The Business of Brisket
By Marissa Barnett
It's the first meal stop on the Aug. 25, 2012, food tour. After a tasting at Cuvee Coffee in Austin, the tour attendees are loading their plates at Cooper's Old Time BBQ, 80 miles west in Llano. Drew Thornley is behind the camera. "Sausage, pork ribs, brisket," he narrates, panning across three aluminum trays stuffed with succulent meats.
Outside is the serving pit, where meat is slow roasted. "Pick your meat, stab it, dip it in the sauce, and throw it on a plastic tray," Thornley says, continuing his video narration. "That's how you do it."
The video clips are fodder for Thornley’s blog, "Man Up Texas BBQ," which he runs in his spare time as a business law lecturer at the McCombs School of Business. He is also the founder of four barbeque-related ventures: Gettin' Sauced, an annual sauce competition and festival; The Q Card, a Texas barbeque savings card; Texas Q Tours, a food tour company; and All Star Sauces, a mail-order barbeque sauce membership club.
The Alabama native says he heard stories from Texans about their state his whole life. "Texans love Texas," he jokes. He starts listing some of the points of pride: toast, poker, two-step. But nothing brings out boasting more than barbeque. So when Thornley moved to Austin six years ago, he decided to put the state to the test with his Man Up Texas BBQ blog.
On the blog he poses questions for fellow barbeque fanatics, shares news, and posts pictures and videos from his restaurant visits. He's had turkey at Louie Mueller, brisket at Franklin, sausage at The Salt Lick—but he quit ranking and reviewing restaurants when he started his businesses.
In his first two years, he visited more than 150 barbeque joints; he met pit masters and learned the lay of the (hickory-smoked) land. During those visits, he saw a missed opportunity. "You have people that make barbeque and people that eat barbeque, and in between there were ways to connect them that weren't being taken advantage of." His ventures, like the tour company and sauce competition, have served to bridge that gap.
In that time, he's also answered his original question: Why all the fuss about Texas barbeque? "This is the brisket Mecca," he says. "There are more barbeque joints here than anywhere else, and they all serve brisket. That does make Texas barbeque unique."
But in this bastion of beef, Thornley harbors an open secret. "My heart is still with pork," he confesses, adding that chopped pork—not pulled—is his favorite meal. "That may delegitimize me for some Texas barbeque purists, but I’m pretty open about it in my blog."