Austin Answers the Ozersky Barbecue Challenge!
Some statements, said in a careless moment, can come back to haunt a man. Think of Jesse Jackson, his career ruined the moment he said the word Hymietown. Or of Ernie Anastos, the genial newscaster who will be forever remembered for his signoff advice to “keep f---king that chicken.”
I read a statement by the former Village Voice food critic Robert Sietsema, who claimed that New York was the best barbecue city in the world—which it is—and I seconded his opinion. This earned me the wrath of Texas, a state I love deeply and even considered moving to, and worse still the lash of Texas Monthly’s Daniel Vaughn, the state’s unofficial barbecue czar. Vaughn came back at me a second time after I criticized brisket, unlimbering an unanswerable response by digging up an especially awful brisket video I once did. And now the quarrel has been renewed. For the record, I didn’t say that New York was a barbecue capital, or better than Texas as a whole, or even the Hill Country; I said that as a city, we have every other city beat. But I may be wrong.
Evan LeRoy, one of Austin’s leading barbecuers, has written me a very eloquent open letter. “I have a beef rib sized bone to pick with food writer and claimed meat expert, Josh Ozersky,” it begins. The letter is civil and without rancor of any kind. LeRoy says that he is a Texas barbecue and that I am simply wrong, he makes some very valid points in his essay, which is worth reading in its entirety. At the end, he invites me to come in to his restaurant, Freedman’s, where we will “have a beer, talk about meat, and hopefully, with the help of my friends the Holy Trinity (brisket, spare ribs and sausage) I’ll get you to understand what we Texans talk about when we talk about barbecue.”
I accepted immediately. I thought he was offering to show me around Austin’s best barbecues, though, for some reason. So I accepted that, too. I also brought in Vaughn, who would likely have followed me by unmanned surveillance drones to make sure I hit all the best spots.
I hereby make the following promise: After LeRoy and Vaughn take me around town and show me eight or nine first-rate barbecues, I will acknowledge if Austin is truly the country's best barbecue city, in public, before the world at Meatopia Texas on November 3, and will formally eat crow, or rather grackle, in this space.
As for brisket, nobody will ever get me to say that brisket flat is worth eating. It’s deckle or bust. I will go to my grave saying that—and given the offense I have given Texas, it might be sooner rather than later.
Josh Ozersky has written on his carnivorous exploits for Time, Esquire and New York magazines; he has authored several books, including The Hamburger: A History; and he is the founder of the Meatopia food festival.