Sunday morning might have started out a little dreary — and hungover for Astros fans — but the rain cleared and clouds parted just in time for the glorious meat parade known as Southern Smoke.
Southern Smoke is a charity event put on by chef Chris Shepherd and a team of local chefs in partnership with Legacy Community Health. This year’s proceeds go to support the area culinary and beverage community affected by the hurricane. Those needing assistance can fill out an application on their website, which is also still accepting donations.The event raised $500,000, almost doubling last year’s total. The chef line up included numerous James Beard Award winners, most notably David Chang of Momofuku Restaurant Group.
Cue the meat sweats.
The alcohol and delicious food was neverending. The air was filled with great tunes from Bayou City Brass Band and Folk Family Revival — Bun B also made a surprise appearance. I picked up a St. Arnold’s Art Car IPA, which came with a free koozie (score) and struggled to find the end of the Franklin’s line.
Part of my game plan, and that of many others in line, was to send out friends to get food from nearby booths while others stood in line. As I anxiously awaited the brisket of my dreams, I was lucky enough to enjoy a smoked oyster from chef Ashley Christensen of Raleigh, NC. The oysters came in the shell, piping hot right off the grill, swimming in a pool of butter and herbs with two dainty oyster crackers on top for some crunch.
Full disclosure, I had never actually had anything from Franklin’s before this —They were offering up a classic slice of white bread, squirt of barbecue sauce and thick slice of that fan favorite slow smoked brisket. Owner Aaron Franklin was slicing and serving each beefy helping himself. No matter how long the line, the smile never left his face as he served each guest, stopping for pictures and a chat along the way. After just one bite, I looked up and said, “Okay, I get it now.”
The brisket just falls apart, melting in your mouth, including the generous and jiggly layer of fat running under the crust. Just a pure, beefy, rich flavor in every bite, and thanks to all that fat, not dry at all. It is truly something magnificent to taste.
HOUBBQ Collective, offered a daring array of different dishes, reflecting the diversity and talent that Houston has to offer. The Collective consists of Chris Shepherd of Underbelly and One Fifth, Terrance Gallivan and Seth Siegel-Gardner of Pass and Provisions, Justin Yu of Theodore Rex and Ryan Pera of Coltivare. This year more Houston chefs came out to support the group, including local favorite Hugo Ortega serving up savory tamales and helping out his comrades with their enormous undertakings. Houston did not disappoint.
I grabbed a glass of red wine from the Wine above Water tent and headed to Justin Yu’s line. My plan worked again and I was able to chow down on some snacks while I waited, including an interesting and unexpected smoked beef and Thai salad from the chef duo at Pass and Provisions, and some impressive paella from chef Ryan Pera, cooked in the biggest (locally, custom made) paella pan I have ever seen. He added a non-traditional spin by including bacon-wrapped quail alongside a mix of seafood and chorizo on a bed of perfectly cooked rice.
Finally, I was close enough to get a good look at Justin Yu and team, as they manned a giant, black cauldron, reminding us all that it's October. Instead of secret potions, these guys were putting a spell on endless batches of Korean Fried Chicken. The crispy batter was salty, spicy and finished off with a little hot sauce. A scoop of savory, bread pudding-like stuffing was served up on the side, mixed with greens and the perfect amount of sweet, oniony goodness.
On the other side of the event area chefs from the Carolinas had lot on offer. Southern Smoke veteran, Rodney Scott served up piles of his famous whole hog barbecue straight from the pit while more James Beard award winners, Mike Lata and Jason Stanhope of FIG Restaurant in Charleston, dished out barbecue red snapper tacos.
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I picked up another drink – the $200 general admission included unlimited everything, y’all - and headed over to the man, David Chang. The most Texas thing about Southern Smoke was the fact that a superstar New York chef like Chang had little to no line, while people were eagerly waiting an hour for brisket that they can get in Austin. Chang was serving up a giant beef rib with a distinctly flavorful, slightly sweet crust and some tangy kimchi as a bright and eclectic accompaniment.
The flavors were great, but I have to say, I’d still go for that traditional, meaty and moist beef flavor of Franklin’s any day.
For more information, to donate or apply for assistance go to southernsmoke.org