Friday, December 26, 2014

Wagon Wheel BBQ - Ozona

There is not a vast barbecue selection in the region that Ozona occupies.  In fact, there is very little of anything in this region.  I was admittedly a bit hesitant to stop at Wagon Wheel BBQ originally but I was determined to find some BBQ in this stretch of West Texas and this re-purposed gas station seemed to be as good a stop as any.

THE MEATS

I selected a simple pairing of sliced brisket and pork ribs from the menu that also included sausage and chicken.  The meat was pulled from a hodgepodge of warmers adorning the counter and served to me along with a couple of sides and a free helping of peach cobbler.

Two meats and some sides at Wagon Wheel BBQ

To start off, the ribs certainly looked the part with a dark, flecked skin covering a thin ring of pink.  The smoke on these ribs was not immense, but the flavor was clearly influenced by the wood – oak – a surprise for this area.  The ribs were a bit soft, but were still able to hang onto the bone and carry a bit of a chew.  The meat held good moisture throughout and the simple rub showcased the pleasing wood flavor on the bark.  These ribs were well prepared and are perhaps some of the best in this stretch of the state.

The thick slice of brisket surprised me.  The brisket was cut from the fatty end and remained untrimmed.  This is not a bad thing but is unheard of in some stretches of the state.  Unfortunately, there were still some gobs of fat that were not as buttery soft as you would hope for.  I trimmed those pieces manually and shoved them to the side.  Like the ribs, the brisket had traces of smoke and the influence of oak was clear.  The meat held a pleasing moisture and the bark carried a simple rub with a high proportion of thick black pepper.

THE REST

Wagon Wheel is a true old gas station, complete with the key hanging on the wall for the bathroom out back.  There is some seating inside the old convenience store, but at first glance, it does not appear to be very inviting.  The service however is incredibly friendly and completely accommodating.

Wagon Wheel BBQ sits in an old Service Station in Ozona.

The sides were pretty standard and not much to speak of.  The bread however, was homemade and well above what you expect at your typical BBQ stop.  The peach cobbler was also pleasing and a nice complement to the meal.

The sauce, served on the side, is your run of the mill, smoky tomato based mixture.  I did not care for it.

THE VERDICT

Overall, this was a nice find in West Texas.  The ribs were good and even the brisket was above average.  If you are traveling to or from the far stretches of the state, this old gas station is a nice place to fill up.




Address: 1908 Avenue E, Ozona, TX 76943
Phone: 325-392-5401
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday: 11AM - 8PM; Sunday: 12PM - 6PM

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Broussard's Links + Ribs - Beaumont

Broussard’s Links + Ribs BBQ is a local landmark for Beaumont residents.  It has been in business for 30 years and has been in its current location for the last 20 years.  Broussard’s is by no means a secret, and even if it was, the bright green and yellow of the building would seize the attention of any passersby.

I learned a long time ago that just because a place has commendable longevity or an impressive local following, it does not guarantee a good meal.  Sometimes the current proprietors no longer run said joint like grandpa used to or perhaps the locals have just grown accustomed to sub-par barbecue.  Broussard’s had all of the accolades but it was time to hear from the meat.

THE MEATS

A lengthy queue had already formed for lunch by the time I arrived.  I joined the queue and, taking note from the others in line, proceeded to place my order at a window, then waited at a second window to pick my meal up.

Broussard’s is known for their links and, as the sign can attest, their ribs.  I ordered both of these meats along with a helping of brisket.  The meats were prepared and delivered in separate containers.


A delicious garlic link from Broussard's

The link was my starting point as it is Broussard’s most famous meat and was the recommendation that had me standing in line in the first place.  These housemade links are all-beef and are a unique style you find in East Texas.  They are not your typical sausage and are not boudin, but fall somewhere in between.  The thick casings suggest the links be eaten in typical boudin fashion, squeezed from the skin, but the flavor inside is unique.  The delicious meat has very little of the spice you might expect but packs a huge heft of garlic.  Drippings from the greasy links mix the with the sauce that they were served in.  It is a perfect example of an East Texas Link and quite a satisfying one at that.

Saucy and inconsistant links from Broussard's

The ribs were served in the thin housemade sauce that Broussard’s applies to all of their meats.  The ribs were suspiciously hot and I had to wait for them to cool down to not burn my hand.  As I began eating the ribs, I was surprised by the inconsistencies from rib to rib.  The meat fell clean off of the bone on the majority of the ribs, though some hung loosely.   Some bites had appropriate chew while other were unrelentingly tough, still others were like stewed meat place around a bone. The flavor was not bad but the inconsistency from rib to rib was odd.

Broussard's brisket slathered with sauce

In this area, brisket is a wild card and when I saw my beef coated in the deep maroon sauce, I was worried.  Beneath that sauce, however, I found a thin smoke ring bordered by a nice thick, firm crust.  The brisket was actually pretty good, particularly for this area.  The crust was the most flavorful part, showcasing the smoke that had worked on this meat.  The sauce had already covered the rest of the slices and though it did not carry an overwhelming flavor, it still overshadowed the smokiness of the meat with a tomato tang.  I did not dislike the sauce but I always prefer the meat to stand on its own.  However, I can imagine this brisket could dry out without the aid of the thin sauce.

THE REST

As I mentioned above, the sauce is thin and used liberally.  Thankfully it’s a less intrusive sauce than most I have encountered.  The sauce is tangy but the sweet flavor of tomatoes is also evident.  By my definition, Broussard’s is a “slatherer,” but in this situation I get it.  I would prefer the meats served without the sauce but this deep maroon concoction does complement the meat rather appropriately.

The unmistakable green and yellow building that is Broussard's.

Broussard’s is about as divey as it gets.  You park in a gravel parking lot and order from a window of a green and yellow shack.  There is on-site dining that appropriately consists of a covered picnic area, though most orders are taken to go.

THE VERDICT

The links at Broussard’s deserve the top billing and should not be sharing the marquee with the ribs.  The links are the star that drive people to this joint.  They are so unique that you will find yourself craving these delicious garlic packed links after your first taste.  It is very hard to find a substitution for Broussard’s offering.  The brisket does fine in its supporting role but the ribs flopped.  With the pride Broussard’s has in the ribs, they may be worth a hesitant second try.

The popularity and longevity of Broussard’s in the community; I get it.  They have hooked the locals with these links, ensuring a steady flow of patrons and plenty of word-of-mouth referrals.



Address:2930 S 11th St, Beaumont, TX 77701
Phone: 409-842-1221
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday: 10:30AM - 8PM

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Kerlin BBQ - Austin

The center of the Texas barbecue world has traditionally been Lockhart.  However, there is little doubt that the epicenter has moved to Austin.  If you had to mark a ground zero for Texas BBQ within that Austin epicenter, it would probably be somewhere near Kerlin BBQ.  Kerlin BBQ set up shop just over a year ago in the crowded Austin barbecue market.  They sit between two of the state’s heavyweights in La Barbecue and John Mueller Meat Company and only about a mile from Franklin Barbecue.  In the span of a year, Kerlin has managed to forge their own name and garner the respect of the city. 
THE MEATS

Orders are placed at a small, rather unremarkable trailer that sits in a primitive lot in East Austin.  The meat is cut as the order is placed.  A second trailer sits nearby and serves as a screened in smokehouse where the meat is prepared.  I opted for a spread of brisket, sausage, pork ribs and a beef rib.  My order was prepared and I was called back to the trailer to collect my meats.

A spread of meats from Kerlin BBQ in East Austin

The strips of gorgeous brisket begged to be the first sample.  I obliged and was instantly wowed.  The brisket featured a simple salt and pepper rub and a deep black and well established crust.  Smoke blessed this meat with wonderful flavor.  The perfectly rendered fat made for a deliciously juicy bite.  The slices held together well but pulled apart with ease.  This was grade A brisket that could easily stand up against either of the Mueller family neighbors on their best day.

The link of sausage was also very good.  In fact, it is one of my new favorites in the state.  The link is not Kerlin’s but comes from nearby Smokey Denmark’s Smoked Meats Co.  Each bite revealed a perfect snap and plenty of juice.  The flavor is very good and features a good amount of spice.

The small St. Louis style pork ribs hold a course rub matted to the sweet glaze.  The ribs carry some smoke but the peppery sweetness of the glaze was the prevailing flavor.  The meat held well to the bone but easily yielded to each bite.  Unfortunately the ribs were a little too dry on this specific day.  They are certainly above average, but really did not stand out over some of Austin’s other stars.

The beef rib was by the book.  The fat was well rendered and meat was tender throughout.  The beef contained plenty of moisture thanks to the abundance of dripping fat.  The texture was just about perfect.  The meat was very lightly seasoned and lacked deep flavor.  I would have liked a bit more salt and pepper to aid the traces of smoke.

THE REST

As is the tradition in the new Austin regime, the sides come as carefully crafted as the meats.  The menu features items like Jalapeno Dill Potato Salad, Smoked Corn with Chipotle Butter and Queso Fresco, along with a Blue Cheese Coleslaw.  Also notable are the delicious homemade pickles.  These pickles were actually more cucumber than pickle, combining a deceptive cool flavor with a lingering bite of spice.

The thin homemade sauce carried a stronger vinegar tang than the pickles had and was balanced with a touch of sweetness along with the slight bite of pepper.  It was not a bad sauce and provided a nice companion for the bread on the side of my plate.

You may have to search for Kerlin a bit as it is hidden among the unkempt business along Cesar Chavez bearing names like Pinata Party Palace.  Once you manage to find a parking spot (and double check that your doors are locked), you will find Kerlin’s lot to be large and accommodating with plenty of picnic table seating and a Texas Country soundtrack.  And although you can easily find a barbecue line that stretches down the street in Austin, there was no wait for barbecue at Kerlin on this Friday at noon.

THE VERDICT

Even on the Austin barbecue scale, the most stringent of all Barbecue standards, Kerlin BBQ is a can’t miss.  The brisket is some of the finest you’ll find anywhere and the other meats do Austin proud as well.  From the main course to the sides, there is little you can find to complain about here.  Expect the Kerlin name to continue to grow along with the lines.  Even in the midst of other must-visit East Austin BBQ joints, Kerlin proves itself to also be a must-visit.




*Note: Since writing this, Kerlin has scaled back their Barbecue business and focused on their booming "Kolache" demand.  Kolache options range from "Smoked mushroom, carmelized onion & gouda" to "Brisket & Cheddar."  Kolaches are available Wednesday - Sunday. Barbecue hours were Fridays only, but have now been expanded to Saturdays and Sundays as well.


Address: 1700 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX 78702

Phone: 512-412-5588
Hours: Barbecue: Friday - Sunday: 11AM - 2PM (or sold out)
           Kolaches: Wednesday - Sunday: 9AM - 2PM (or sold out)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Lockhart Smokehouse - Plano

Earlier this year, Lockhart Smokehouse opened a second location in the Metroplex.  The original Oak Cliff location is near perfect in transporting the taste of Central Texas up to Dallas.  Lockhart Smokehouse does, after all, have the Schmidt family name (of Kreuz Market) to uphold.  The popularity of the original led them to open this new location in Plano.  I was anxious to see if they could capture the brilliance of the original location and that taste of Central Texas Barbecue.
THE MEATS

My order included a sampling of the stars: Brisket, Shoulder Clod, Pork Ribs, and that famous Kreuz sausage.  The order was wrapped in butcher paper for transport to my table.

The spread of meats from Plano's Lockhart Smokehouse

The brisket certainly looked the part as I unwrapped the greasy paper.  It was served with a nice layer of sweet, well-rendered fat.  The meat had a rough bark covering it but unfortunately not much smoke penetrated to the meat.  The fat held some moisture to the meat but sadly, aside from it, the brisket was rather dull and missed the lofty heights the Dallas location has achieved with its beef.

The shoulder clod is a somewhat unique offering that was carried over from the tradition of Kreuz Market.  The quality of the clod clearly beat out the brisket today.  The clod is a much leaner slice of meat and this cut was buttery tender.  This meat held great smoke and plenty of flavor.  Clod cannot replace brisket for me, but this is a very easy meat to enjoy.

The pork ribs were the low-point of my visit. Lockhart Smokehouse goes simple on the rub and a few flecks of pepper adorned the ribs.  Unfortunately the meat itself did not provide much flavor either.  The ribs lacked smoke and bored my tastebuds.  The meat was quite tough and it took a bit of work to pull the meat apart.  Even worse was the chewy fat that remained unrendered on the ribs.  These pork ribs needed more time for the smoke to work its magic.

The sausage is exactly what you would expect.  The tasty links of Kreuz Sausage come directly from the city of Lockhart.  These links were perfectly prepared.  The snap of the skin revealed tons of juice and the flavor you crave from the Kreuz links.

THE REST

Straying from the tradition of Kreuz, Lockhart Smokehouse offers utensils and even barbecue sauce at the condiment table.  The sauce is a somewhat sweet concoction with a black pepper bite.  Homemade spicy pickles are also available and you should not leave the Smokehouse without sampling these delicious accompaniments (I went back for seconds). 

The sides are not the typical barbecue joint afterthought.  These offerings are unique twists on standard favorites.  The Lockhart Slaw introduces jalapeƱo into a fresh, crispy slaw.  The Smoked Baked Beans are very good and have quite a bite.  The Mac and Cheese is above average and is certainly not short on cheese.  The star of the side dishes on this visit was actually a dessert.  I just could not pass up the Whiskey S’more Bread Pudding.  The hot, gooey dessert was absolutely delicious.

Lockhart Smokehouse's delicious sounding Whiskey S’more Bread Pudding

The interior of Lockkhart Smokehouse iship space, but much smaller than the other location.  Small tables sit on a wood floor in the narrow dining area.  A long bar serving cocktails and craft beer is the centerpiece of the downstairs area.  Available seating also sits perched in a loft area on the second floor, behind the small ordering counter.  The atmosphere makes this a cool spot to spend some time, especially at night.  They keep the meat coming all day and I am told that this location rarely runs out before closing time, making this a great dinner spot.

Lockhart Smokehouse in Plano

THE VERDICT

Overall this Lockhart experience did not approach the greatness achieved by the Oak Cliff location.  The clod, sausage and sides were all on point.  However the brisket struggled and the pork ribs fell completely flat.  Still, in this area short on good barbecue options, Lockhart Smokehouse fills a needed void.  I believe (and hope) that I came on an off night and I saw enough to warrant a return trip.  If I was a local, I would be thrilled about the addition of Lockhart Smokehouse to my neighborhood.



Address: 1026 East 15th Street, Plano, TX 75074
Phone: 972-516-8900
Hours: Every Day: 11AM - 12AM (or sold out)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Big House Bar BQ - Kingsville

Big House Bar BQ is a spin off of Big House Burgers, a successful pair of burger joints in Kingsville and Alice.  The BBQ Joint has been open for five years and it is apparent that the owners know a little something about succeeding in the competitive world of entrepreneurship.

Big House is a full service, sit-down restaurant.  Our waiter brought us menus and despite the variety of selections, I was convinced to try the BBQ to see if it deserved top billing at this joint.  The barbecue menu was very simple, offering multi-meat plates with choices of brisket, pork ribs, sausage and sliced pork.  Chicken, beef ribs and smoked fajitas were also available as their own plates.  There was no option to order by the pound and I opted for a plate of brisket, pork ribs and sausage.
THE MEATS

The waiter returned almost instantly with my order of three meats and thankfully kept the sauce appropriately isolated in its own dish.

A trio of meats from Big House Bar BQ


The rib stood out on the place, so chose to begin my meal there.  This was a straightforward and simple rib, unsauced and lightly seasoned with salt.  There was not much of a crust and the simplicity revealed the bite of mesquite flavor.  The meat was a bit dry but the flavor was good enough.

The crust of the brisket was well formed and even a bit crispy.  The rub revealed itself to be heavy on the salt.  This thick cut of beef was dry, making it a chore to chew through.  There was a sliver of well rendered fat that carried a channel of flavor through the meat.  Otherwise the meat was dry and tasteless.

The sausage was very poorly done.  The skin was tough to bite through and separated from the chewy meat.  This meat needed more time but still would have been a very average peppery link.

THE REST

The sides Big House offered came with unlimited refills.  However, none that I sampled were worth a second helping.  My sides were standard pinto beans along with sweet corn.  I learned that the potato salad was the popular side but I did not try it.

The sauce was a bit thicker and thankfully strayed from the normal BBQ Sauce recipe.  It was tasty tomato based sauce with hints of onion and other seasonings.  With a few more ingredients, this could have been confused with a bisque.

Though it is not the norm in most barbecue joints, the full service was appreciated.  The wait staff were amazingly attentive and very prompt.

Big House Bar BQ in Kingsville


THE VERDICT

The mesquite smoked barbecue at Big House could not hit the mark for me.  The pork ribs were clearly the high point while the other meats I tried were below average.  In some barbecue joints, having too much on the menu can spread the operation too thin.  The variety of the menu at Big House, however, seems to be working in its favor.  I do not think, even in South Texas, the ‘cue offered here would consistently draw patrons without the steaks and other offerings.  This is not a bad restaurant, it is just not particularly good barbecue.



Address: 109 S Hwy 77 Bypass Kingsville, TX
Phone: 361-592-0333
Hours: Sunday: 11AM - 9PM; Monday - Saturday: 11AM - 10PM

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Smoke - Dallas

Smoke has been on my radar for quite a while but this is not the kind of place that you can just tuck into a BBQ Adventure.  The class and spectacle of Smoke begs you to make a night of it.  I finally had a night available to dedicate to visiting Smoke.

Smoke has a great menu that features what I would call “New Texas” cuisine.  It is a meat heavy menu that takes traditional Texas flavors and offers a twist.  Several items were intriguing but we were here for the barbecue. 

THE MEATS

We made our selections of the smoked sausage, the coffee cured beef brisket and the BBQ pork spare ribs.

Smoked Sausage appetizer from Smoke - Dallas

The house-made sausage came out as an appetizer.  The presentation was top notch as each of the four slices were marked with small flags noting the type of animal they came from: pig, lamb, cow, rabbit.  The pork was the winner of the plate.  This Andouille sausage had a slight bite to it.  The lamb was good as well and featured light mint notes.  The beef sausage was a little too heavy on the fennel for my liking, giving it a heavy licorice flavor.  The rabbit was expectedly dry and rather un-notable.

Sliced Brisket sits on a pile of Chopped Brisket at Smoke Dallas

The main course of coffee cured brisket came out in two forms.  Two slices of brisket were draped over a helping of chopped beef.  The slices of beef carried a sliver of delicious well rendered fat.  The meat itself was rather dry and surprisingly did not carry much smoke.  The coffee also did not influence the flavor as the crust did not carry any sort of coffee notes.  The chopped brisket was also dry but it was infused with more smoke than the slices carried.  Honestly, other than the presentation, there was little separating this brisket from run-of-the-mill places around the state.
The pork ribs at Smoke - Dallas

The spare ribs carried a glaze over a loose rub.  There was not really any crust on these ribs and the glaze and seasonings mixed for a displeasing grainy texture.  The glaze offered a slight sweetness that was distracted by the other seasonings.  They were trying to do too much with this rib.  The meat was firm and required quite a bit of pull to free the meat from the bone.  Though the rib did carry a bit of smoke, this was not a very enjoyable rib.

THE REST

The meats were served with a selection of four house sauces.  I sampled the Carolina influenced sauces of mustard/horseradish and spicy vinegar.  I did not have the necessary pulled pork to give them a fair shake, but found them rather un-notable.  The sauce described as the “Texas Sauce” had a slight spice but was pretty bland.  The other sauce, a tomato based concoction, may have been the best one but they all seemed pretty dull.

Our entrees came with some mac & cheese and potato salad along with garnishment of pickled green beans and bread & butter pickles.  The sides were welcomed and tasted fine.  Other sides of interest on the menu included crispy German potatoes and hominy casserole.

While the BBQ was a miss, there is still a menu of other intriguing dishes such as the cabrito & masa, chicken tamales and the bricked Cornish hen.  Other barbecue dishes included pulled whole hog, a smoked pork chop and “The Big Rib,” a beef rib adorned with chimichurri.  The best sounding menu of all may be the brunch menu that features a heavy amount of smoked meats.

The drinks are another focus at Smoke.  Some cocktails included house-infusions of cedar wood tequila and maple wood whiskey.
SMOKE spelled out prominently outside Smoke Dallas

Smoke is located next to the Belmont Hotel and $5 valet parking is the only option I found that did not require a degree of hassle.  The atmosphere inside is upscale, but not pretentiously so.  It’s a hip place with plenty of tables scattered around the central bar.  Service is friendly and attentive.

THE VERDICT

After fabulous experiences at places like Lambert’s and Woodshed Smokehouse, I was very disappointed with Smoke.  The menu itself is terrific, but the execution was far from it.  Despite the prominent “SMOKE” signage outside the building, the smoke on the dishes inside the building was an afterthought.  The sausage sampling plate was the highpoint on this visit and the average brisket beat out the pork ribs.  The presentation was fancy, but this was very average barbecue at a premium price.  The promising brunch menu and a set of enjoyable companions is probably the only thing that would draw me back into Smoke.


Address: 901 Fort Worth Ave, Dallas, TX 75208
Phone: 214-393-4141
Hours: Sunday - Thursday: 8AM - 10PM; Friday - Saturday: 8AM - 11PM

Friday, September 26, 2014

Opie's BBQ - Spicewood

It may surprise some to hear that Opie’s BBQ has appeared on Texas Monthly’s Top 50 List twice (2008, 2013).  Perhaps because of their location in Spicewood, just outside the traditional Texas BBQ footprint, Opie’s does not seem to garner the statewide name recognition or respect that a two-time Top 50 joint should have.  Even so, it is evident that Opie’s has won the hearts of those that travel down this stretch of Highway 71 as the joint was packed during my Wednesday lunchtime visit.

THE MEATS

Opie’s offers a bridge from Central Texas BBQ to West Texas BBQ.  Typical of West Texas joints, the wood of choice at Opie’s is mesquite and the spread of meats are presented on a large warming pit.  Despite the presence of the direct heat pit, these meats are smoked indirectly in the Central Texas style.  The briskets specifically are smoked overnight in a couple of Oyler smokers.  I enjoy the presentation that warming pits provide and at Opie’s, that is your first stop.  I made my selection of brisket, pork spare ribs and regular sausage from the pit then settled in for lunch.

The spread of meats in Opie's pit

Opie's BBQ: Brisket, Pork Ribs, Sausage

My moist cut of brisket benefitted from a decent amount of smoke.  The lightly seasoned crust revealed a prevailing flavor of mesquite smokiness.  The tender meat had great moisture throughout.  This is a good brisket but not quite great.

The thin spare ribs featured a coarse, flavorful crust highlighted by black pepper.  The meat itself held tons of smoke and each juicy bite carried plenty of moisture.  The meat pulled easily from the bone.

The house link of sausage carried a ton of pepper with a good bit of spice.  There was a nice snap to the casing.  It was a pretty typical but very enjoyable link.
  
I was very tempted to order a half rack of the Sweet and Spicy Baby Back Ribs but my plate was already full.  The sticky looking ribs were very attractive but they would have to wait for another visit.  The chicken, pork chops and pork loin were the other meats on the menu absent from my plate.  Opie's also offers pulled pork Friday through Sunday.

THE REST

In addition to the meats, Opie’s features plenty of popular side dishes including spicy corn and the always free Pinto Beans.  The desserts, including multiple cobblers and a “Coca Cola Cake” are also wildly popular.

Scattered tables fill the open dining area.  It is large enough to accommodate a crowd, which is appropriate because they seem to draw quite a crowd.  At the center of the dining area is the self-serve bar with the standard dressing of pickles, onions, jalapenos, sauce and bread along with those free pinto beans.  The sauce is a thin and tangy concoction with a little heat on the back end.

Opie’s has posted closing times but that does not mean that they’ll have their full menu available until closing and it is quite possible they sell out completely before close.  A couple of months ago, I took a gamble and swung by Opie’s at 7:00PM to see what would be available.  Proprietor Todd Ashmore met me in the parking lot to break the news that they had sold out earlier and were closed for the day.

Opie's BBQ in Spicewood, Texas

THE VERDICT

It is evident that those at Opie’s take great pride in their product.  The staff patrols the dining area to ensure that you are satisfied.  I was certainly satisfied on this visit.  Opie’s is serving some solid BBQ across the board.

The brisket is probably the high point and while the pork ribs that I tried were good, I coveted those baby backs.  There is plenty of reason to return to Opie’s, but the possibility of sampling the Sweet and Spicy Baby Back Ribs is at the top of my list.



Address: 9504 Texas 71, Spicewood, TX 78669
Phone: 830-693-8660
Hours: Monday – Tuesday: 11AM – 4PM; Wednesday Thursday: 11AM 7PM; Friday – Saturday: 11AM – 8PM; Sunday: 11AM 7PM

Saturday, September 20, 2014

On The Side: 2014 TMBBQ Fest

On Sunday, Texas Monthly held their 5th annual TMBBQ Fest.  There were 25 top BBQ Joints in attendance from all over this great state.  It was truly a Who’s Who of Pitmasters.

VIP Ticketholders gain admission an hour early to the festival.  This is called the “Golden Hour,” a time in which you are blessed with shorter lines, more talkative pitmasters and plenty of room to move around.  The VIP Ticket is worth the price just for this early entry.  The advised strategy for the Golden Hour is to maximize your stops by hitting as many places as you can without waiting in line.  This battle plan is definitely effective.  I prioritized the list of vendors in attendance and allowed plenty of wiggle room in my day (conversely my pants did not have much wiggle room at the end of the day).

A view of the lower level of TMBBQ Fest 2014
A view of the lower level, featuring 8 of the joints.  The area filled up once General Admission was allowed in.
I had previously visited 23 of the 25 joints in attendance so this event was like a meat mixtape.  I was familiar with the other two, The Granary and Buzzie’s, but had not had the chance to visit their locations.  I prioritized them high on my list and was excited to try them. 

At the bottom of my prioritized list was Snow’s.  Snow’s is one of my favorites but I am basically a regular there, I know exactly what to expect and honestly, I will probably be eating there again within the next few weeks.  I also expected them to have one of the longest lines at the festival and I was spot on.

The longest line of the festival was no surprise: Franklin BBQ.  It was evident that a lot of thought went into positioning the vendors to maximize space and traffic flow.  Wisely, Franklin was positioned to allow a lengthy queue to form without blocking entry to any other festival booths.  A line formed immediately at Franklin and lengthened through the day.  Impressively, Aaron was still reportedly cutting meat when the festival ended at 4PM.

Aaron Franklin cutting meat at TMBBQ Fest
Aaron Franklin was still cutting past closing time
John Lewis of La BBQ at TMBBQ Fest
John Lewis of LA BBQ stayed busy throughout the day
The booths that drew the longest of lines were (in descending order): Franklin, Snow’s, LA BBQ, Black’s and Louie Mueller.  I was surprised that Pecan Lodge and Killen’s did not have consistently longer lines.

We succeeded in hitting 22 joints in the first hour.  We managed to get to Louie Mueller early, before the line exploded, and skipped all of the other lengthy waits before finally circling back around to Franklin to cap off our day just before the first hour expired.  The wait for Franklin was about 20 minutes, but that was much shorter than it would be once General Admission was allowed in.  And even the General Admission wait was a better deal than you’d get on any given day at Franklin BBQ. 

Two Bros and Lambert's at TMBBQ Fest
The festival was laid out well, allowing lines to form without blocking other vendors
 Though we strategically missed 3 of my favorites in Snow’s, LA BBQ and Black’s, I counted it as a successful day.  Honestly, we could have invested the last 3 hours and definitely finished the list off, but by that time we were miserably full of meat.  If it was a struggle to eat Franklin’s brisket, nothing else stood a chance.

At most stops, you were given the standard Texas Trinity with a healthy cut of brisket, a selection of sausage and a pork rib.  There were stops that piled up the brisket with cuts from both the point and the flat and those that offered entire sausage links. 

Miller's Smokehouse at TMBBQ Fest
Miller's Smokehouse had some of the finest brisket of the day
Hutchins BBQ at TMBBQ Fest
A trio of quality meats offered by Hutchins BBQ 

Franklin BBQ at TMBBQ Fest
Franklin BBQ's spread included brisket, pulled pork and turkey
There was also a variety of other featured meats at certain stops, including pulled pork, turkey, and beef ribs.  Some of the more unique items being distributed were Smoked Pork Belly from The Granary and “Lamb Lollipops” from Louie Mueller.

Louie Mueller's offerings at 2014 TMBBQ Fest
Louie Mueller had Lamb Lollipops alongside their other meats.
Meats and Corn Pudding from Stiles Switch
Stiles Switch brought along some of their fantastic corn pudding
I say all of that to convey the point that there was A LOT OF MEAT.  I made the mistake early of trying to eat everything that was handed to me at each of the stations we visited.  You are not going to be able to keep up that pace and visit many spots.  After learning that lesson, I began splitting food at each stop with my fellow adventurers.  By the end of the day, I was still miserably stuffed but I made it to all of the spots I had wanted to visit.

Tyler's BBQ at TMBBQ Fest
The entire state was represented as joints like Tyler's and Pody's travelled from afar
 The most genius thing I observed (and filed away for future reference) were people that had trays ranging from large Tupperware lids to pizza boxes.  They collected each meat, labelled the joint it came from and had space for notes on the container.  After a wave of stops, they could return to a table to enjoy their spoils and discuss the selection of meats.

Overall, the joints met expectations with very few surprises.  The only wildcards were the two joints I had not had the pleasure of visiting “in the wild.”  Both Buzzie’s and The Granary were well respected and had lofty enough quality to be invited to this meat hall of fame, so there was no doubt they would be good.

Buzzie’s was intentionally my first stop of the day.  They offered the standard fare of brisket, sausage and ribs.  Unfortunately the brisket was underdone and was shockingly the only joint I encountered that served their meat smothered in sauce.  This is not a fair venue to rate their meat so Buzzie’s remains at the top of my “To Do” List.

Buzzie's BBQ at TMBBQ Fest
Buzzie's offered two types of sausage along with ribs and brisket.


Admittedly, this festival is not the ideal setting for what The Granary offers.  It’s notable that The Granary brought one of the more unique dishes as they served Smoked Pork Belly with Jicama Slaw.  I’ve had better pork belly at Killen’s, but I have admired The Granary’s menu for a while and look forward to my visit to their location in San Antonio. 

The Granary's booth at TMBBQ Fest
The Granary only offered Cue, no Brew.
There was an immeasurable amount of BBQ knowledge in attendance but the real purpose of the festival is to chow down on the smoked handiwork of these artists.  It is as much of a cultural experience as it is a celebration of gastronomy.

Overall TMBBQ Fest is a great time and should certainly be a Bucket List type of experience for Texans.  For other enthusiasts, it is an annual pilgrimage.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Petty’s BBQ - Killeen

The folks at Petty’s BBQ call themselves “Smoke Masters.”  I was anxious to see what the masters of smoke had to offer me at lunchtime.

THE MEATS

I ordered a three meat plate and made myself at home while the meat was cut and the plate was assembled behind the counter.

A good lookin' three meat plate at Petty's BBQ


The meats were simply seasoned with salt and pepper, with a heavy emphasis on the pepper.  The brisket had plenty of good smoke contributing to a nice flavor but it was very dry.  There was a layer of well rendered fat that tried its best to cling on to the dry meat.  The meat crumbled as I tried to pick the slices up.  This meat had good flavor, but it was just too dry and would not hold together.  I ended up shoveling it in my mouth by the handful.

The ribs were very good.  They too carried plenty of smoke but did not suffer from the dryness of the brisket.  This meat held plenty of moisture and carried a nice tug.  The black pepper played a role alongside the smoke to bring this meat to life.

I selected the spicy variety of sausage and it was just fine.  These were pretty standard links cut methodically on my plate.  The links carried a hint of spice and a nice snap.

THE REST

There was not much to the interior of Petty’s.  There were a handful of tableclothed picnic tables in the narrow dining area.  The atmosphere was set by a noisy episode of "Family Guy" playing on the TV mounted on the wall by the entrance.

Petty’s had an oddly diverse selection of sauces spread about the dining area.  The sauces carried names such as “Mustard”, “Regular”, “Spicy”, “Dr. Pepper” and “Root Beer”.  I sampled a few to satisfy my curiosity and I found them to be very thin and lacking in flavor.

The green beans carried some pleasant spice and were good enough to warrant a mention.  Cornbread is always a nice alternative to white bread at a BBQ Joint.  Unfortunately the flat corn muffin on my plate was disappointing.

THE VERDICT

Today’s ribs were on point and were the absolute highlight of the stop.  I would really like to try the brisket on a better day because it contained the deep smoky quality you want in the meat, but was regrettably dry.  Still, Petty’s is doing some great stuff with their smoke and is a worthy stop as one of the best joints in this area. 



Address: 1104 Kathey Dr, Killeen, TX 76542
Phone: 254-432-7388
Hours: Tuesday – Thursday: 11AM – 8PM; Friday – Saturday: 11AM – 9PM

Friday, September 5, 2014

King's Kitchen - Conroe

I understand that you should certainly manage your expectations when sampling BBQ in certain settings.  You are not going to find A+ meats at the marching band fund raiser in the high school parking lot.  Those are also certainly not going to be the types of places that I am going to review.  
However, like New Zion in Huntsville, West Tabernacle Church operates a full functioning restaurant during the week, and therefore, I am going to treat it as such.

I have driven by this church for years, noticing the attention-grabbing “BBQ” flags flying out front along with the signs advertising lunch.  I have heard good reviews of their catfish (and their unbeatable prices) but I could not find anyone that had ever actually tried the BBQ.  After several years, I finally took it upon myself to sample the 'cue.

THE MEATS

The buffet line inside includes home-cooked entrees along with vegetables.  The BBQ is ordered separately at the counter, then assembled in the kitchen by the busy volunteers.  I ordered the two options they had for BBQ seekers: pork ribs and brisket.

Not for the squeamish: The worst BBQ I have ever encountered.

I received some of the most un-natural looking meats I have ever encountered.  Additionally, these meats were smothered in a thick layer of warmed Kraft Hickory BBQ Sauce.

The undercooked brisket was the worst I have ever seen and it tasted even worse.  This was not just bad according to my lofty Texas BBQ scale, it would be offensive to anyone with tastebuds.  The meat went gray on the edge to pink in the center, signalling that this meat in no way had been prepared properly.  The rubbery meat was cold and dry from sitting on the cutting board.  There obviously was not a lick of smoke on the meat.

The pork ribs were also terrible. Like the brisket, the rib had not encountered any smoke in its lifetime.  The meat itself fell from of the bone as the thin black skin flaked away.  


The meats swam in the Kraft Hickory sauce and oddly, as repulsive as I find that sauce, it was by far the best thing on the plate.  It was obvious that these people thought that covering a meat in sauce made it "barbecue."

THE REST

The dining area is a large room attached to a kitchen overfilled with big, round tables.  The church calls this operation "King's Kitchen."  The buffet is the popular option and is self-serve.  The spread of pork chops, catfish and vegetables looks pretty appetizing and is reminiscent of an old fashioned church lunch.  The diverse selection of local diners all seemed to be enjoying their selections from the buffet much more than I enjoyed my meal.  The prices were hard to beat as well, with each meal totaling about $6.00.
THE VERDICT

Though advertised as barbecue, the meats offered here had no similarity to actual barbecue.  Beyond that fact, this meat was some of the worst food I have ever tasted.  Most of it went in the trash along with the Styrofoam plate it was served on.

Years ago, Franklin BBQ made me re-evaluate my BBQ rating scale.  It set a new standard for how amazingly good Texas BBQ can be.  I am afraid that this meal had the same effect on me, making me realize how nauseatingly bad these cuts of meat could get.

It is important to note that as a church, West Tabernacle does deliver a powerful sermon with their BBQ. This meat alone proves we live in a fallen and sinful world.





Address: 1900 W. FM 2854, Conroe, TX 77304
Phone:  936-441-8688
Hours: Tuesday – Wednesday: 11AM – 3PM; Thursday – Friday: 11AM – 7PM

Monday, September 1, 2014

Schmidt Family Barbecue - Bee Cave

Schmidt Family Barbecue is aptly name as the family involvement is just as notable as the barbecue.  This joint is a collaboration between Kreuz and Smitty's, both from the legendary Lockhart BBQ family.  The intention here is to bring the taste of Lockhart to the west side of Austin.  They have had to make certain concessions for the suburban patrons.  Shoulder Clod is no longer on the menu, Sauce is readily available and they serve up plenty of requested lean cuts of brisket.

THE MEATS

The smell from the parking lot was intoxicating and I was ready to sample all of the meat I could.  I opted for a fatty cut of brisket, the pork ribs, sausage, and a beef rib that is only available on the weekend.

The spread of meats at Schmidt Family Barbecue

The brisket featured a great looking, very well formed crust that carried a simple rub. Each slice featured a nice amount of well rendered fat.  The meat had decent moisture and good flavor, though not as much smoke as I expected.  Each bite had a bit more tug than I would like but this was pretty good brisket.

The pork ribs were simply terrific.  The ribs had a nice bark and the rub held a bit of spiciness.  Each bite featured some spice and I liked that.  The meat held a ton of delicious juiciness.  These ribs had plenty of smoke and were fantastic.  If I had to complain, I would note that the meat held onto the bone a bit too much.  But honestly, I really, really liked these ribs.

The beef rib weighed in at about .75 pound.  Much of the rib was pretty dry, though the well rendered fat did hide some good moist pieces of meat.  The rib had a simple rub but there was just too much salt on this meat.  Each bite was overly salty and that taste overwhelmed most of the other flavor.  Overall this rib was not bad, but was honestly a bit disappointing.

Schmidt features that famous Kreuz sausage so you know exactly what to expect.  The beef links held flecks of pepper inside.  The links were well prepared and had a nice snap.

THE REST

The cold sauce was a concoction of contrasting flavors and was just too busy for my tastebuds to appreciate.  I did not care for the sauce, but these meats are strong enough to stand on their own.

Schmidt carries an expanded menu Friday through Sunday which includes Boneless Prime Rib, Beef Ribs, Bone-In Pork Chop and Smoked Ham.  I opted for the Beef Rib on this trip, but fully intend to try some of the other enticing offerings. Schmidt is also open early serving various breakfast tacos for the morning commute.

Schmidt Family Barbecue sits in a modern building.  It might look out of place in Lockhart but it fits in perfectly in this Bee Cave shopping center.  The Schmidt dining area is large and rather plain.  There is plenty of room to dine in, however they also features a separate entrance for Call In orders.  Both areas were busy during this Sunday visit and Schmidt is certainly moving a lot of product.


Schmidt Barbecue sits in a brand new building

THE VERDICT

Schmidt Family Barbecue is a very good spot for those separated from Lockhart by the Austin sprawl.  Schmidt offers some fantastic pork ribs along with solid brisket and the always ever-pleasing Kreuz links.

Grade: B++


Address: 12532 FM 244
Phone: 512-263-4060
Hours: Sunday: 11AM - 8PM; Monday - Saturday: 11AM - 9PM
http://www.schmidtfamilybarbecue.com/



*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.

 
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