If you follow the barbecue world at all, you probably can’t help but notice a place called Snow’s out of Lexington, TX, gets a lot of attention. Named by Texas Monthly in 2008 and again in 2017 as the best barbecue joint in Texas, Snow’s quickly shot to fame, with Pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz and owner Kerry Bexley becoming familiar faces in the who’s who of American barbecue.
Snow’s BBQ is a low-slung building with a plain carport-looking awning in front to shelter the long lines from the Texas sun. It says on the sign “open Saturdays only,” and when the publicity hit, the little shack got a lot busier: from selling about 200 lbs. on any given Saturday to close to 1,200 lbs.
“After our recognition it was quite a change for both of us,” Bexley says, adding that Tomanetz took some time to warm up to the fame. “But she’s since come to enjoy it. It’s just very rewarding to seeing her get attention for something she has done most of her life.”
Back in 1966, Tomanetz was a housewife with a butcher husband. She started working in the butcher business when her youngest child was one year old. Tomanetz jumped right in, learning how to break down whole animals and pick out cattle at auction. She didn’t know much about barbecue, but she jumped right into that, too. Her brisket started getting attention in the ‘70s at a shop she opened with her husband, and they sold lots of barbecue to obsessed fans until the mid-nineties.
In 2003, Tomanetz’s path diverged with Kerry Bexley’s path, which included stints as a prison guard, an auctioneer, a real-estate agent and a rodeo clown (that ended after a bull hooked Bexley in the chest, breaking his sternum).
Bexley (known as “the Snowman” or just “Snow” for a childhood story about his older brother being asked if he wanted a little brother or little sister and he answered “I want a little snowman.”) had been one of those obsessed fans during Tomanetz’s unforgettable brisket years. When he tracked down Ms. Tootsie, she was working at a nursing home and doing maintenance work for a local school district. Together, they opened Snow’s BBQ.
Ms. Tootsie directed the pits from the beginning, specifying the best setup of the pits Bexley built for her so she could cook in her signature style: over direct heat.
“Direct heat is the way Ms. Tootsie cooked everything for years and I had knowledge of indirect heat for cooking briskets,” Bexley says, explaining that briskets at Snow’s are cooked over indirect heat the Central Texas way, but everything else—pork steaks, chicken and ribs—are cooked over direct heat.
“There is an art to cooking over direct heat, and it shows in the final product when it’s done correctly,” Bexley says. “The wood is burned down to coals and she shovels them from that place to the pits she’s cooking on. The amount of coals she uses determines how hot the pit is cooking.”
One item that’s been on the menu from the start is the pork steak, which is pork shoulder (butt) cut into 2 1/2-inch slabs and cooked over direct heat for six hours. The result is a total departure from the pulled pork you know and love…there’s a bit of a crust and meat that’s got pork fat melting throughout.
Brisket comes with an understated, more delicate layer of bark than you see at some places, nothing totally carbonized or overpowering, giving way to meat that’s taken on a serious amount of smoke and the perfect amount of melty fat from the fat cap, some of which has been trimmed down, a signature of Snow’s.
“Packer-trimmed briskets as you buy in the store are just not trimmed enough for our liking,” Bexley says. “We like to leave about a quarter inch of fat camp for best results.”
The rub used on all the meats couldn’t be simpler: salt and pepper. A mop that contains a bit of mustard flour is sopped on pork steaks, chicken and ribs during cooking.
“The traditional Texas way is only salt and pepper,” Bexley says. “Good barbecue does not require any sauce.”
But if you must, Snow’s offers three varieties of sauce.
Hot links, another pillar of Texas barbecue, are cooked at Snow’s by dangling them from a steel rod at a much higher temperature than the other meats. The links are made with a beef/pork mixture, coarse ground and seasoned to Snow’s specifications at a local meat market.
The side dish not to be missed at Snow’s is hands down the German Potato Salad, which Bexley describes as “made by a 100-year-old German lady that knows what she’s doing and it’s GOOD.” Another standout side is pinto beans, made with bacon ends and seasoned with salt and chili powder. But good luck getting a specific recipe. “We do not measure anything…we taste test,” Bexley says.
Asked about his secrets to barbecue success, Bexley points to several factors: great customer service, quality product and consistency. He also mentions that a key has been maximizing the pit room by hiring people who are passionate about cooking “and can offer the required TLC.”
Snow’s has also seen its mail-order and online business taking off, something Bexley attributes to “the quality of employees we have.” Unsold meat, since Snow’s will not reheat it for sale at the restaurant, makes up the business for faraway fans with a hankering for pork steak.
The recognition that Snow’s has received, while a bit jarring at first for the small-town duo, hasn’t gotten old at all.
“The quality of people we meet are second to none,” Bexley says. “Tootsie and I both love talking and meeting new people. We always have time—or make time—for everybody that is interested in our craft as they are the reason we’re blessed with the opportunity to the be in the business.”