Guest article by Cristopher Rubio
I had been craving Snow’s BBQ for a couple months, the eatery ranked number one among Texas Monthly’s “Top 50 Barbecue Joints in Texas.” So a few Saturdays ago, I convinced my in-laws, Mayra and Jorge, to join me for a visit. The following is a running diary of an excellent day spent with excellent people, eating some of the best barbecue in the state.
Shocking Line, Sound Familiar?
7:15 a.m.: We’ve left South Austin at a reasonable (read: really early) time, for the 75-minute drive to Lexington, Texas (population 1,200).
8:32 a.m.: We make pretty good time to Snow’s and WHY IS THE LINE SO LONG? My jaw literally drops as I see 200+ people snaking alllll the way through the property to the other side of the street. I’ve been to Snow’s plenty of times, but never this early, and never with a line this monstrous. It’s going to be at least a three-hour wait, so we need to make a decision: stay or go.
“Well, we’ve got nothing else to do, and we drove this far. Let’s wait it out and see what happens,” says Mayra. You don’t say no to your mother-in-law, especially when it involves eating world-class barbecue. We are staying.
9:01 a.m.: “Hey, there’s a keg of free beer up front,” says the gentleman behind us. Jack Wallace, who arrived right after we did with his two sons, Drew and Craig, left his home in Conroe early, just like the rest of us. And just like the rest of us, he’s here to eat some of the best barbecue in the land.
Yes, Snow’s came in first in Texas Monthly’s recent quadrennial rankings, beating out Austin’s own Franklin Barbecue. Add the fact that Snow’s is only open on Saturdays, and you’ve got a recipe for the massive line we’re in now.
Excellent People on the Way to Excellent Food
9:07 a.m.: “Man I haven’t had a beer this early in a long time,” proclaims Drew. I wish I could say the same. I’m an Arsenal fan. There’s rarely a weekend morning when I’m not having a beer “this early.”
9:32 a.m.: As I’m trading stories about barbecue and life with Jack and his sons, the topic of our personal “Top 3’s” comes up. This is, obviously, a very important topic. If you say the wrong thing, you will get judged. I start, “Franklin, La Barbecue, Snow’s…”
“Oh, you been to Franklin?” says the gentleman in front of me. Charles Hill and his wife, Kim, turn out to be the most dedicated barbecue-eating couple I’ll ever meet.
10:37 a.m.: An Austinite who’s originally from Boston tells me about how much he loves Baughton Springs. “Where’s that?” I ask. “Oh, you know, right inside Zilkah Pawk.” Oh, Barton Springs. Gotcha.
10:45 a.m.: Before owner Kerry Bexley decided to open Snow’s in 2003, his first step was to hire a pitmaster (pitmistress?) who could get the job done. Maybe the smartest decision he could’ve ever made, Bexley called on Norma “Tootsie” Tomanetz, a Texas legend. For over 50 years, Tootsie has been working the pits in various Central Texas barbecue joints.
On this morning, we are lucky enough to hear from the woman herself. “Thank y’all for coming out. I’m sorry you have to wait so long,” says Tootsie. She’s recovering from knee surgery, so she’s not able to help out as much around the pits–as much as she’d like, anyway. It’s comforting to hear how humble she is, almost as if she’s as shocked by these long lines as we are.
11:00 a.m.: A woman a few spots up almost faints in the hot sun. Jack gives up his chair; Craig runs to get water; and Kim places a cool paper towel on her head. She turns out to be okay, but I’m amazed by how quickly the line comes together to take care of one of its own.
11:30 a.m.: We’ve made it to the steps. We are almost there. I find out that Craig and Drew love Whataburger as much (actually more) than I do.
Savoring Every Bite
12:00 p.m.: We’ve made it inside! And it is glorious. Luckily Jorge, Mayra, and I are grizzled barbecue vets. We know not to order too much (a common mistake after waiting in line for hours). Some pork ribs, jalapeño sausage, a pound of brisket, and Snow’s secret weapon: pork steak. Officially, it’s pork shoulder, but you’ve never had pork shoulder like this. It’s got an excellent peppery bark with a perfect post-oak smoky flavor. Charles and Kim take theirs to-go. They’re off to Louie Mueller on their way back home to Dallas.
12:20 p.m.: Every bite, regardless of the type of meat, is excellent. I’ve tried to describe their brisket before, but it really is very different from the Franklins of the world. I’d almost describe it as old-school brisket, if that makes sense. We sit and eat with the Wallace family, as if we’ve known each other for years. The free beans are a plus, and the sauce–though not exactly necessary–is the perfect condiment for the white bread. I could eat more, but I don’t want to hate myself on the way home.
The Line Matters
Cumulatively, I’ve waited in line at Franklin Barbecue for over 80 hours. The barbecue is great, but the line is an integral part of the experience. This is not hyperbole. The best of humanity can be found in line at Franklin Barbecue. People sharing chairs, beers, stories…everyone united for a common cause.
I never thought I’d find something that would come close to the legendary Franklin line, but my experience that Saturday morning at Snow’s proved me wrong. Snow’s BBQ represents the very best parts of Texas barbecue: great people and great food, made by great people who love what they do.
516 Main St., Lexington, TX – Website
@theAustinot wants to know:
What is the longest you’ve ever waited in line for Texas BBQ?
Cris is a UT alum who left Texas altogether for a while, but made his way back to Austin in 2013. You can usually find him on the weekends watching his beloved Arsenal at The Tavern, or checking out the local food scene.