Career interests took my dad, John Lomax III, from his native Houston to Music City, USA, almost 50 years ago. To this day, he remains a Texan first and an American second. Over the decades, modern-day living has brought some of the comforts to him in Nashville: Thanks to cable TV, watching his beloved Texas Longhorns play football is no longer a rare treat, for example, and his favorite NFL team—the team formerly known as the Houston Oilers—decamped to his adopted hometown.
Other creature comforts have proven more elusive. Most of what passes for Mexican food in Nashville my dad writes off as “shredded beef California stuff” and his view on SEC country-style pulled pork “barbecue” is witheringly dim. Which brings us to mail-order Texas barbecue briskets—an easy and delicious way to spread Texas love and deliciousness far and wide, support mom-and-pop businesses, help out the economy of rural Texas, and ensure safety for possibly COVID-susceptible loved ones.
For all those reasons, for Father’s Day this year, my sister and I joined forces and surprised Dad with a brisket from Snow’s BBQ, the award-winning Lexington smokehouse. I am not the world’s best gift-giver, but I got it right this time. “WOWSA!” he wrote in his first email to me on receipt of the slow-soaked meat, followed by a barrage of appreciative emails and a phone call or two over the course of that weekend. The only fly in the ointment for me, personally, was that I couldn’t be there to enjoy it with him. But a trip to Nashville seemed ill-advised given the hazards of travel and the fact that my dad and stepmom are both in their 70s.
Snow’s owner Kerry Bexley says he closed down his restaurant on March 21 and has been mail-only ever since. Now in their 17th year of business, Snow’s has become an institution in Lexington, a town of about 1,100 people in Lee County, 50 miles northeast of Austin and about 125 miles northwest of Houston. Snow’s business boomed in 2008, when Texas Monthly dubbed theirs the best barbecue in Texas, and boomed some more when the New Yorker’s Calvin Trillin one-upped them by calling it the best Texas barbecue on the planet.
Pre-pandemic, the Fellowship of the Smoke Ring would rise with the dawn on Saturday mornings—Snow’s opens only on Saturdays—and pour groggy-eyed into Lexington from nearby Bryan-College Station, Houston, and Austin, to get a spot in line and a shot at one of the half-dozen or so indoor tables or on the outdoor seating area, which accommodates about 65 people. Others took their meats away for a picnic or home dining.
With the arrival of the coronavirus and related safety protocols, Bexley decided to err on the side of caution. If people were willing to go to the time, trouble, and expense to drive to his smokehouse, why not just step up the mail-order end of the business for the time being?
“With our tight quarters, our business model doesn’t allow us to open and limit everything else,” he says. “So we just stayed closed and do it online. The feedback has just been amazing—a lot of repeat customers. During holiday time we do a lot of large businesses—they send them out as customer gifts.”
A full range of meats, including beef, sausages, turkey, pork ribs, and shoulder steaks, are available on the site. A 4- to 5-pound brisket sells for $125, and if you want to go really hog-wild, Snow’s offers samplers such as the Snowman Special Combo: two briskets, two rings each of jalapeno and original sausage, and two racks of St. Louis-style pork ribs. That’s 16 pounds of meat for $335. Sauce is sold separately, and you are on your own for the pickles, onions, white bread, and sides. Bexley says packages like the one we ordered for my dad—briskets shipped out of state—are his best sellers.
Bexley has been shipping since 2008, but the viability of shipping briskets goes back a few decades. My dad discovered it in the early 1990s, and I can recall one festive occasion that caused one his musician friends to give himself a pass from his vegetarianism for one night only. “That cow did not die in vain,” he told dad after his second or third helping of this manna from the homeland.
When we reached Bexley, he was in the process of shipping orders. He says his business has been good despite the pandemic. “For me working nowadays is about the same, he said. “I worked all day today, and now I’m starting to do all this tonight. I’ve got a great group of people—[pitboss] Ms. Tootsie [Tomanetz] comes in to cook a little bit. I’ll give her some work to stay busy and keep drawing her paycheck. I’ve been fortunate enough to keep everybody on the payroll.”
And Snow’s has also brought joy to thousands of Texans whose cruel fate—be it career, marriage, or military service—has been to live beyond the confines of the Red and Rio Grande.
Order Snow’s BBQ online here, or Google your favorite smokehouse and check on availability.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect cities and towns across the state, Texas Highways asked our writers to share stories of adversity, recovery and strength in Texas’ small business community. We also checked in with businesses we’ve covered in the past and invited members of Texas travel associations to give us an update on how they’re doing and how you can support them. Click here to explore our map of nearly 500 small businesses.