By far the most beautiful barbecue restaurant that we’ve seen is Switch BBQ in Dripping Springs. The main dining room is 6,200 square feet plus the patio and pit room and features beautiful post oak wood floors.

The bar… man-oh-man … the bar is beautiful. Made out of high-end Sinker Cypress wood, it forms the center of the entire dining room and just makes you want to cozy up there and sit a while. My favorite design feature is the smoking bull – a big bull head smoking a large pipe – over the entrance.

Switch BBQ also features a window into the sausage room where customers can literally watch the sausage be made while standing in line.

The pit room features four giant, beautiful 1000 gallon offset Moberg smokers and an interesting cabinet Moberg smoker that is used for sausage. The pitworkers begged for a large screen tv, and their wish was granted. Now they can watch football and make brisket – which may be the most perfect situation ever.

The most notable difference between Switch BBQ and most other barbecue joints is that Switch is a sit-down restaurant. Instead of ordering and watching your meat be sliced and chopped, Switch has you order from a menu with a waiter. This deviation feels strange and less like a place that should have great ‘cue.

The menu has a definite Cajun feel, including boudin sausage. The brisket was what you would expect from a low-and-slow, central-Texas-oak smoking.

Nathaniel’s Custom Hats in Georgetown, Texas has been one of my favorite stops out of all of the places that we’ve visited on the Backroads and BBQ tour. Cousin Jack Crouch has apprenticed for Nate and took me there to meet Nate.

Cousin Jack Crouch, Chef John O’Neil, and owner Nathaniel Funmaker

While I was there, Nate hand-fitted me with a palm straw cowboy hat. Watching his method and precision inspired me. That hat fits my head like no hat I’ve ever owned – like a sock on my head. Nathaniel Funmaker is hands-down one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. His craftmanship knows no equal. He makes his hats on vintage equipment using centuries-old, hands-on craftsmanship techniques. 

Nate has been handcrafting hats for nearly twenty years. His skills can be readily seen and felt in the finished product. Nate makes his hats from the highest qualify fur felts, and they are renowned for their durability. Celebrities like Josh Bernstein in “Digging For The Truth” and Will Smith in “Wild, Wild, West” love Nate’s hats, but they are also valued by ranchers and just plain “hat folks”. 

Nathaniel’s is not just any hat shop. Using 60 to 100-year-old equipment and maintaining centuries old techniques, Nate’s fine fur felt hats are renowned and treasured for their quality and timeless style. Nate’s hats are proudly worn by people from all walks of life, including businesspeople, cowboys, ranchers, celebrities and politicians, to name a few.

Born in Wisconsin to the Ho-Chunk tribe, Nate was the 10th of 11 children born to Adam and Doris Funmaker. To his knowledge, Nate is the only Native American Master Hatter.

https://youtu.be/afY1mgBJw5Q

Miller’s Smokehouse in Belton – where barbecue, pie, coffee, and brunch all get together for a Saturday morning hang out. The Miller family started out in the taxidermy business. Then, when Dusty Miller was in college, he suggested using the family’s business property to make barbecue during the off-season. Over time, the barbecue business grew so that in 2008 the family moved the business into its current location in downtown Belton.

In 2018, Dusty Miller recognized that Belton could use some good coffee, so he added a professional espresso machine. If you have an espresso machine, you should roast coffee. So, the Miller family added a coffee roasting machine in a warehouse and started roasting the coffee to serve in the restaurant. Interestingly, the acidity of coffee pairs well with smoked meat, so it really makes sense.

One day Momma Miller made pie to serve in the restaurant, which grew into a full-time bakeshop. When we visited Miller’s we had the sopaipilla cheesecake pie. I can tell you I have never had anything so decadent and delicious in all my life. What a treat that pie is! And now, desserts make up 10% of total sales for the restaurant. Pretty fine stats for a bakeshop in a barbecue place.

Most recently, the Miller family added brunch to the menu. If you go for brunch, you have to get the pimento cheese grits with coffee-rubbed, smoked pork belly. Man, that shit was good! Oh, and the wakin’ bacon – homemade bacon with an espresso rub. The biscuits were so good too. But that pimento grits with pork belly is a dish to dream about.

Miller’s is so good, we’ve been twice. It’s the only place we’ve gone more than once in our Backroads and BBQ Jeep tour. If you’re driving southbound on I-35, pull on off in Belton and get some of their food at Miller’s. You will be so glad you did!

Pork belly pastrami with mustard cream sauce over cole slaw.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020 – National Pastrami Day. Pastrami comes from Romania, usually made of beef brisket. The dish was brought to America by Jewish immigrants in the second half of the 19th century. The preparation method was originally created as a way to preserve meat before the modern convenience of refrigeration came about.

To make pastrami, the meat is brined to make corned beef. Corned beef is literally a beef brisket soaked in brine. Then the brine is washed off and the meat patted dry. Once dry, the meat is seasoned with a heavy dose of herbs and spices, especially black pepper, then smoked and steamed. Smoking the corned beef makes pastrami.

Beef brisket pastrami

While beef brisket is the most common and old-school meat to use to make pastrami, a newer hipper meat to use is pork belly. In fact, it is very common to see almost any meat made using pastrami method – goose, duck, turkey, pork shoulder. Vegetarians make pastrami out of beets! Pretty much anything goes here since pastrami is a method and spice mixture. Here I’m going to talk about making pastrami with beef brisket.

Pork belly pastrami

Trim the brisket.

I like to use a select quality of brisket because there’s less intramuscular fat on it. You can use choice if that is what you can find. I would not use prime because there’s too much fat on it.

Out of a whole brisket, separate the flat part from the point part into two sections. Trim away as much visible fat as possible.

Prepare the brine.

In a large stockpot, combine 2/3 cup kosher salt, 1 cup brown sugar, 3 tablespoons curing salt (Instacure #1 known as Prague power or saltpeter), ½ cup pickling spice, 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds, 1 cinnamon stick broken into large pieces, ¼ cup coarse grind black pepper (the granuales should be large than the kosher salt flakes), ¼ cup coriander seeds into 2 quarts of water. Bring the spices water to a boil and simmer 10 minutes. Cover and set aside for 2 hours or until room temperature. Add 3 cups of ice to the pot to chill down the brine. Add the trimmed brisket to the pot. Cover tightly and refrigerate for two days.

I like to make this in the winter time, using an ice chest that stays cold. If you keep it out of the sun, the brining brisket in the ice chest left outside will still stay below 40 degrees without any additional refrigeration.

Preparing the brine for the beef and pork belly.

Prepare the smoker.

Prepare your smoker on low 200-225 degrees. I use lump charcoal with a mix of apple wood and hickory wood on top. While the smoker is coming up to temperature we will get the brisket ready to go on.

Make the pastrami rub.

To make the pastrami rub, we will start with the pastrami base. Then we will add a few different ingredients depending on whether you are using beef, turkey, or whatever meat.

Add to a blender in this order: 3 cups whole coriander seeds, ¼ cup granulated garlic, ½ cup dried Mexican oregano (Mexican oregano is sweeter than Italian or Greek oregano), 1 cup ground black pepper. Pulse lightly 305 times until the coriander seeds are broken. You don’t want a dust or power, just a course combination of the spices that resembles the texture of kosher salt.

If you are making beef, take 1 ¼ cup of the base spice mix, then add 2 tablespoons hot, smoked paprika, 2 cups medium grind black pepper. Mix well and use this as the dry rub for beef.

Preparing to season the brined pork belly.

If you are making pork, take 1 cup of base mix, then add 3 tablespoons granulated garlic and 2 cups medium grind black pepper. Mix well and use this as the dry rub for pork.

For turkey or any fowl bird pastrami, add 1 tablespoon of poultry seasoning to the pork pastrami rub recipe above.

Wash and rub the meat.

Remove the brisket from the brine and rinse well, discarding the brine.

Pulling the pork and the beef from the brine.

Rub all sides with pastrami seasoning rub. This should be a heavy layer of rub. The way I do it is rub the entire meat with one layer of the spice rub. Lay the meat down and spray the top side with vegetable spray, then add another layer of the spice rub. In other words, the top gets two layers of spice rub.

Beef rubbed with pastrami spice rub.

Smoke and steam the brisket.

Put the brisket on the smoker and smoke at 200-225 degrees for 3 hours.

The TK Cooker drum smoker getting ready for the beef to go on.

Remove brisket from smoker and transfer to a metal roasting pan. Add about 2 cups of water. Wrap the whole pan with aluminum foil very tightly. Bake in 300-degree oven 3 ½ hours. Remove the pan from the oven. Leave it wrapped and let it rest for at least 2 hours, allowing the steam and spice to penetrate the meat as it cools. When you unwrap the pan, you can slice it and eat it right away. Or, you can put it in the refrigerator and eat it over 5-7 days. You can also freeze it and it will keep for about 3 months.

Beef brisket pastrami sandwich

Add some cole slaw and mustard to a toasted bun, with or without melted cheese for a yummy beef brisket pastrami sandwich.

Or, make a mustard cream sauce to pour over pork belly pastrami and cole slaw for a quick and pretty dinner.

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.

https://youtu.be/UQHKwQUHe3I
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 www.thebloodybuddy.com 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!