Barbecue - or BBQ or bar-b-q - is almost a religion in Texas. And, as with any religion, there are any number of places claiming to be the central point: the Vatican of woodsmoke, if you will.
Austin's The County Line has as decent a claim as most, with 35 years or more under its belt and an obvious ability with a smoker. If that 's not enough, they have an owner called Skeeter which means you have to love the place.
Skeeter is a charmer, and clearly a great person to work for: as the group's grown and spread across three states, staff have stayed with him for years and, in many cases, the younger members of today's crew are second generation. As Skeeter explained over "The Cadillac" - a quite breathtaking, belt-humiliating platter of barbecued animals - staff are encouraged to chip in money-saving ideas (and get a bonus for their troubles) and participate in the decision-making process. The Cadillac, for example, was named by restaurant staff as a "mid-range" family-style platter. And another member of staff was behind the decision to offer the very hungry punter "The Big Daddy", a full racks of beef ribs which, as the picture below will illustrate, is aptly named.
We didn't touch the whole rack - other than to pose Flintstone-style with it - but we did wade through the cut down version, plus pork ribs, a plate of succulent turkey, about half a cow's worth of brisket, stacks of sausage, chicken, potato salad - "we add sour cream to the mix, that's what makes it taste so good" - and coleslaw. And home made bread. And then peach cobbler and a Jack Daniel's bread and butter pudding that trumped even the San Antonio version. That recipe, incidentally, came from restaurant manager Dee Dee and was clearly a bonus well earned.
The result is a restaurant with a great atmosphere, excellent staff and the sort of organic growth that can't be faked. All of that means they've a passionately dedicated clientele which helps them sell over five million pounds of beef a year. Unlike the Space Center, it's not rocket science.