is gluten-free, paleo-friendly, and vegan!

Arrowroot can be used in place of cornstarch, especially for those with corn allergies. Each has slightly different effects on a dish. Cornstarch comes from a grain and has a higher content of protein and fat, which means it needs a higher temperature for thickening. On the other hand,arrowroot has less protein and fat, so thickening happens faster and at a lower temperature.Arrowroot has a more neutral flavor also. I tend to use cornstarch when I want thickening at the beginning of cooking, such as with a stew or dairy sauces. I use arrowroot when thickening towards the end of the cooking process, such a with acids, vinegars, or lemon juice

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Any barbecue tour would not be complete without a prayer at the alter of all that is holy in Texas barbecue — Franklin’s in Austin.

Meat Fight is a charitable event in Dallas, Texas started by James Beard award-winning food writer Alice Laussade to raise money to support national MS research. The event involves a barbecue competition featuring chefs that don’t cook barbecue.

They also have prizes and an auction for attendees. In 2018, I won the “boner package” which included lunch at Franklin’s BBQ in Austin at the back table with the KING OF TEXAS BBQ himself Aaron Franklin and skipping the famous line to get in that usually starts around 5 am on any given day. (Check out more about Meat Fight here Only a few people in the universe have skipped the line at Franklin’s — President Obama being one of them. So, this prize was a coveted one indeed. And I won it! (I also get to be a judge at Meat Fight 2019 — stay tuned to my Instagram story @chef.john.oneil for that coming on November 10th.)

Badass Lady Chef Jeana Johnson, F&B director for Canvas Hotel in Dallas, won the brisket competition at Meat Fight 2018 and won the overall prize for the best chef. I decided my visit to Franklin’s in Austin had to include her.

Aaron Franklin doesn’t allow videotaping in his behind the scenes tour, so we were limited to still photos. Even so… the experience was amazing. The morning started with Aaron making us espresso. In typical Aaron fashion, he was extremely attentive to detail in pulling the espresso shot and it was fabulous.

Then, Aaron gave us his personal tour of the pits and his theories on barbecue — how to build the fire, what type of wood to use, what pits are best. He gave us his personal history and told of rebuilding after the fire caused by an ember caught in the wind of Hurricane Harvey.

The crowning moment of the behind-the-scenes tour of Franklin’s was eating at the back table outside of Aaron’s personal quarters on-site of the barbecue location. Other friends of Aaron’s from Mexico joined us for lunch. The setting was a small camper trailer (with air conditioning) and picnic tables. Aaron’s wife joined us too. To say that the food was phenomenal is an understatement. Aaron was friendly and personable. He was interested in the barbecue tour we were on and offered advice and insight to the places we would visit.

All of the meats were outstanding. But the real star, surprisingly, was the turkey breast. Aaron gets a special lot of turkeys from a heritage farm in Michigan and cooks them just right so they are the most moist turkey you have ever tasted in your life. He rubs the skinless turkey with butter, black pepper and salt. That’s it. (He shares his recipe here.)

Chef Jeana visited Aaron’s previously and she said the food was just a good on the day of our visit as it was the prior visit. The turkey was equally as moist. That kind of consistency is amazing. I was also impressed with how happy and busy his staff was. Aaron runs a precise ship but his team members all seemed to know exactly what needed doing and were busy doing it. No slackers. And they were all cheerful and friendly.

One afternoon early in our backroads and barbecue tour around central Texas, my cousin Jack Crouch said that we just had to stop by and see Dustin Lauw at Duck’s Heritage Boots. A fourth-generation leather maker, Dustin became inspired to make boots when he had a pair made by the man who became his mentor, Duck Menzies. Dustin was open and forthcoming about his craft, his workshop, and even his life philosophy. You’ll love Dustin and want to go hang out with him at his shop too! Check it out…
Episode 1: Y’all Need Some Comfy Boots?
Episode 2: Mechanics of Custom Boot Making