Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Epicurean Adventures: 'Austin'-tacious, or MEAT

I've recently developed an affinity for barbecue. And I'm pretty sure that I can blame it on Texas.

I didn't think I was going to enjoy my visit to Austin. I thought, "Hey, this could be cool -- I can get away to someplace new for not a lot of money, and I get to see some dear friends/sorority sisters that I only get together with once every couple of years." (Yes, I use "get" a lot in my stream of consciousness. Yes, I know it's a little awkward to read written. But I really can't be held responsible for my brain's quirks. *Shrugs.*)

When I was there, I thought, "Hey, this is pretty cool. The weather's great, the river's beautiful, the city's clean, and good, fresh food is HELLA cheap."

But then, my friend took me to The Salt Lick and I didn't try, but I experienced straight-up Texan barbecue. And omfg.

Ribs, big smoky ribs, that fell off the bone! So juicy! So tender! So pink! SO BIG! Rich and buttery with natural fat, trimmed just enough to keep that charred gristle but make it edibly lean, these were literally perfect.

Brisket, beautifully charred and incredibly moist, smothered in a tangy sauce! I used a butter knife to cut it, but only to look more civilized than I would were I to have used my fork. Which I did, eventually, to expedite the food-to-mouth process.

Smoked sausage! Bursting with juices when I cut into the taut, crisp skin, it was a medley of savory flavors that could only be brought about with love, care, and many fat, sad pigs.

Fall-off-the-bone chicken! Crisp, delicious skin peeled back to reveal sweet, glistening meat. It shined like a food magazine photo. Just thinking about it made my stomach grumble just now. For real.

And smoked turkey. Whaaaat?! This was insane. Out of control. Tender and juicy, the depth of its flavor penetrated the entire turkey breast. With poultry, I've often found all the seasonings to remain close to the surface of the meat, and close to the skin, but with the turkey and the chicken, my tastebuds sang with joy down to the very last morsel.

The amazing thing is, I didn't expect to be this blown away. I wasn't hugely into barbecue before this foray into the deserts of Texas, and I don't like too much smoke. I mean, Allan Benton's universally-lauded Smoky Mountains bacon makes me a little ill. (Blashpemy, I know ...) But this wood-smoked, open-pit barbecue at the Salt Lick changed my world. A hint of sweet smoke, not overwhelming, permeated all of the different meats in a discreet, subtle manner. It didn't scream, "Look at me! I'm SMOKED!!!" like Benton's bacon did. Instead, it said in a chivalrous tone, "Hello. I'm smoked. Aren't I delicious? Why thank you!"

Delightful. Absolutely, utterly delightful.

It's been a year now since my trip to Austin, and although I wasn't fantasizing about returning immediately after my homecoming, I'm finding myself dwelling on the quality of life, weather, and of course, the food more and more as time goes on. I've acquired a taste for the city that I didn't anticipate, one that's become richer and deeper as the days pass and the cravings don't. Much like the smoke that penetrates the fabulous, FABULOUS meat at that dirt-floored joint outside of Austin.

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