Like Diane Arbus one of my favorite things to do is go a place I’ve never been. With this in mind I set out for the National Championship Barbecue Cook off in Meridian, Texas on this glorious Autumn weekend.
This competition represents the cream of the crop of Texas pit bosses. The two hundred top teams in the state have gathered at this invitation-only affair to determine which team will walk away with the national title.
Walking on to the grounds of the affair in Meridian ,Texas, an antique tractor pull is in full effect with giant black clouds of diesel smoke rolling off the ancient John Deeres, Farm Alls and International Harvester work machines.
But not nearly as impressive as the work of one Jim Towers, the Happy Hillbilly from Groesbeck, Texas. This man cuts an impressive figure as he’s tending to his fires so I meander over to his campsite for some conversation and perhaps a hunk or two of brisket.
Mr. Towers comes by his art naturally. His daddy was a member of the Fox and Wolf Hunters Association when young Jim was coming up, and that meant lots of time in the woods tending a fire and listening to the old hounds baying at the predators of Limestone County.
Towers has worn a few hats during his journey toward becoming a championship pit boss including spending time as a roughneck in the oil fields of early 70s Texas all the way up to his current occupation as an 18 wheeler operator.
“Do you drive a Peterbilt”
“Oh naw, a fat man can’t fit in a Peterbilt. You gotta ride in a Freightliner or International when you’re a fat man.”
I nod at the man’s sage advice.
He hands me a plate of brisket. Clearly his cooking life has been well spent during the run up to Meridian’s shoot out. The thick bark on the smoky, tender steer meat showcases his talents quite ably.
We sit around for a few minutes under the warm October sun discussing the everyday facts of small town Texas life like how to deal with the scourge of wild boar hogs [ “if you see a wild boar and don’t at least shoot at it then you ought to get a fine of $500 ] all the way to how this ajax of a man had to give up slacks wearing when he hit 18 years old due to a late growth spurt.
I make my way to leave as Jim spins another yarn on how coyotes have gotten so bad out in Limestone County that the local hunting dogs are afraid to get out in the woods. I eat a lot of good barbecue during my big day in Bosque County but Jim Tower, the Happy Hillbilly of Groesbeck, Texas takes the prize for his combination of good food and old time country story telling.