Brisket and sausage at Snow's. (Andy Staples)
LEXINGTON, Texas – I know a cold equation has determined the magic hour of 8:00 a.m. each Saturday. An intersection of the supply and demand curves, minus the opportunity cost of giving up day jobs, has rendered moot any discussion of additional days or hours. Once each week, at that dew-kissed hour, Snow’s BBQ opens for business. When the meat – usually about 1,000 pounds of it – runs out, the pits are closed and the place shuts down until the following Saturday.
Still, I prefer to believe that Snow’s stays open for about four hours each week not because owner Kerry Bexley and 78-years-young pitmaster Miss Tootsie Tomanetz can make a better living by keeping their day jobs, but because the world could not handle more than a few hours of Snow’s brisket, ribs and jalapeno sausage. Some substances simply must be controlled to keep users from losing their minds.
There might be better barbecue in America. On most days, Archibald’s in Northport, Ala., smokes better ribs – but not by much. On many days, Franklin Barbecue in Austin makes better brisket – but not by much. Snow’s smokes pork shoulder, but this is Texas, not a Carolina, so its place in the pantheon isn’t a topic worthy of discussion. There might be better sausage in Luling or at one of the dueling joints in nearby Lockhart – but not by much. On the right Saturday morning, Snow’s could be the best at one or most of these disciplines. The brisket melts in the mouth. The ribs pull clean off the bone and their rub tickles the tongue. The sausage has the ideal snap. Even the turkey – a newish menu item – tastes better than poultry has any right to.
Nothing requires sauce. Nothing.
In sports, even the untrained eye can spot an elite talent. Someone who has never seen a basketball game will immediately realize that LeBron James is special. Someone who has never seen a football game can watch Jadeveon Clowney make one tackle – this tackle, specifically – and understand Clowney is crafted of different stuff than the rest of us. I believe a person who has never once tasted smoked meat can take a bite of Snow’s brisket and understand they have ingested the sort of brilliance that can be conjured only by the truly blessed.
This is why the venerable Texas Monthly named Snow’s the best barbecue in Texas in 2008. This is akin to being named the most beautiful coed at Ole Miss or the most passionate football fan in the state of Alabama. You might not be first on earth in your chosen category, but you’re pretty damn close. This honor brought tourists like pilgrims to Mecca. As the cows mooed in their pens a hundred yards away, lines wrapped around the building. The meat ran out before breakfast turned to brunch. When I met Miss Tootsie during my first visit in the fall of 2011, she seemed grateful the barbecue hipsters had found a new place to covet. The business had been nice, but it was nicer to return to the regular pace of life in Lexington.
Snow’s opened on March 1, 2003. It opened on Saturdays because that was the day farmers brought their livestock to auction in this map dot that splits the distance between Austin and College Station. Miss Tootsie works as a driver in the school system in Giddings. Every Saturday at 2 a.m., she arrives to tend the brisket and other meats. Her son and Bexley, a former rodeo clown who has Yellow Pages listings as a real estate agent and an auctioneer, usually arrive two hours earlier to put the meat on.
At 8:00 a.m., the doors open. On my first visit, I arrived at 7:30 to make sure I was the first in line. Since the hype from the Texas Monthly selection has now mostly dissipated, I made plans this past Saturday to meet a Snow’s rookie at 10 a.m. He beat me by 20 minutes and seemed downright giddy when I arrived. “This place is perfect,” he said, showing me a photo on his phone of a man riding a horse down the street in front of Snow’s. We went inside, loaded up on everything a carnivore could crave and walked outside as a Christian motorcycle gang roared into the parking lot. As we devoured brisket and traded stories, Kerry buzzed around and made sure everything ran smoothly. Miss Tootsie tended her pits. The sun shone in a clear blue Texas sky.
The equation determined the day and time. Miss Tootsie smoked the magic.
Snow's ribs. (Andy Staples)
More brisket porn. (Andy Staples)
The debate rages, but this could very well be true. (Andy Staples)
The sky isn't even that blue in the movies. (Andy Staples)
Snow's draws a crowd every Saturday. (Andy Staples)