Monday, October 15

Lone Star Dispatch: Not for the Faint of Palate

From the keyboard of guest blogger Daniel Vaughn, whose computer smells vaguely of brisket. 

Adrian Miller wrote in his SFA blog post last week about all sorts of hot links, but this week I’m focused on one type found only in Texas. In his 1997 article on East Texas Hot Links (ETLs or ETs, for short), John Morthland provides an excellent description of this hyper-regional specialty. "They’re pale, stubby grease bombs about the size of a thumb." Despite the less than glowing review, I was hankering to get out to the piney woods of East Texas and try a few for myself.

Photos by Daniel Vaughn
We had planned to make our first stop in Gilmer, but we took a last-minute detour to Tyler for Rhea's Hot Links. They make their own beef links stuffed into natural pork casings, and in the East Texas tradition they are baked rather than smoked. The tinted grease oozed out onto a stark white plate when I cut into them. Even a baptism in hot sauce didn't cover the strong taste of ground offal.

At just a couple bucks for four links, you can't expect the finest cuts of beef, and you won't get them. A glass of ice water hardly begins to rinse the film that forms in the mouth. The thick fat from the links coats the tongue, gums and teeth.

Up the road in tiny Gilmer, the second-oldest building in town houses Doc's Hot Links. The interior has only a large U-shaped bar clad in Formica surrounded by long wooden benches. A simple menu hangs on the side of a drink cooler that lists the cost of links all the way up to twelve dozen ($77.95). For my taste, lots of hot sauce is the only thing that makes these links palatable, and saltines after each bite are just another way to cover the flavor. They’re the lime and salt in the world of hot links.

Our hopes were temporarily restored on the way to Pittsburg, which is the 'Lockhart' of ETLs: the Mecca. But when the tray of puckered brown links landed on the counter in front of me, I could think of nothing but canine turds.* Even after a hefty dose of hot sauce and a saltine chaser, I couldn't get more than a couple of these down. There were whole families in the dining room downing links by the dozens, but I just wasn't getting it. I like fat and can appreciate odd bits, but these links were on another level of gamey. I was surprised by how similar all of the versions tasted, and I was equally disappointed in myself for not having the ability to develop a taste for the links with legendary status.

*Editor's note: please pardon Daniel's manners. From the photos, it's hard to argue with him.