That’s all I could manage to say to Robert, my BBQ travel companion and talented photographer, at 4:45am on a Saturday morning. The last time I went to Snow’s BBQ it was early, but not nearly this early.
Robert and I were on the road by 5:25am that Saturday and made it to Snow’s at around 6:30am. Thankfully, we had tons of caffeine.
When we arrived the scene was surreal: dawn light penetrating through the thick, sweet, oak smoke billowing from the numerous pits and blanketing the whole area in a velvety haze. Red hot coals peeping out of small cracks in the fireboxes, staring back at us like the eyes of a fictitious dragon in the dark. It was as if witchcraft was being performed, except instead of “eye of newt” there was “brisket of cow”, “ribs of pig” and…sausage.
When we arrived I saw Tootsie, a pit master in her 47th year of cooking barbecue, stirring a huge pot with a long wooden spoon. Maybe this was barbecue witchcraft after all…
Robert and I have a very synergistic methodology: he takes pictures and I distract minds and take notes. This turns out to be the perfect combination because in order to catch people in their natural states, you must occupy their mind to draw attention away from the fact there is a camera lens staring them in the face.
During this visit, I was really drawn to Tootsie. She is mysterious and exists with great impetus. Not to sound corny, but she reminds me of the Dos Equis commercials with the “most interesting man in the world”. The difference is that Tootsie is more interesting and would kick that guy’s ass.
My first round of questions were about the meats. They cook brisket, ribs, sausage, chicken, and pork. The briskets are cooked indirectly in a couple of large offset smokers. Everything else is done directly over oak coals.
The briskets, which are very small weighing in on average at 4 or 5 pounds, cook around 6 hours unwrapped. Then they are all meticulously wrapped and remain so until served. An average Saturday consists of around 90 briskets. By my calculation, Snow’s is selling almost 1000lbs of meat in a single day. That’s not trivial.
Tootsie’s first job in barbecue was back in 1966 when she worked at City Meat Market in Giddings. She was a pit assistant there for 10 years, one or two days per week. Her other time throughout the week was spent slaughtering cattle. Tootsie was part of the barbecue process, soup to nuts.
In 1976 Tootsie and her husband bought a meat market in Lexington, TX not far from where Snow’s is today. City Meat Market Lexington, so it was called, was Tootsie’s home for 20 years. She and her husband sold fresh meat and groceries and one day per week Tootsie cooked barbecue.
Back then she used two steel brick style pits, a third pit just for sausage and two pits made from a simple frame and tin. She smirked as she shared her tin pit story. “They didn’t hold heat at all”, she said from the side of her mouth.
In 1996 Tootsie had to sell the market because her husband had a stroke. She continued to cook for the new owner until she was approached by Kerry, the owner of Snow’s, who wanted her expertise. At first she had to decline. She had committed herself to the meat market. Then, in 2003, her commitment fulfilled, she went on with Kerry as pit master at Snow’s.
Pit master isn’t Tootsie’s only job. During the week she works 9am-4pm as a school janitor. Everyday when she gets home she takes her husband of 57 years on the same 2hr drive; counting cattle and enjoying the pastoral scenery. It was honestly hard not to get emotional listening to her speak so fondly of her husband. She grinned ear to ear as she spoke about him.
Two jobs are simply not enough for Tootsie. She has a third job as a ranch owner with over 200 acres stocked with cattle. Oh, and if you know of another job she should have let her know. She says she’s still looking for things to do.
I asked her what she would eat if she wasn’t going to eat barbecue.
“Fried chicken. Really, I’ll eat anything that don’t [sic] eat me first.”
My God, what a venerable carnivore.
Kerry brought out the Holy Trinity: brisket, ribs and sausage. After 2.5 hours of pictures and note taking, I was ravenous.
We only ordered moist brisket this time and moving forward that’s all I’ll get in the future. The gelatinous rendered fat across the top was perfectly salted, rendered to perfection and had a beautiful smoke essence. The salt and pepper were in a nice balance and the flavor was absolutely wonderful. This is the brisket that people are raving about.
The ribs, though slightly over salted for my palate, were still very tasty and came off the bone with little to no effort. The texture was dense yet succulent and the slightly peppered bark was sublime. Kerry brought us another rib that was “cooked another way” (he never clarified what that meant). It was significantly more smokey and flat out amazing. I’ll have to find out more about that one.
The sausage, which is cooked in its own pit at a high temperature, was sublime. The higher cook temperature leaves the casing snappy and almost crunchy. Each bit was a perfect marriage of casing snap, grease pop and meat. The smoke level was perfect and the texture was ideal. I ate bite after bite just so I could relive the snap and pop each time. It was addictive.
My third trip to Snow’s was beyond a success. Thinking back on the experience, I realize how overwhelmed my senses were. The surroundings are simple and in that simplicity there is greatness, the magnitude of which is nearly impossible to vocalize.
Is Snow’s my personal favorite barbecue? Simply put, no. My palate is really designed for the “new school” of barbecue. However, Snow’s is the definition of classic Texas barbecue. It is undoubtedly the best authentic Texas barbecue in the state. And for that, its spot among the top bbq joints is more than justified.