It was 10:40 on a recent Sunday morning, 20 minutes before Micklethwait Craft Meats opened for business.
There was no line, just five people sitting at tables in front of the little yellow trailer. Across the street, a couple walked toward us from the direction of Franklin Barbecue, a few blocks away near downtown Austin.
“Did you just come from Franklin?” I asked when they arrived.
“Yes,” they answered. “It didn’t look like that many people but they said it was a two hour and forty minute wait.”
And so it goes. Micklethwait Craft Meats, which plans to open a place in Smithville this summer, remains one of the best known “secrets” in Austin barbecue. Why wait at Franklin when you can eat just as well a few blocks away with little or no line?
On this day, there was also a special treat in a big white cooler near the trailer.
“Free beer,” the homemade sign said. “From our Homies Indy Brewing.”
The food was fine. First-rate brisket, pork ribs (a bit chewy), an interesting chicken salad with tarragon, excellent jalapeño cheese grits and potato salad.
But as we ate, sipped beer, and talked, the conversation turned more from the fare in front of us to the overall state of barbecue today in Austin, throughout Texas, and the country.
Carroll said the single best bite of barbecue he has ever had was of the beef cheeks at LeRoy and Lewis, a newer place in Austin. I agreed.
Gwynne said that when he moved to Texas 24 years ago, the Holy Trinity of joints consisted of Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, and Cooper’s in Llano.
“There has been a quantum shift in the barbecue universe,” Gwynne said. “There has been a radical top-to-bottom shift of what barbecue is.”
You can tell why Sam is an author. He has a way with words. We met as reporters at The Dallas Morning News many years ago. Before that Sam wrote for Texas Monthly and even visited joints to help the magazine compile its Top 50 barbecue list.
Aaron Franklin and his Franklin Barbecue were certainly an element — maybe even THE primary catalyst — for this quantum shift. But there has been a steady progression of innovators, such as Micklethwait and LeRoy and Lewis, ever since.
Wilkins and I talked about the places we had visited previously that weekend on our blitz of San Antonio, Austin and the Houston area. 2M Smokehouse, Pinkerton’s Texas Pit Barbecue, Stiles Switch, the Tejas Chocolate Craftory. All run by innovative — and sometimes very young — operators.
While the joints all adhere to the traditions of producing great Texas barbecue, they are incorporating new tastes and flavors, even a drop of mole sauce on burnt ends.
“There’s a complete revolution in cooking taking place in Texas,” Gwynne said. “It’s changing American cuisine. What happens here counts.”
That’s enough big think stuff for now. We hope to pursue this thread again in the future.
When we left Micklethwait, after an hour or so of eating and talking, there were about 40 people in line, three of them carrying guitar cases. That’s Austin. And it was still a shorter wait than at Franklin.
Micklethwait Craft Meats, 1309 Rosewood Ave, Austin, 512-791-5961. Open Tues-Sat 11am-until the meat runs out. Website: https://craftmeatsaustin.com