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Check your snotty attitude: A defense of old-school Texas barbecue

A quarter of a century ago, I ran the Texas roads in an ‘82 Chevy truck, looking for bars and barbecue. 

I didn’t have a barbecue app. I didn’t have a Google map. I didn’t Instagram a damn thing. Some of what I found was great. Most was average. I could have had a chainsaw accident and still count on my fingers the number of times it was too bad to eat. (I was young and hungry.)

But all of it was Texas barbecue. And it was there — believe it or not, it was doing just fine — long before Aaron Franklin poked around a pit.

If you’re thinking “get to the point, grandpa,” OK here goes. This is not a rant against technology. I’m not tilting at windmills of progress. I’m not cussing long lines, high prices, craft cocktails or black angus brisket served with house pickled escabeche — man, knock yourself out, if that’s your thing.

The problem is your snotty attitude.

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Well, maybe that’s a bit harsh.

RELATED: John Kelso blazed a barbecue trail in '78. His reviews show how times have changed

The point is that in all the excitement over the national awards, coast-to-coast publicity and thronging crowds that are part of the Central Texas Barbecue Scene, it’s easy to forget that barbecue is not a trend. It is a tradition, and a beloved one to many who have never set foot in anyone’s “Top 50 Joints.”

No plates are needed at Smitty's Market, which wraps its barbecue in butcher paper. (Travis Albrecht)

So maybe ease up on the sneering, y’all?

We saw some of this recently when CNN reporter Chris Cillizza declared Salt Lick BBQ “heaven” and took a roasting on Twitter. Our esteemed food critic Matthew Odam urged everyone to back off, and rightly so.

(For the record, you’re not an old-school barbecue fanatic, if you haven’t vigorously debated whether the Salt Lick’s superior ambiance earns it a place of honor alongside places with better culinary chops. But there should be no debate that the Salt Lick is the place to impress an out-of-state visitor on a fine spring day.)

But it seems like everywhere you turn, especially on the internet, Texas barbecue has come to mean the newest, the finest, the most crowded, the most honored, with little consideration for them what brung ya.

OK, sure, in the explosion of post-Franklin barbecue joints, there has been set aside a top shelf of respect for the best of the vintage ones: Luling, Llano, Lockhart and Louie all get a little love. But every small town or anonymous city joint is somebody’s childhood memory, somebody’s Friday night tradition, somebody’s lunchtime sausage, crackers and gossip group.

RELATED: Matthew Odam’s best barbecue restaurants in Austin

I’ve been guilty, I suppose, of pushing back in the other direction. Of rolling my eyes at the earnestness with which smoke rings and bark are discussed by people who couldn’t have told you a brisket from a pork loin half a dozen years ago. 

Sam's Barbecue at 2000 E 12th in 2011. (Austin American-Statesman)

But I’ve been trying to be better. These days, I’m happy to let you do you, so long as you don’t come into my house, put your feet on my coffee table, and tell me my drapes are ugly.

Let the food critics celebrate their favorites. That’s their job.

Let the connoisseurs debate the greats.

Let the people brag about the best they’ve had. 

But don’t run down the rest. Old school Texas barbecue is part of our heritage. Let’s honor the little guys, too.

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