Every now and then, you get a hankering for the real thing. If you get that yearning for Texas smoked brisket, the best place to go is, well, Texas. And maybe the best place in Texas to go is the second annual Texas Monthly BBQ Festival.
On the grounds of a performing arts center overlooking Lady Bird Lake, the festival brings together more than 20 of the state’s best barbecue joints, as judged by the magazine’s popular Top 50 survey.
The festival isn’t until October 30. So why is Smoke Signals talking about it now? Because VIP tickets go on sale tomorrow, and last year’s inaugural event sold out within hours.
The success of the 2010 festival has led to some changes for this year’s event. Most notably, ticket prices are higher. Much higher. Last year: $15 for everybody. This year: $58 for general admission (on sale August 10) and $118 for VIP tickets, which didn’t exist last year. And, if there are any tickets left, $125 at the door. Attendance is certain to be higher this fall, too, as the cap was raised to 3,000 patrons from last year’s 1,000.
Pat Sharpe, the magazine’s food editor, says one reason the ticket prices are higher is so that the magazine could increase the travel stipend to participating businesses, many of them schlepping significant distances. Another reason, she says, is to make money. “We lost money last year,” Sharpe says. “And we didn’t want to repeat that phenomenon going forward.”
Oddly, it has taken Texans a long time to recognize the marketing possibilities of the state’s iconic food. More than 30 years ago, Memphis included a barbecue contest in its Memphis in May celebration. Not long after, Kansas City created a ‘cue contest as part of the annual American Royal. Both events draw tens of thousands each year, and the Kansas City Barbeque Society now sanctions competitions across the country.
Maybe the delay is because barbecue is so deeply woven into everyday Texas life that, even though residents argue it, devour it, travel all over the state seeking the best of it, it just never occurred to them to market it. Until recently.
“I tip my hat to [editor] Jake Silverstein, who had been talking about doing a Texas food festival for awhile,” Sharpe says. “We thought about doing a Frito pie contest, which would have been fun. Then Jake just had a slap-your-forehead moment and said, ‘It’s got to be a barbecue festival.’”
Given the Lone Star State’s fanaticism about barbecue, Smoke Signals asked Sharpe whether she sees any experimentation in Texas, like the Asian-barbecue fusion being done at Brooklyn’s Fatty ‘Cue. Sharpe replied swiftly: “I see zero.”
She cites Franklin Barbecue, which in March cashed in on its food trailer success to open a brick-and-mortar storefront in Austin. “He’s really an old-fashioned guy,” Sharpe says of owner Aaron Franklin. “He’s 32 or 33, but he’s an old soul. He learned by going to all the old places. Barbecue [in Texas] is so traditional.”
Want to taste that tradition? Set your clock for 10 a.m. tomorrow when the VIP tickets go on sale or for August 10 when general admission tickets become available.
Oh, and you won’t want to go to Texas without your Texas Monthly BBQ App. Released tomorrow as well, it includes a barbecue joint locator, reviews, GPS mapping to the magazine’s Top 50 and a way to connect to other ‘cue hounds. The app is free. For now, it works only on the iPhone. This summer, it will also work on the Android.
Eau de Briskette. Since the dawn of barbecue, it has been but a dream: a woman wearing the intoxicating fragrance of smoke. Well, ‘cue fanatics, your dream is about to come true. That idea machine otherwise known as the competition team/sauce moguls/soon-to-be restaurateurs Pork Barrel BBQ has just announced the release of Que, a barbecue perfume. Smoke Signals wonders if the line will include specific regional fragrances: eau de Memphis, for example. Or different types of ‘cue: toilette de hickory-smoked pulled pork? Watch the first of three YouTube commercials, a spoof of the J’Adore perfume commercial.
New York State of ‘Cue. With the ninth annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, the ‘cueosphere tips this weekend toward New York City. Sixteen pitmasters from around the country will smoke up Madison Square Park on Saturday and Sunday, June 11 and 12, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free. Eating costs $8 per plate.
Singin’ the Blues, Eatin’ the BBQ. Don’t want to drive up to NYC? Check out something closer to home — the Tinner Hill Blues Festival and Barbecue competition is this weekend, June 10-12, in Falls Church. It includes blues workshops, author meet-and-greets and, of course, music. On Saturday, up to 20 barbecue teams will compete in a non-sanctioned event at Cherry Hill Park.