An Englishman Reviews the BBQ of Hard Eight for The English
This is a blog written by a complete barbecue amateur. You see, the thing is, in the UK a barbecue is something you cook a burger on and is largely a celebration of the few and far between days when it's not raining. There's no sauce except tomato, and any beef will be cooked to a crisp. It's a celebration that the downpour stopped for a few minutes, not really a meal. In Texas I have quickly come to learn that barbecue is an everyday thing, that Texans are extremely serious about barbecue and that barbecue sauce is something I never want to be more than five yards from at any given time.
Gavin Cleaver A Meat Fest at Hard Eight
Our adventure begins out in Coppell, at Hard Eight. This place got recommended to death after my last blog post, and friends had already told me good things. I saddled up (see, I'm writing this for a Texan audience) with my 12-year-old stepson and my good friend, a real, honest-to-God American, in tow. This place immediately looks serious about barbecue. There's smoke everywhere (seriously, standing in line is both delicious and uncomfortable) and two barbecues larger than most English front rooms.
It's like a festival of meat. This place is very different to my two usual lunch-time hangouts (Mike Anderson's and Sonny Bryan's). I have to order the meat from a man at the front (a task made awkward by my accent, like every other interaction in Dallas), get it weighed by the pound, and then take it through a roller coaster of sides, desserts and bread. I might be doing it wrong, but I feel like all these accompaniments take away from the meat. One of the things I love about Texas barbecue is the extreme focus on meat.
There is no hoo-hah, no faffing around, there is simply a huge pile of meat. It's wonderful. I can't express how long I've waited for the day when salad is simply done away with. Everyone was pretending they liked salad, and some hero stood up and said "No. No we do not like salad. It is for rabbits and dainty women. Take it away, and bring me three times as much meat as I had before." There should be a statue of this man somewhere in Texas.
I got a half pound of brisket and a half pound of sausage ($16), my stepson gets a half pound of sirloin and some ... brush poppers? I think it was chicken wrapped in bacon ($11). My friend gets brisket and jalapeño sausage. Apparently they've run out of pretty much everything else. I point out to him there's not even any pulled pork on the menu and he simply laughs at me. I am utterly out of my depth.
Our brisket was cut from the new brisket, wrapped in foil at the back of the barbecue. I luck out and get the blackened and crispy end piece. I should point out at this juncture I haven't eaten in a day, simply to prepare myself for this moment. I am having to restrain myself from jumping as he struggles to unwrap the foil using only a knife. QUICKER! USE SOME TONGS! I don't say, as I am English and thus very polite. I take it inside and I am angry at the sides. Angry.
They have no business here. Why would I want corn at this juncture? I want to get sauce, put it on the meat and retreat to a quiet corner. For some reason, I get only a single slice of bread. I'm not sure why. I think it's because it was free, and who doesn't love free bread?! I wasn't thinking straight by this point. Someone in the line asks me where I'm from. I get this question a lot, and normally deal with it very well, with small talk and friendly discussion. Not today, sunshine. "LONDON!" I snap, and then immediately turn back to the line, which has ground to a halt because some simpleton has picked out the wrong side and is exchanging it. "LEAVE THE SIDES! THEY'RE POINTLESS!" I inwardly cry. Again though, I am polite to a fault, and simply stare at his head in fury.
I find all the barbecue sauce (both original and red apple cider barbecue sauce), pour them into cups and walk-run outside with my prize, leaving my stepson to fend for himself in the cruel world of barbecue, asking if there is any tomato sauce to an incredulous reaction from my friend (I told you British people have no idea what's going on with barbecue).
The actual food is a blur of joy. I am high on sauce and Dr Pepper and physically attack the meat with poorly judged cutting movements, before eventually giving up and just biting chunks off. The brisket is phenomenal, crisp and melting and tender. It's like a kiss from a beautiful woman who has just eaten some delicious meat (yes, I know). The sausage is fine, but it's no brisket and eventually I grow resentful towards it for not being brisket. I wish there was a meat exchange program. It was my stepson's first experience of barbecue sauce. I give him some brisket, tell him to dip it in the sauce and wait for the reaction. The reaction is this.
He physically leaps for joy, and in doing so sends his drink flying. Another British convert. He has done a write-up of the barbecue place too (I thought I could steal all his ideas, basically, and disguised it as a "writing exercise"), and given it four and a half out of five, taking off a half-mark for the brush poppers. I don't even remember the brush poppers existing. They may as well have been corn. I am not one for marks out of an arbitrary amount so I will simply say this. Wow. Long may brisket come into contact with barbecue sauce, and then with my face.
God help those who stand in my way.