Thursday, February 18, 2010

Texas BBQ Wannabe: 8

#8 on our list of Texas BBQ Wannabes comes to us from, well, #8. Sorta. After receiving their initial email entitled Texas BBQ Wannabe???, I’ve had a good time this week emailing back and forth with West Texas Barbeque Co., a catering company in Jackson, Michigan. Their contention: “We’re not a wannabe; we’re the real thing!” And they very well may be.

For those who weren’t around when we kicked off this new feature, ending up on our list of Texas BBQ Wannabes doesn’t mean that we think you’re a Texas BBQ poser. We're not hating on you. We’re not passing judgment. All it takes to get on the list is to be a BBQ joint/caterer outside of Texas and have something Texan in your name or tagline. But "BBQ joint outside of Texas but with ‘Texas’ or something Texan in your name or tagline" just doesn’t roll of your tongue, so I had to come up with something a little catchier. With that said, here are a couple of emails West Texas Barbeque Co. sent me this week. Love ‘em!!!

Email #1 (from the father)

Hey guys...

Might as well go ahead and put me on your "Wannabes" list. I'm cookin' Texas barbeque up in Michigan, that's right, Michigan, Jackson, Michigan to be precise. Been cookin' it up here since 1985, when I started setting up on the street corner down in the hood and selling brisket sandwiches. Now you might also ought to know, I learned to cook barbeque while working on a small ranch down in Roanoke, Texas prior to that. I was lucky enough to have some of the locals, who I called "The Denton County Boys" take me under their wings and show me the ropes. Anyway, the real reason I wrote was to tell you guys to stop being so critical of everyones brisket. You can cook a hundred briskets all exactly the same way and you'll get about a hundred different results. Each and every piece of meat is going to be a little different. I've also noticed that even USDA Choice brisket isn't as well marbled as it was twenty-five years ago, especially the flat part. When you do get perfect brisket, thank the BBQ Gods! The stars have all aligned and you've been treated to something very special. Getting back to that Wannabes list; I've got to tell you, I've ate a whole lot of bad barbeque in Texas. I think the biggest reason is a lot of them ol' boys just plain don't care anymore, they're counting on their reputations to keep them going. I ate a place in Ft. Worth once and the sausage looked and tasted suspiciously like one of the major brands you see in the grocery store. Well, I asked the ol' gal working the counter if they made their own sausage and she assured me they did. As we were leaving, I noticed about twenty empty sausage boxes in the dumpster with that familiar major brands name on them. These kinds of tactics have done much to hurt the Texas barbeque business. Of course, I've had plenty of great barbeque in Texas as well. My personal favorite is Louie Mueller's. The meat is usually outstanding and that old building is exactly what a barbeque joint should be. Well, enough of my rambling, it's time to go out and check the pits, the folks will soon be here. I damn sure hope the brisket is good and moist today, I've worked up quite an appetite, this writin' is a whole lot of work...

As always...

"Big' Un"
Dan Huntoon
West Texas Barbeque Co.
2190 Brooklyn Rd.
Jackson, MI 49203
517-784-0510

Email #2 (from the son)

Drew,

My name is Justin Phelps and I am the son of Dan Huntoon, owner of West Texas Barbeque Co. in Jackson, MI. As much as my father was critical of the rating system with regards to brisket, we do agree that Man Up Texas BBQ Blog is a great way to highlight real Texas BBQ. The pictures alone are fantastic and having groups evaluate the joints are a great way to provide fair and balanced scores.

We cook real -no bullshit- Texas BBQ up here. My father started out selling brisket sandwiches on the street corner in 1985 and then moved on to regional festivals and then catering. The catering has been the primary focus for the past 15-16 years up until 2007. We've catered for groups as large as 5,000 but our typical crowds are 200-300 people. This ain't some mickey mouse catering operation, we're serious about it and have been for a long time. Throughout the catering years we regularly had "Saturday BBQs" where we sold brisket, ribs and turkey. This lead to us opening The BBQ Joint in February of 2007.

The BBQ Joint sticks out like a sore thumb out here in the land of pot roast, coneys and bowling. Its not fancy but it works for us. Our menu is limited in scope because we're not a restaurant, we're a BBQ Joint. No plastic menus, appetizers, salads or ice cream. Just BBQ and lots of it.

We cook with wood, 90% oak and a little bit of hickory. One look at the outside of our place and you'll see how serious we are about barbeque. We use indirect heat of course and dry rubs for the meats. Sauce is served on the side if people want it, we don't try to hide anything like the real wannabes up north.

I think that the point I'm trying to make, Drew, is that we're not Wannabes at all. That kind of label just sticks in your craw. It would take a dedicated person to make the trek outside of the BBQ Borderlands and scout the outposts of Texas BBQ. Most will be crap with no idea of the real McCoy but there ought to be a few worthy places out there. BBQ is always subjective and results vary at the same table like you say.

I'm sending along a couple of links to some historical photos and some of the early days of the BBQ Joint. I invite anyone associated with Man Up Texas BBQ to visit us here in Jackson, MI. I think you'll find a little taste of home all the way up north. Take care,

Justin Phelps
Pit Boss
West Texas Barbeque Co.
Jackson, MI

Here are a couple of links to some of their pics: http://picasaweb.google.com/dan.huntoon/TheBBQJoint# & http://picasaweb.google.com/dan.huntoon/WestexHistoricalPictures#

And here's the updated Texas BBQ Wannabe list (BTW, I've found loads more, so plenty on the way.):

1. Texas Smokehouse (Decatur, AL)
2. Hill Country Barbecue (Manhattan)
3. Dallas BBQ (Manhattan)
4. Tim's Texas Bar-B-Q (Beijing)
5. Capital Q (Washington, DC)
6. Little Texas (Iasi, Romania)
7. Back Forty Texas BBQ (California)
8. West Texas Barbeque Co. (Jackson, MI)

2 comments:

Bo Joseph said...

This place looks legit, if I am ever in Jackson, Michigan - you can be sure I will be stopping by.

Jacob said...

I will say that those commercial smokers and the mobile unit sure look nice, and the inside and outside seem like it would be at home in Marfa, Texas or anywhere else. But am I crazy or does it look like those sandwiches are served on ciabatta bread? Seriously.
Tell them that if they really want to shed the wannabe label they can vacuum package and mail a few pieces of brisket, turkey, and pork loin on dry ice to you.
As far as rating brisket goes, I understand what he is saying. Hell even the weather, moisture, and amount of wood make big effects on meat. I still think you can tell the difference between great and good brisket, and you even know if the brisket is just having a bad day, or someone isn’t cooking/seasoning/tending it correctly. Even bad brisket from Smitty’s or Muellers taste better than the best I have had from Stubbs.