If you’re going to spend a day riding a bus, eating four barbecue meals in less than five hours, there is only one way to begin.
There are sixty of us split between two buses, which are motoring north from Austin, Texas, on I-35. On one bus is Michael Stern, and on the other is Jane Stern, the beloved American roadfood gurus, published monthly in Gourmet, heard weekly on NPR’s The Splendid Table, and authors of more than forty books, including the 2008 update of their guide to authentic American eating, Roadfood. Their web home is the wonderful, if not quite beautiful Roadfood.
Last December I was agile enough to secure two spaces on the Stern’s fourth annual Roadfood road trip, this one to the barbecue country east of Austin. This would be traditional Texas barbecue: mostly beef, heavily smoked, sauce free. It was me and the boy, out to see a side of American barbecue with precious little resemblance to the dripping Kansas City style of ‘cue popular throughout the northern Midwest.
Texas barbecue arrived not through the typical West Indies routes, but via Eastern European immigrants who popularized it to make use of unloved and excess cuts of meat in the days before refrigeration. The most typical cuts are luxuriant, fatty brisket, and thick, natural-casing sausages (“hot guts