Monday, October 18, 2021

Quick Thoughts on Texas Monthly's Top 50 List

A few of y’all have asked my opinion on Texas Monthly’s new Top 50 Barbecue list and I’m happy with it. Like the Olympics or the World Cup, this is a time that I look forward to every four years.


To be fair, I’ve been off my game for a few years (how old is my kid?) and spend most of my time in New Mexico and Idaho nowadays rather than traveling around Texas sampling barbecue. There are a total of 21 spots on the top 50 that I have not visited and 5 of those I’ve not even heard of (Distant Relatives, Mimsy’s, Dayne’s Craft Barbecue, Smoke-A-Holics BBQ, Eaker Barbecue).

The Top Ten is about what I expected. I’ve got to think 2M was just outside the top ten. I’ve had Burnt Bean Company and Goldees at the top of my to do list and REALLY wanted to get there before this list broke and made them famous. It was expected that they’d be near the top.

Truth BBQ is good and it was a given that they’d be high. But they’re one that I’m just not as high on as everyone else. You could make a case for Top Ten, but Top Three? Not in my opinion. And I’ve been told LJ’s is the spot the Brenham locals go. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to visit LJ’s and just…always end up at Truth… Shame on me.

It was also expected that Snow’s and Franklin would fall a bit. Franklin is still my number one, but I understand their drop in context with the list. Texas Monthly really prioritized “new ‘cue” over the more traditional places. That is, if things like cachete pop up on your menu, or you’re fusing Texas barbecue with Mexican or Asian flavors, or if you’ve got specialty hand crafted sides on the menu – you’re going to get bonus points. Take a look at one of my favorites, LeRoy & Lewis for someone that does ALL of these things.

Aaron Franklin raised the whole of Texas barbecue by giving out all of his secrets. From just his books and how to videos, you can learn to make near-Franklin quality meats and that’s exactly what pitmasters are doing. So there a lot of places you can go to find high quality brisket that emulates Franklin’s methods. Now the editors are looking to go beyond that and that’s what you’re getting with a lot of the new guys in the Top Ten.

Anywhooo… Glad to see Butters in Mathis on the list (speaking of people emulating Aaron Franklin). He’s putting out the best barbecue in the Coastal Bend and is miles ahead of Smoliks who somehow made this list last time.

Glad Slow Bone is on there. They’ve been really underappreciated.

It was a given, but glad Feges made the list. I’ve been a fan since they were doing pop ups. He knows meat and both locations have such a great, unique menu. Feges is my favorite in the Houston city limits.

Good to see 1701 on there as they’ve become a known commodity in Beaumont and FINALLY brought good Central Texas style barbecue to the land of links. And this list spans the state with El Paso’s Desert Oak and Marfa’s Convenience West on the list. Certainly worthwhile selections.

I think they visited 400 or so places in making this list, so they did their research and have places from every region in Texas including a good number in the valley. HOWEVER it is interesting to see DFW and the non-Austin Central Texas area beat out Austin and Houston in their number of spots. Daniel Vaughn does have a DFW bias. Which makes it surprising that Pecan Lodge was left out. People have always been higher than me on Pecan Lodge, but Texas Monthly was pretty infatuated with them as they really brought a barbecue spotlight to Austin.

Speaking of DFW, I’m bummed to see Heim didn’t make the list. They’re one of my favorites in the Metroplex, but ambitious expansion probably cost them consistency and a spot in the Top 50.

Sorry, B/CS – No Fargo’s or 1775 here. I expected Fargo’s to fall off, but thought 1775 had a shot of making it.

Aside from Heim, all of my other favorites made the list. I’d liked to have seen Reveille Barbecue Co. on the Top 50 as they are great, but it’s hard to stand out when you’re basically a carbon copy of Tejas. But still, no real quarrels from me on the list as a whole.

Mimsy’s is one that I listed as new to me. And they’re in a barbecue desert of Crockett! Bummed they weren’t around 6+ years ago when I frequented East Texas and dined on their (mostly) subpar barbecue options.

This list has my mouth watering and would love nothing more than to take a week off and seek out the 21 spots I’ve not done (and revisit a few favorites). But that’s not in the cards. I definitely need to find an excuse to hit Goldees and Interstellar at some point. I already have plans for a trip to Burnt Bean. It just now looks like the line will be a little longer when I get there.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

2017 HOU-ATX BBQ Throwdown

Saint Arnold Brewery played host to the first ever Houston Vs. Austin Barbecue Throwdown last weekend. The theme of the annual Houston Barbecue Throwdown persisted to this event: Create a unique barbecue dish & create it better than the other guys. This event however, did play up a budding Houston vs. Austin rivalry in the world of smoked meats.

As has been the case with the other Houston Throwdown events, this Throwdown was a perfect celebration of Texas Barbecue. The masterminds behind the Houston Barbecue Festival deserve heaps of praise for always pulling off brilliant events. If those guys are in charge, it is seriously an event that you need to attend.

When Houston and Austin are Pit against each other in the realm of barbecue, we all win. But, individual winners were also named. No one won bigger than Austin's LeRoy & Lewis Barbecue who took home not only the People's Choice Award and a share of the Judge's Choice Award, but also earned my personal vote (!) for their Pork Bacon Ribs with Brisket Fried Rice. This seriously may have been one of the best bites I've had at any of these events.

Austin-area Brotherton's Black Iron Barbecue took the other share of the Judge's Choice Award for their precisely crafted Bahn Mi Crostini layered with three different types of delicious meat. Both Austin-area joints are newer, lesser known commodities, especially to the Houston market, but both were definitely deserving of the praise they received at the event.

Houston's Pit Room, Austin-area Valentina's Tex-Mex BBQ, and Houston's Harlem Road Barbecue rounded out the judge's top five in a very competitive field. I also thought that My Yard Reaction and Beaver's were both impressive in their follow-up to their superb Houston Barbecue Throwdown debut in September.

Austin Area Line Up (In Alphabetical Order):

Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue [Judge's Choice (Tie)] - "Pigpen and Pasture" Banh Mi Crostini - Locally Made Baguette, Smoked Beef Cheek Pute, Korean BBQ Brisket, Korean BBQ Pulled Pork, Housemade Kimchi, Pickled Daikon and Carrots, English Cucumber, Thai Chili Pomegranate Gastrique, Mango Jalapeno Coulis

Brotherton's Black Iron Barbecue
Brotherton's Black Iron Barbecue

Hays Co. Bar-B-Que - Habanero Mango Pineapple Pork Chop
Hays Co. Bar-B-Que
Hays Co. Bar-B-Que

LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue [My Choice, People's Choice, Judge's Choice (Tie)] - Peaceful Pork Bacon Ribs with Brisket Fried Rice, Housemade Kimchi, Fish Caramel

LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue
LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue

Micklethwait Craft Meats - Smoked Duck Boudin with Fermented Cherry Pepper Hot Sauce, Pickled Summer Vegetables, Remoulade, Seasoned Duck Fat Saltine

Micklethwait Craft Meats
Micklethwait Craft Meats

Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ - "Chicano Churrasco" - Mesquite Smoked Flap Meat with Tex-Mex Tomatillo Churri on a Handmade Flour Tortilla with Pickled Red Onions

Valentina's Tex-Mex BBQ
Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ

Houston Area Line Up (In Alphabetical Order):

Beaver’s - Smoked Fried Chicken, Cracklin Cornbread, Smoked Honey & Sea Salt

Beaver's
Beaver's

The Brisket House - Smoked Pulled Pork Banana Leaf Tamales with Morita Chili Pepper Salsa

The Brisket House
The Brisket House

El Burro & the Bull - Chile Colorado (Smoked Wild Game Chile Colorado Dressed with Crispy Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Strips, Fresh Cotija Crumbles and Pickled Red Onion

El Burro & the Bull
El Burro & the Bull

Gatlin’s BBQ - Ginger Glazed Smoked Pork Belly with Coconut Rice

Gatlin's BBQ
Gatlin's BBQ

Harlem Road Texas BBQ - Beef Ribs

Harlem Road Texas Barbecue
Harlem Road Texas Barbecue

Killen’s BBQ - Pork Belly Three Ways:
Pork Belly Yesterday: Smoked Pork Belly Tossed in Sweet BBQ Sauce and Pickles

Killen's BBQ
Pork Belly Today: Crispy Pork Belly Burnt Ends Tossed in Cherry Habanero Crispy Rice Caviar and Green Onion

Killen's BBQ
Killen's BBQ

Pork Belly Tomorrow - Pork Belly Spring Roll with Thai Basil, Killen's Slaw, BBQ Almonds and Hoisin BBQ Sauce

Killen's BBQ
Killen's BBQ


My Yard Reaction BBQ - Smoked Pulled Pork, Red Cabbage Marmalade, Smoked Sweet Potato Cornbread, Steen's Cane Syrup Butter

My Yard Reaction BBQ
My Yard Reaction BBQ

The Pit Room - Beef Rib Burnt End with Prawn Cracker, Cod Smoked Uni Butter, and Pickled Thai Chili

The Pit Room
The Pit Room

Tin Roof BBQ - Smoked Prime Sirloin Served on a Bed of Bacon Brussel Sprout Salad with Feta Crumble & Bacon Vinaigrette

Tin Roof BBQ
Tin Roof BBQ


LeRoy & Lewis Barbecue
LeRoy & Lewis Barbecue 

Valentina's Tex Mex Barbecue
Valentina's Tex Mex Barbecue

Harlem Texas Road Barbecue
Harlem Texas Road Barbecue

Killen's BBQ
Killen's BBQ

Brotherton's Black Iron Barbecue
Brotherton's Black Iron Barbecue

The Brisket House
The Brisket House

Saint Arnold Brewery
Saint Arnold Brewery

The Winners are Announced...
The winners are announced...

LeRoy & Lewis and Brotherton's split the Judge's Choice Award
LeRoy & Lewis and Brotherton's split the Judge's Choice Award

Saturday, September 30, 2017

On The Side: 2017 Houston BBQ Throwdown

Last weekend marked the 3rd Annual Houston Barbecue Throwdown at Saint Arnold Brewery.  As always, the intent of the Throwdown is for local competitors to create unique Houston-style barbecue dishes. Houston is so diverse, the definition of “Houston-style barbecue” can have any number of interpretations. And the event always displays a variety of really well executed plays on this idea.

For three consecutive years now, I have babbled about this being my favorite event of all, so I’ll skip the flowery language and simply discuss the event.

The big story of the day was Tin Roof BBQ suffering a fire early the morning of the Throwdown and yet, still participating – and WINNING the People’s Choice Award for their outstanding Beef Rib. Their first award at the event made for a really inspiring moment.

Another first occurred when we saw the first ever tie for the Judges’ Choice award. The judges’ panel was a prestigious one featuring Ronnie Killen, Alison Cook, Robert Lerma, Wayne Mueller and D’Artagnan Bebel.  The judges’ decision was split on the dishes of two of the event’s newcomers: El Burro & The Bull with their pozole and the tacos from Beaver’s Westheimer.

Speaking of newcomers, six of the fourteen competitors were first-timers to the event. This included Beaver’s, El Burro and the Bull, Gatlin’s BBQ, Harlem Road Texas BBQ, Pinkerton’s Barbecue and My Yard Reaction BBQ (which was a new name on the lips of many, including mine).
These entries are typical of the beautiful dishes offered at the Houston BBQ Throwdown
Every entry was terrific, but the bites from Feges, Pit Room and Blood Brothers were among my unheralded favorites. For the second year in a row, my personal vote went to Feges’ entry. I am apparently prepared to be customer #1 when Patrick finally finds himself a permanent location.

During the event, the folks at the Throwdown also announced an exciting Houston Vs. Austin event scheduled for this December. If you’ve never been to a Houston BBQ Throwdown, that should be a great opportunity to see the most creative (and tasty) event yet.

This Year’s Attendees and Their Entries (In Alphabetical Order):

Beaver’s [2017 Judge’s Choice (Tie)] –  44Farms Beef Short Rib and Brisket Tacos with Homemade Tortillas (made with brisket fat), Pico de Gallo, Pickled Onion, Queso Fresco, Yellow Bird Crema and Cilantro

Beaver's Award Winning Taco
Blood Bros BBQ – Brisket Fried Rice with Pork Jowl Char Siu

Blood Bros' delicious Asian fusion
El Burro And The Bull [2017 Judge’s Choice (Tie)] – Smoky Pozole Topped With Smoked Pork Shoulder and Housemade Tostadas

El Burro's pozole presepnted in a molcajete
Feges BBQ [My Pick] – Peachwood smoked Pork Belly Pastrami with housemade kraut, comeback sauce, provolone & rye

It was close, but I think Feges' entry was the best of the day
Gatlin’s BBQ – Smoked Rabbit on Cheddar-Chive Biscuit with Raspberry-Chipotle Sauce, Topped with Quail Egg
Gatlin's put together a unique and pretty dish
Harlem Road Texas BBQ – Bone-in Pork Chop with Black Cherry Balsamic and Creamy Polenta

I believe Harlem Road brought us the first polenta sighting of the 3-year event
My Yard Reaction BBQ – “Wagyu Brisket Bento” – Marble Ranch Wagyu Beef Brisket Smoked with Post Oak and Pecan Wood, Beef Tendon Puff Dusted in House Smoked Shrimp Salt and Sesame Seaweed Salad

There was a lot going on with these new timers, but My Yard Reaction's Wagyu was impossibly tender
Pappa Charlies BBQ – Go Chu Jang Chicken with Pickled Broccoli Slaw and Fresh Jalapeno

I believe this event was created for Pappa Charlies as Wes Jurena is ALWAYS innovating
Pinkerton’s Barbecue – Smoked Flank Steak on a Toasted Crostini with Fire Roasted Tomato Puree, Goat Cheese and Chimichurri Sauce

You know you're at a high-brow culinary event when Pinkertons is producing beautiful dishes like these
Pit Room – “A1 Thick & Smoky” – Beef Cheeseburger Link with House Cured Bacon, Grilled Onions and A1 Thick & Hearty Sauce

Pit Room's Whataburger parody was delicious and hilarious
Roegels Barbecue Co – Pastrami Tacos

This was my first ever pastrami taco, but it was a brilliant idea by Roegels
Tejas Chocolate Craftory – Pork Belly Cue with Poblano and Oaxaca Mac, Mango and Micro Cilantro

Delicious formula by Tejas: Pork Belly + Poblano Mac & Cheese
The Brisket House – Pulled Beef Rib Taco with Homemade Tortilla, Salsa de Molcajete, Mexican Slaw, Queso Fresco and Avocado

The Brisket House stuffed their taco to the rafters with flavor
Tin Roof BBQ [2017 People’s Choice] – Beef Ribs with Hot Bread & Butter Pickles

Tin Roof offered a simple concept, but nailed the execution to earn the People's Choice

Tin Roof took home the People's Choice Award

We saw a tie between El Burro & the Bull and Beaver's for the prestigious Judges' Choice Award

Sunday, April 16, 2017

5th Annual Houston Barbecue Festival

If you’ve spoken to me on the topic, then you know that the Houston Barbecue Throwdown is my favorite barbecue event of all.  Instead of doling out the usual brisket, participants assemble unique offerings for attendees. The creativity displayed at the Throwdown pushes the thought of “brisket fatigue” far from anyone’s mind.

This year’s Houston Barbecue festival took a page from that event as many participants shied away from the common brisket offering.  At times, the 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival really felt like a giant Houston Barbecue Throwdown.  Offerings like Feges’ whole hog (though this is kind of a tradition now) and The Pit Room’s Iberico suckling pigs made for good pictures on social media, but many other participants bucked the beef trend and put together other entries that had people talking.

These events represent a large cost investment for the participating restaurants and there are two thoughts into how to get value from such an event.  We had a few participants that used the event as an opportunity to build their brand and show Houston what they could do. Tejas Chocolate Craftory, for example put together an entire bite sized spread for attendees, showcasing their meats, sides and desserts.  Other participants used the event for R&D and experimented on the hungry masses in the NRG parking lot.  Names like Gatlin’s, Corkscrew, and Killen, for example, are well known commodities, so all three had the opportunity to try something new and get feedback from patrons as well as those on the local food beat. Perhaps, we’ll see some of the items from the weekend pop up on the menu of your favorite joint (Pinkerton's Bacon Wrapped Duck Sausage anyone?).

My main mission this year was to sample the offerings from all 25 attendees.  That mission was a success, however, as usual, some of the joints had different items available for VIP than for the general admission tickets. Pinkerton’s even had a rotating menu throughout the day with a new item available at the top of each hour.  At times, I was chasing down one item and I’d miss out on another, like Gatlin’s smoked red snapper. So, while I sampled all 25 venues, I did miss out on some of their offerings through the day.

With that said, I did snap a few pictures on Sunday, so here’s a bit of the action:


Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
5th Annual Houston Barbecue Festival
Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
The line for VIP Entry at 11:45

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Clockwise from Top Left:
Harlem Road Texas Barbecue: Pork Belly Topped With Gourmet Pickle and Brisket on Sourdough Baguette.
The Pit Room: Iberico Suckling Pig with Coffee Bourbon Sauce
Pappa Charlies (2 plates): Beef Sausage w/ Pimento Cheese and Street Taco w/ Flank Steak & Pineapple/Black Bean Pico
Feges BBQ: Carolina Style Whole Hog w/ Slaw and Patrick's Famous Turducken Sausage
Pinkerton's Barbecue: Bacon Wrapped Duck Poppers (From Rotating Menu)
Roegels Barbecue Co: Beef Rib Pastrami

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Clockwise from Top Left:
Blood Brothers: Togarashi Pulled Beef Sliders w/ Carmelized Onions & SWAT Sauce and Mashed Potatoes
Tejas Chocolate Craftory: Carrot Souffle, Brisket, Pork Belly, Chocolate Panna Cotta
Southern Q (Two Plates): Brisket, Sausage, Boudin & Spicy Cracker and Chocolate Cake
Ray's BBQ Shack: Brisket, Ribs, Fried Corn
Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Fainmous Barbecue: Brisket, Rib, Chicken and Corn

Clockwise from Top Left:
Tin Roof: Beef Shank Barbacoa Tacos
Blake's BBQ & Burgers: Brisket and Sausage
Southside Market: Sausage and Brisket
Brooks' Place: Brisket and Smoked Brown Sugar Bacon
Lenox Barbecue: Brisket, Ribs, Sausage, Potato Salad
Corkscrew Barbecue: Smoked Prime Rib
Brisket House: Brisket and Chipotle Citrus Glazed Baby Back Ribs
El Burro & The Bull: Brisket, Sausage, and Boudin
Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
From Left:
Louie Mueller Barbecue (Two Plates): Lamb Lollipop and Beef Rib in Croissant
Gerardo's: Barbacoa Tacos

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
From Left:
Spring Creek Barbecue: Pork Rib
Killen's Barbecue: Rib and Pork Belly Burnt End

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
From Top:
Gatlin's BBQ: Whole Hog Pulled Pork
Pizzitola's Bar-B-Cue: Brisket, Turkey, Rib
Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Hog Heads set the table at The Pit Room

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Blood Brother's sandwich along with their popular SWAT Sauce

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Pinkerton's Ambitious Rotating Lineup

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Louie Mueller's traditional Lamb Lollipops

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Ronnie Killen manning the pits

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Pinkerton's Barbecue crew

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
The crew from Tejas Chocolate Craftory

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Slicing the DELICIOUS smoked pastrami at Roegel's

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Setting the plate for Roegel's pastrami

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
All of that famous sausage from Southside Market

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Wayne Mueller once again serves the Houston crowds

Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
Corkscrew's Will Buckman representing his Houston brothers with a Blood Bros t shirt
Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
2017 Houston Barbecue Festival at NRG Stadium 
Scenes from 2017 Houston Barbecue Festival
General Admission Crowds at the 5th Annual Houston Barbecue Festival





*All Grades Are Based Solely on the Quality of Texas BBQ Offered at the Joint. We Aren't Looking for Burgers or Catfish!

My Grading Scale:


A = This is some of the finest BBQ you'll find anywhere. It is worth a roadtrip in itself along with any required wait.
B = This is very good BBQ, even if it is over an hour away, consider making the drive.
C = This is just average BBQ but it's worth a stop in a pinch.
D = This is a poor example of Texas BBQ. Even if it's the only place around, skip it. Apologize to any non-Texans that have eaten here.
F = This is not only a bad Texas BBQ, it is probably not suitable for human consumption.

 
BBQ Reviews, Barbecue, Barbeque, Texas BBQ, "Best BBQ in Texas", Best BBQ in Metroplex, Best BBQ in Austin, Brisket, Sausage, Ribs, Pork Ribs, Beef Ribs, "Best Brisket", Barbecue Blog, Barbecue Rating, Lockhart, Luling, Smoked Meat, Smoked Ribs, Smoke...Hey! Stop reading this!