516 Main Street, Lexington, TX 78947
Chain Size: 1
Date reviewed 5-4-2013
Service Type: Cafeteria/counter
Overall rating 95: Brisket 95, Sausage 95
A place like Snow’s could easily be overlooked as a gimmick. Only in existence for 10 years, they shot to fame in 2008 when they were voted the best by Texas Monthly. A tiny wooden building in a very small town they are only open one day a week, from 8am until they run out of meat which can occur as early as noon. But make no mistake, they are not a gimmick. Pit master Tootsie Tomanetz was no stranger to smoking meat when Snow’s opened in 2003 and they have been cooking consistently top shelf BBQ ever since.
I had heard of Snow’s even before I had heard of the Texas Monthly article. A friend of mine raved about the brisket, but I thought the whole concept of waiting in lines, only on a Saturday, and the risk of selling out as overkill. What I didn’t know at the time was that there was a surge of great BBQ rising; and with it an entire army of BBQ foodies. These are people willing to travel for hours just for the opportunity to eat great BBQ, many times bringing cameras to record the event. At the time I was a BBQ novice; I had been to Elgin, I had been to Lockhart, and I had been to a few select other famous establishments, but I had not considered myself a BBQ foodie yet. After a couple of years of attempts to perfect my own smoking skills I began to get more involved in traveling and tasting BBQ. The more I read about the top 10, the more I wanted to visit Snow’s.
Leslye and I pegged the first Saturday in May as our date with Snow’s. As the date neared, an unusually late cold front blew through and we were going to have to deal with the cold. After researching I decided that we would need to leave by 7:30 for the little over two hour ride so that we could arrive well before 10am. I despise lines and didn’t want to stand in line for half an hour or more, and certainly didn’t want to risk arriving much past 10 and have the potential of them running out of brisket. Even though it had been 5 years since they won top honors, they have remained in the very top of the rankings since. I figured though with the recent popularity of John Mueller and Franklin’s in Austin, plus Louie Mueller in Taylor that some of the attention had waned.
We woke up to a brisk morning of 45 degrees but were mostly prepared. Wearing thermal underclothes in addition to our normal outers including leather jackets, gloves, and boots we were pretty comfortable climbing on the bike. Pulling onto Hwy249 I grinned as I flipped the switch on the heated handgrips; only my second opportunity to use them since purchasing the R1100RS. The ride itself was nice. Once we were west of College Station the road undulated more and we could still see wildflowers but could tell they were fading. There were more of the yellows and less of the bluebonnets gracing the fields and roadside.
As we entered the city of Lexington we were hit with a strong smell of smoke. I didn’t write down the exact address as I figured it would be easy to find “main” street; normally it is a stretch of whatever highway passes through town. Lexington was different, however, and I passed through the other end of town and outside of the smoke before I knew it. We turned around and headed back, literally following our noses but found that main street was blocked off. It was homecoming weekend and Lexington was throwing a party. They were hosting a BBQ cook off, parade, and had a number of booths offering the typical Texas festival curious.
We weren’t there for any of this though so we drove another couple of blocks and saw one of the small signs pointing to Snow’s.
When we pulled into the gravel drive I felt like we had found something special. A small red building was on our left which housed a few tables and was where you purchased the meat. An even smaller building was next to it hosting the restroom. Beyond that lay a section of tables and surrounding those in an “L” shape were the pits. A set of flat tops, a set of tubes, and then their newest ones, a set of large tube shaped pits that we were later told were just over 3 years old.
It was 9:30 am and the line was not out the door yet. We yanked off our helmets, gloves, and jackets and entered the building. The first thing I noticed was their prices. The brisket on our trip to Louie Mueller was $15.95 a pound. Here it was only $10.95. When my turn came I ordered a three meat plat to share but in addition to brisket I opted for both regular and jalapeno sausage, skipping over choices like pork or chicken. The plates come with potato salad and cole slaw, but “the beans are always free” as the sign said. I also ordered a pound of brisket to go. The other thing I noticed was that they cut the brisket with an electric knife, rather than a fancy carving blade. Efficiency rather than showmanship I thought to myself, and hey, the slicing has very little to do with the taste anyway as long as it’s cut across the grain.
There were plenty of others there already eating. We would overhear the comments as they ate and noticed those who arrived with camera in hand. Online reviews and Texas Monthly can make or break a place, and even though they were cooking great meat before their top ranking, you can certainly see the effects of publicity.
The plate looked great; the bark was well done and had a nice looking texture. The smoke ring was thick and dark, and the sausage’s texture and color looked spot-on. Leslye grabbed a bite before I did and her first comment was “you may want to consider buying more.” I reached for my first piece and the small fatty layer and crust fell off as the rest of the piece fell away with a light pull. What I bit into was not heavenly, but it was still great brisket. Having eaten so much on both ends of the spectrum I think maybe all the hype made me biased, but this was “just” great brisket. The next piece though included the beautifully rendered fat and a nice piece of crust, and my rating was upped a bit more. Maybe it was the fact that we were eating lunch at 9:45 am but our past-lunch visit to Louie Mueller was a better experience. I am not knocking Snow’s, this is elite level BBQ and we will come back, but the skies did not part and we saw no unicorns riding rainbows this morning.
Next up I grabbed a piece of jalapeno sausage. The grind was a medium grind and there were nice visible pieces of jalapeno. This sausage is one of the better jalapeno varieties. The amount was just perfect; not so much that it overshot the other flavors. The casing was thin but had a good snap and the interior was just moist enough without being too juicy. The regular sausage was good, and both had great smokiness from cooking, but I wasn’t blown away by the regular. Both were a treat however and I wrapped a slice of bread around the next and enjoyed it.
The sauce here was good, but very sweet. Leslye thought they used apple cider vinegar and I wouldn’t dispute it but it seems in addition there was honey or some other very sweet tasting additive. Served cold it was good, but I used it very sparingly as the meats certainly didn’t require it. They gave us about a 1/3rd of a plastic water bottle full to take home with our to-go brisket and I appreciated that. This was sauce that added to the flavor when used very lightly.
The potato salad was good and you could tell there was a lot of effort in making it. A number of colors jumped out and the slices of potato were small enough but still provided good texture. I prefer more of a German style potato salad with mustard, but this was a very good mayonnaise based version.
The coleslaw was my least favorite item of our trip. It was only damp with sauce and otherwise just a cabbage mix. It wasn’t really bad but I just would have preferred a different option. That said, the free beans easily took the place of the coleslaw for me.
A large pot of the beans sat next to both small and large Styrofoam cups. When I dipped the ladle I could see a nice thick liquid bathing the pinto beans. These were ranch-style rather than baked but it was fine with me. They were not soupy, and even though I didn’t see any traces of bacon or other tricks, they were good and tasty.
After our breakfast-lunch I walked back to admire the pits. Tootsie asked me if I had my camera, and when I said yes she swung open the pits to show off the briskets that were still smoking. Pride in your food, your establishment, and your equipment is a great thing and I think it truly impacts the quality of the food. I’ve seen some of the famous places where I think they have taken things for granted and the consistency of their quality has taken a hit. I eyed the thermometers on the large pits and noticed the temperature was very consistent – a very well-engineered pit considering that the fire box is on one end. We talked of wood and they use regular oak. This is what I prefer for brisket; she agreed that mesquite adds too much bite, and pecan, apple, and other fruit woods add too much sweetness.
Snow’s not only served up great food, but the pride and family atmosphere makes the whole experience a special event. One of my personal favorite things is seeing the owners and pit masters working and serving when we are there, and it’s a special treat when I get to talk to them myself. For them to take time out on a busy day to talk to “regular” folk like us makes it feel like I’ve become part of their lore. It was a great start to our weekend and we’ll be back.
Riding tips and day trips: Due to our desire for an early arrival, we chose a less exciting outbound route than we preferred. We headed out 249 to 1774 through Magnolia. Once past Magnolia we saw the remnants of the 2011 wildfire with burned out trees whose trunks still stood, trying to defy their fate but resigned to nothing more than eventually being cut down. Between the road and the train tracks the trees had been cut down and shredded; making way for an expanded road in the future. The long term plan is for a toll way into Magnolia, and then the “Aggie Expressway” from there to College Station. While the shortened travel time would be a positive, the curves and undulations will be lessened which means a much less interesting route. For the near term though, we still enjoyed riding between the trees and past the host location for the Texas Renaissance Festival. Turning left onto Hwy 105 we kicked up the pace into Navasota and then headed north on Hwy 6. With a recent shift to 75mph posted speeds we made speedy but boring time into College Station/Bryan and exited for the western trek on Hwy 21. Hwy 21 also hit 75mph in some spots and the fading wildflowers passed in a flash. We passed through Caldwell and took a right onto FM 696 which was the first really enjoyable stretch into Lexington where we met Hwy 77.
Leaving Snow’s with a full belly the planned route would be more interesting and cross through Historical locations. We headed south on 77 until we took a left at 3403 which was a nice diversion leading onto Hwy 21. We followed Hwy 21 for 18 miles back into Caldwell. We had a brief stop to take in a garage sale and take pictures of a yard full of rather odd art, then hung a right and headed southwest on Hwy 36. I had thought about making a quick diversion to see lake Somerville, but we had other intentions and continued on until we headed East on FM 390.
390 is also called La Bahia road and is part of the Texas Independence Trail. The route leads from Galveston up through Washington-On-The-Brazos and Independence, westward to San Antonio and heads back to Houston via Goliad and Fannin. The entirety of the route is over 1,100 miles but obviously we would only be on it for a small portion. As we rode into Independence I counted more motorcycles than cars, which was finally a welcome sign after crossing too much straight blacktop on this day. We made a short stop in Independence and noted the historic sites nearby; including one of Sam Houston’s residences. I spoke briefly with a cyclist who was taking a break on a 55 mile ride. I also cycle and this is a turnaround for a 125 mile route out of Brookshire. This area and Chappell Hill is a very popular cycling route and one should definitely watch for cyclists. This area provides some of the hillier riding areas nearest to Houston so it is can be a training ground for cyclists, especially prior to the annual MS150 ride. Some of the hills are daunting and the cyclists may even weave back and forth a bit as they pedal up the hills; I know this method well so be sure to use caution.
Not far past Independence we made a left onto William Penn. This is not a particularly quick option but I enjoy the road, spending a little extra caution on the unmarked pavement. Back onto Hwy 21 we cruised into Navasota, bypassing Washington-On-The-Brazos for this day. I have ridden there before on my bicycle, and for a true Texan it is very thought-provoking to walk past where Texas claimed their independence and the founders formed their own country for nine years. Once in Navasota we made a short Southeast trip to Hwy 105 and the headed East. This time I bypassed FM362 and rode the extra few miles back to FM 1774 and headed back Southward through Plantersville and into Magnolia.