My wife recently forwarded me this linkÂ Texas Barbecue popularity marginalizes it’s African American contributersÂ which is an interesting read on the TexasÂ BBQ sceneÂ and brought up a lot of memories and emotions given my East Texas heritage, Greenville to be exact.
When I was 8 years old my mom used to sell designer jeans from a Good Times Van in the parking lot adjacent to Good Luck Hamburgers and Washington’s Bar BQ (later it became Ponderosa’s and now Two Podners) in Oak Cliff off of Loop 12. Good Luck known for its Link Baskets and shakes was a lesson in operations. It made no sense, but then again it made perfect sense. You would order at the “burger window” but if you wanted a shake you had to walk to the other end of the restaurant to the “shake window” only to be served by the same person from the aforementioned burger window who just walked down to meet you.
Since I didn’t grow up with my mom, I would walk to this parking lot after school to be around her. Mrs. Washington and my mom became good friends and she would offer me link sandwiches during my visits. I spent so much time there on “quality control” her pitmaster Mr. Man (note I don’t know his real name but Mrs Washington called him “man” all the time as in “Man, you take yo sugar pills, Man you gone burn my cornbread, Man add so mo fat to dem greens”. Since she called him man, I called him Mr Man.
Mr Man taught me the ways of the smoke as well as how to make his secret sauce, as well as greens, red beans, and Mac and cheese. We would listen to lead belly blues while he bragged about how “you don’t need no meat for my sauce”. He was an East Texas cat as most Dallas black folk are so hot links and ribs were king. Brisket was for chopped beef sandwiches then and played the secondary role. I can remember Mr Man or my grandfather for that matter, cooking a nice brisket and then chopping it up with a meat cleaver and serving it with buns and sauce. Mr. Man would reserve the burnt ends for me.
Washington’s was one of the few spots in Dallas where you could get East Texas’ finest Pittsburgh Links where you specified if you wanted squirters or not. You had to be careful with the squirters because a heavy bite into one could project that juicy goodness from one of those pockets of grease into an eye or worse somebody’s finest white threads.
I was never one for verbal instructions, which I’m sure has frustrated a few teachers, coaches, and my spouse, but that year of watching and experimenting with Mr. Man served as my culinary foundation and was the Genesis for my food passion. There was even a two week period where I transferred to the neighboring Maynard Jackson Elementary to be close to moms and Mrs. Washington. Despite my myriad food tastes and interests, deep down I am an East Texas BBQ dude who loves the taste and texture of smoked encased meats. I am glad to know that there are still some places in Texas holding down the tradition, despite losing their shine to hipsters and not getting their propers from the masses. Like all the other art forms out there, cueing ain’t no different in terms of the marginalization of pioneers.