On my first day of high school, I was assigned The Odyssey, the epic, ancient Greek poem. It was a bit over my head, but my teacher kept returning to the recurring theme of hospitality, something I thought I could actually understand. When Odysseus isn’t being courted by Sirens or threatened by sea monsters, people he doesn’t know are taking care of him on the road–or the sea.
In our Manic travels about America, we always seem to meet people a bit like the ancient Greeks. One recent example: Chris Harry Paskett of Mills County BBQ Company in Goldthwaite, Texas.
We’d read that Chris was smoking the best turkey in Texas–an anomaly in the land of beef–on Drew Thornley’s Man Up Texas BBQ Blog. So we decided to drop into Goldthwaite, a town of 1800 famous for raising goats and rodeo horses. But when we got to town well after sundown, we couldn’t find the place. Its sign wasn’t working, and we drove past it, and the entire town, twice. When we finally located the little restaurant, we found Chris out back by the pits.
He noticed our cameras and asked where we were from. Slightly shocked by our replies, he told us we’d made his day by coming all the way from the northeast to try his bbq. “Y’all don’t know how much this lifts me up about being in the barbecue business,” he exclaimed. And when we told him we were bloggers, he called to the kitchen: “Fix ’em up with everything! They’re just like Drew!”
Chris showed us to the dining room, and asked us if we liked beer. Our eyes answered before we could speak. I think he offered us Coors at first, but he emerged from the kitchen with a 6-pack of Blue Moon that had three bottles left in it. “Do y’all like this kind of beer?” he asked, hoping we’d say yes. Texas hospitality at its finest.
As Mexican music blared through the restaurant’s thin walls from a holiday celebration in a nearby park, Mills County BBQ’s waitress appeared with the sampler.
Wow. The brined and smoked turkey was the most succulent any of us had ever tried–the local experts had been right. A welcome contrast to the turkey, the sausage was well-spiced and quite a bit drier than the typical, annoyingly greasy Texas hot link (Chris said the sausage came from a vendor in Waco). I don’t usually like ribs, but I couldn’t get enough of Mills County’s pork ribs. which, like the turkey, were done to succulent perfection.
Just when we thought we couldn’t possibly eat any more, Chris reappeared with an order of house-battered onion rings. They went great with the tangy house sauce. “I never tried that before!” remarked Chris.
As we ate, Chris told us the story of how he and the joint came to be in Goldthwaite. He’s actually a former rodeo rider from northern Utah. He’d come to Mills County for some rodeo-related purpose and ended up working as a horseshoer there. Mills County raises a lot of rodeo horses, and Chris shoes both those horses and the working horses at a nearby cattle ranch. That’s his day job, so to speak, even if he does it at night sometimes. It’s amazing how many talented, entrepreneurial pitmasters have day jobs, just like musicians and other artists.
At some point, Chris started smoking meat at home and then got into commercial catering using a trailer. Just recently, he opened his fixed outpost on the side of Highway 183. However, because of the economic slowdown, Chris can only afford to keep the place open three days per week.
He told us a little bit more about life in Goldthwaite, including his recent heart attack, and his ex-wife, who had “run off.” “Sounds like a country song,” I said. He laughed. Chris showed us photos of his teenage son and daughter riding in rodeos, framed and hung on a wall of photos. He even had a few framed photos of himself on horseback at a much younger age.
When we finished our meal, we headed out via the pits to say goodnight. Chris told us again that we’d made his day, then called to his waitress and a friend who was hanging around the shop, asking them to come on out back. “Let’s bless these guys,” he said. The Manic Americans and the Mills County barbecue team joined hands as Chris asked that we have safe travels throughout Texas.
With that heartfelt exchange, we headed out to the parking lot. A sheriff’s deputy pulled up, to hang out by the smokers for a bit and maybe even grab a bite (he’d have been insane not to).
We took some shots of the holiday display across the highway as the festival-goers trickled out of the park.
And then we drove back to Austin to get some sleep. There would be more food and more Texas hospitality to enjoy in the coming days.
Publication date: 1/18/2011
Date of visit: 12/09/2010
Note: This was the first Manic American article to be cross-posted to Facebook! Please click on any image to enlarge.