For both myself and the ownership at Katy Trail Ice House, three visits to their restaurant have been an education. Months before they began selling barbecue they contacted me about consulting with them. I didn’t have time, but I was happy to sit with them and talk about what makes great barbecue and sent them a few tips on how to achieve it. At that point, I wasn't sure if they were really serious about aiming for excellence. On my way out the door, they handed me a gift card and said thanks. I work just up the street so the funds were quickly dispensed over a few happy hours. Fast-forward to May and they had started up the barbecue menu.
When they first asked me to come in, they’d already secured a large steel smoker with an offset firebox. It was built by local welder Everett Klugston (this was his first smoker ever produced) and it was a monster. A little too big to hide from the health inspector in its original uncovered configuration in an Uptown parking lot. The smoker is hard to locate these days, but I have feeling that’s by design. The first thing I told them to do was hire a real pitman who would be dedicated to making great barbecue, not just an hourly worker who might add a log every hour or so. They brought on Eduardo Flores who has worked his whole life in one kitchen or another. He brought the right passion if not commercial barbecue experience. This was is his first gig as a pitman. Instead of letting him find his own way, he was asked to recreate the barbecue of Franklin Barbecue in Austin. I admired them for shooting for such a high quality target, but the reverse engineering of the sausage caused a short-lived local ruckus and seemed more like an unfair marketing ploy to me. They’ve since backed off the sausage reincarnation (which is the least of the four cuts offered at Franklin in my opinion), and are still working with a local supplier to get an acceptable recipe. In three visits over ten weeks, I never did find the elusive forcemeat.
|Brisket from first visit|
Some familiar elements of Aaron Franklin’s brisket were there on the first visit. The crust was heavy with coarse black pepper and plenty of salt, the surface was black and a line of fat was perfectly rendered, the smokering was deep and the meat was on the verge of falling apart. The depth of oak smoke was missing, and the heavy mix of rub ingredients that included sugar along with the liberal use of a basting spray (which had bourbon in it) throughout the cooking process was washing out the smoke. Wrapping the meat with 1/3 of the cooks still to go probably had a negative effect as well. This was the Louis Vuitton bag that you get in the subway station. After a quick glance and one bite it seems right, but after a couple of slices you just realize that it’s a fake. Albeit, a very good fake.
|Ribs from first visit|
|Brisket from first visit|
|Brisket and ribs from second visit|
|Brisket and ribs from third visit|