Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Great Texas Brisket Chase (Part I)

In most if not all of the Eastern U.S., when you talk “barbecue,” it’s generally understood that you’re talking about pork unless you specify otherwise. Sure, most Eastern barbecue places also offer chicken and beef brisket, but usually it’s the pork—ribs and pulled—that’s the star attraction.

In spite of my apparent Judaism, I’m not exactly kosher. I’ll justify wolfing down a few slices of bacon or a sausage every now and then by claiming an oversight by those who wrote the kosher rulebook 6,000 years ago--forefathers who didn’t have access to a really good hotel breakfast buffet with piles of greasy, crispy bacon just waiting to be rescued from atop a piece of bread in a steamer tray. But I draw my kashruth line in the sand with "pure" pork or ham.

Beef is perhaps my biggest dietary guilty pleasure. If eating it three or four times a week somehow shortens my lifespan by a few months, in the end I’ll be able to say it was well worth it. And in my book, there’s nothing you can do wrong with a beef brisket, whether it’s served braised, sweet and wet (as is tradition for each of the 437 major Jewish holidays that occur each year), smoked and on the dry side when it’s barbecued, or chopped/pulled and mixed with a nice, rich sauce for a sandwich.

The good news on the beef front arrived in the mail back in January in the form of an invitation to a family event in Dallas. Ahh, Texas. When you say “barbecue” in the Lone Star state, beef becomes the default, the main attraction. Images of cattle herds on the endless prairie danced through my head…cattle with no purpose in life but to sacrifice their briskets for my insatiable need for red meat. I could barely contain myself. If enjoying good barbecue could be considered sinful, then just think of me as Eliot Spitzer headed for the Chicken Ranch with an Amex titanium card. And much as I love barbecue, I don't get to see my Texas relatives all that frequently and looked forward to that, as well. I’d have to figure out the details to make it all work.

Two of those details were my parents, both of whom are approaching an age that, in my mind at least, magically separates folks from being "older" from "elderly" the moment the age odomoter turns over. 80 is not the new 70 in the way that 50 is the new 40; at best, I figure 80 is the new 77. Mom called the day the invitations arrived to see if I had any interest in going. I could tell by her tone that if I wasn’t going to be there to do the driving and help with other travel assistance, they probably couldn’t make the trip and would be sorely disappointed. How do you say “no” to the woman who went through hours of labor (and has it in her DayTimer to remind you of this daily for 44 years), providing tons of great brisket throughout your life? My RSVP was back in the mail to Texas that day as we booked our flights.

Next up in Part II: Where's The Beef?

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