Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Salt Lick - Driftwood

Whenever I am introduced to somebody, it sometimes goes like this: “This is Chris, he likes BBQ.”  I have other redeeming qualities but it never fails that when I am introduced as Barbecue Guy, it is responded to with a “Oh, you like BBQ? Let me tell you about this place called ‘The Salt Lick’.”

Of course I have heard about The Salt Lick.  Even people that aren’t into smoked meat have heard about the place.  After all, the place is probably the largest BBQ joint in Texas.  I have always assumed The Salt Lick to be over-rated, but it has bothered me as a snob that I have not been able to respond with a educated opinion based on my own experience.  If we are being honest, that is the reason I made a special trip to The Salt Lick.


Our waitress brought us menus and I opted for the Thurman’s Choice on the menu, which is my typical order anyway: “Brisket, Pork Ribs, Sausage (No Substitutions!)”.  It was delivered rather quickly, drizzled with a bit of sauce.

The meats looked pretty standard sitting on the plate, though I will know next time to request no sauce.

Thurman's Choice: Brisket, Sausage, Pork Rib

The sausage was good.  It was well prepared with a nice snap and an almost crispy skin.  There was a slight spice from the black pepper influenced filling.

The brisket was very lean and quite well trimmed.  The meat came out with a well formed crust featuring a very simple rub.  The simple rub allowed the flavor of the meat and smoke to shine through.  Unfortunately that meat was very dry.  Even as sauce-adverse as I am, towards the end of the meal, I appreciated the drizzling the brisket had simply because it provided some moisture on the meat.

The pork rib was the high point today with a simple rub that featured more black pepper than the brisket had.  This meat was well smoked and carried a great texture with a perfect amount of tug.  The ribs carried a nice smokiness that were distracted by the unnecessary drizzle of sauce.


The setting of this joint is iconic.  The Salt Lick has a huge plot that they fill up with patrons.  Live Music and a BYOB policy helps those lengthy waits seem shorter.  The menu offers family style dining options with all you can eat meats.  For tourists, I am sure that this is what Texas is all about.

The iconic shot of the selection of smoked meats at The Salt Lick

The Salt Lick offers two sauces on the table.  The standard sauce is what comes drizzled on your meats unless you request otherwise.  The spicy sauce has a nearly identical flavor profile with a hint of heat.  Both are sweet and vinegary mustard-based sauces.  They are not my favorite but they are unique and tasted good with the great bread and actually helped the brisket to some extent.

The sides are better than your typical joint.  The German style potato salad was the standout of the group.


Overall, I was honestly impressed.  Yes, The Salt Lick is overrated.  But they are actually serving some pretty good Texas BBQ.  The meats are obviously being smoked correctly without any evident shortcuts.  None of the meats are in the top 10% of their category but the pork ribs and sausage are both pretty strong.  The brisket is respectable, but if it weren’t so dry, this meat has the potential of being excellent.

There is a ton of atmosphere here and the joint is built for socializing.  Still, if I had a group to take out, I would not make a special trip to Salt Lick because there are better options that are more accessible.  I’ll take great food and decent atmosphere over the decent food and great atmosphere of Salt Lick every day. 

Address: 18300 FM 1826, Driftwood, TX 78619
Phone: 512-858-4959

Monday, August 18, 2014

Backyard BBQ – Belton

When I pulled up to the address of Backyard BBQ in Morgan’s Point, the place seemed abandoned.  As I investigated more closely, I found a sign that pointed to the back of the building for BBQ.  This is a completely hidden but bustling little joint behind the Lone Star Banquet Hall.

I had several recommendations for this place and observed several groups dining in.  However, I also saw a red flag as the place advertised the meat to be “No Teeth Tender.”  Places that steam or bake their meat often use this slogan, but typically put out rather poor Texas ‘cue.  This visit would pit local recommendations against my hunch.


I was handed a rather lengthy menu featuring burgers and other fare in addition to the BBQ selections.  I closed the menu and simply ordered the trio of brisket, pork ribs and sausage.  The box was assembled out of sight in the kitchen and delivered to me within a couple of minutes.  I unboxed the meal outside and prepared to enjoy it.

Three Meat Plate: Brisket, Pork Ribs, Sausage

The meats came out drizzled with a slight amount of peppery sauce.  A nice pink smoke ring was evident on the brisket.  A taste revealed some definite smoke but the meat just kind of fell apart.  It still had some chew but just crumbled in my hands.  Aside from the smoke, there really was not a lot of flavor in the meat.  It was rather similar to a boring cut of roast beef.  There was not a whole lot to like.

The bone of the rib had basically worked itself out before I even unboxed the meal.  The bone pulled straight out and came out completely clean .  The crust on the ribs was fine and featured a nice heavy pepper rub.  The crust had a decent flavor but the meat itself was so stewy that it just kind of fell apart like the brisket.  It had more juice and flavor than the brisket but it really was not what I expect from Texas BBQ.

The sausage was pretty good.  It had a little spice to it.  There was not much snap to the skin but the flavor was rather pleasing.


The interior of the joint is small and well decorated with photos of friends and family.  There are several tables spaced around the comfortable dining area.  Several people were dining in during my visit and a few people had came in to pickup orders to go.  Backyard BBQ seems to stay busy serving the area.

Backyard BBQ sits behind Lone Star Banquet Hall


This is the kind of joint that I would love to have liked.  It is a great local joint with a lot of charm.  Please understand that the food was not terrible and I am sure there are plenty of pleasing items on the extensive menu.  However, this meat was just was not what you expect from Texas BBQ, especially here in Central Texas.  I thought the sausage was fairly good.  The other meats came out with a thin layer of BBQ sauce, but with the stewy consistency of the pork rib and brisket, I think gravy would have been more fitting.

Address: 1695 Morgans Point Rd, Belton, TX 76513
Phone: 254-780-9889
Hours: Sunday: 11AM – 8PM; Tuesday – Thursday: 11AM – 8PM; Friday – Saturday: 11AM – 9PM

B&D Ice House: BBQ & Draft – San Antonio

I have not spent much time in the Southtown area of San Antonio so I was somewhat surprised to see this busy street of rather hip looking local bars.  B&D Ice House definitely seemed like a cool place to spend a relaxed afternoon, but how good could the BBQ be at this local watering hole?


I showed up a little after 6:00PM and ordered a selection of brisket, pork ribs and a link of sausage at the walk-up window.  I also splurged on the deliciously named Green Chile Mac ‘N Cheese.  It took about 5 minute for the plate to be assembled so I moved into the A/C to wait for my meal.

Beautiful spread of smoked meats from B&D

The meats looked gorgeous sitting in the container.  I first sampled the brisket and it did not disappoint.  The slice had a nice amount of fat left on it.  This was a layer of well rendered fat that held plenty of smoke.  The meat featured a simple rub with a lot of black pepper.  The thin crust was well-formed and crisped around the fat which was absolutely delicious.  The meat was perfectly juicy and just fantastic.

The link was a jalapeno-cheese link.  It was nothing special but had definite jalapeno flavor.  It was not bad.  It was well prepared but nothing special in my opinion.

The baby back ribs looked great with a gorgeous deep tanned crust.  The rub was mainly pepper but there a hint of something else.  It was not overly sweet and not tangy, it was almost a fruity flavor - maybe notes of plum.  After my meal, the mystery was solved when I learned that the answer was right there on the menu: The ribs are coated with a Big Red based glaze.  It was a very interesting and tasty choice.  However, it seemed to me that all of the flavor seemed to be coming from the glaze.  Away from it, there was not very much taste.  The meat held together appropriately and featured a nice tug.  The ribs were fine but did not taste as good as they looked.


B&D is a cool divey joint.  It is a shack of a building, matching the vibe of Southtown.  There are several picnic tables in the courtyard along the street facing the other outdoor bars.  You can order at the walk-up window or you can go inside and order.  There is a small bar inside with a good selection of Texas craft beers on tap.  In addition to the stools at the bar, there are also 3 high top tables inside.

B&D Ice House is a cool San Antonio joint
B&D Ice House is a Dive of a Joint in Southtown

The entrance and walk up window at B&D
Orders may be placed at the walk-up window
The Green Chile Mac ‘N Cheese was a delicious choice as a side.  The macaroni and cheese was very thick and creamy.  It had a perfect amount of chile.  It actually was not spicy but a lot of flavor came from the chile.

The Sauce was very thick and carried a deep rust color.  It was very tasty and had a sneaky spice to it.  It was a little tangy and featured a lot of black pepper.  It’s a good BBQ sauce and one that I liked a lot.  It gave me reason to finish my bread.

In addition to the typical smoked meats, B&D’s menu has an inventive selection of hot and cold sandwiches along with several snack options.


B&D Ice House absolutely meets expectations with their BBQ.  They deliver some of the finest brisket in town while the sausage and ribs do well in their supporting roles.  And even after you finish your meat, B&D’s is the kind of place that you’ll still want to stick around a while longer.


Address: 1004 S Alamo St, San Antonio, TX 78210
Phone: 210-225-9801
Hours: Sunday: 10AM – 7PM; Monday – Thursday: 11AM – 9PM; Friday – Saturday: 11AM – 10PM

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Welcome to Texas BBQ Adventures

Over the past couple of years, I have visited over 200 BBQ Joints in my search for the best BBQ in this Great State. Because of this, I often receive texts and tweets requesting recommendations. I wanted to be able to also share my experiences with y'all that I don't know yet.

I have read several BBQ Blogs in the past and am thankful for the wealth of knowledge available on the topic. However, I have not found a source that makes it easy to plan a BBQ Adventure. I travel the State significantly and sometimes just want to know "Is there any good BBQ where I am headed or on the way there?" I have created this site to focus on these specifics, making it easy to search for a specific joint, a specific region, or even a specific meat.

The Crown Jewel of the site will be the BBQ Map that shows exactly where the good BBQ is and where the bad BBQ is. It will be your road map when you are ready to plan your own Texas BBQ Adventures. (Update: The BBQ Map is now Live)

Here's the disclaimer: All of my grades are simply my opinion and are based off of my individual visits.  It is entirely possible that I visit a good joint on a bad day or vice-versa.  As it goes with anything, we always think our own opinions are the best opinions. 

My grades are all specifically focused on the meat. With Texas BBQ, Brisket is the most important. Pork Ribs, Beef Ribs (where available), and Sausage get a good look as well. The poultry and sides will have to be pretty special to get a shout out. I'll taste the sauce (typically with bread) and offer a comment where necessary. But here in Texas good meat doesn't need sauce. If you cover my meat with sauce, I will label you a "Slatherer" and assume you have something to hide.

My New Visits will get the full write-up treatment: Like This.
Older Visits will simply have a grade and any notes I might have on my personal spreadsheet: Like This

I will let you know when I am posting new content via Twitter (@BBQAdventurer), if you want to give me a follow.  I look forward to sharing my experiences with my fellow BBQ Adventurers.  I am also excited to read about your opinions, experiences and, most importantly, your recommendations.

See you on the road!

-Chris (The BBQ Adventurer)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lenox Barbecue & Catering - Houston

Lenox Barbecue and Catering may take the title of the most bizarre BBQ experience ever.

We entered through the front door and immediately found ourselves standing confused in a puddle of water in the kitchen of the joint.  Our confusion seemed to be routine as a man at the end of the hall beckoned us through the chaos.  We squeezed between workers boxing up food in the kitchen and those tending the large Oyler smokers toward the business office.  I placed my order with the owner in the cluttered office and waited.  As we waited, more patrons suspiciously took the same path we did through the kitchen, down the hall and into the business office.  I was unsure where to wait as the narrow hall was full of catering supplies and bustling workers so I continued my nervous wait at the cluttered desk of the woman doing payroll.  Thankfully after about 10 minutes, I was handed a box, which I immediately took to the parking lot.


My order was simple – just half a pound of brisket and a couple of pork ribs.  I unboxed my order on the trunk of my car.

Ribs and Brisket from Lenox

The brisket was fine.  It was a very lean cut of meat.  It had the right consistency but did not carry much smoke or any other flavor for that matter.  Not bad but utterly unremarkable.

I just did not like the ribs.  They were simply limp, lifeless pieces of meat.  The ribs carried no flavor whatsoever and were a chore to eat.  The chewy meat clung to the bone with absolutely no give.  After a few bites, I gave up on this meat.


The sauce was a good combination of sweet and tangy.  It also had some definite lemon flavor in it.  I just sampled the sauce with bread but it could have been paired with the brisket if I was desperate to finish the meat.  This was my third stop of the day so I did not need to muscle any more meat down.

As evidenced by their awkward setup for take-out service, Lenox's primary business is catering.  This may be a result of them having to remove their dining area in 2009 to accommodate the new metro rail line.  They do give you the option to dine at Medel’s, about a mile and a half down the road if you prefer.  If this meat was worth a second chance, that would be the route I’d take.


Lenox was a total disappointment for me as they carry a fairly well-known name in the Houston area and a history that spans more than 65 years.  The meat just was not good.  Thankfully the comical experience could help me laugh off the poor brisket and ribs.

Address: 5420 Harrisburg Blvd, Houston, TX 77011
Phone: 713-926-2649
Hours: Monday – Friday: 11AM – 2PM

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Triple J’s Smokehouse - Houston

Since I had a free Friday afternoon, I recruited an accomplice and put together a short East Houston adventure to knock a few joints off of my to do list.  Triple J’s was our first stop and despite being in business for 20 years, I had not heard much about them and therefore didn’t know what to expect.


We arrived shortly after noon and joined the lengthy queue that had wrapped around the inside of the small building.  We had plenty of time to study the menu which led me to add spicy boudin to the typical order of brisket, sausage and pork ribs.
The Texas Trinity and a link of boudin

The brisket was completely trimmed, as you would expect from an East Texas style joint.  The spine of the meat featured a beautifully thick bark.  Biting into the slice revealed a nice smokiness that stood out above the simple salt and pepper rub.  The meat did not have the best texture, it was both a bit flaky and a little dry.  Still, this was a solid brisket entry for a Houston joint.

The ribs were a thing of beauty.  They featured plenty of smoke and a perfect consistency for a pork rib.  The rub was simple but did feature a hint of spice.  Still, the smoke was on full display with each bite.  The ribs were plenty juicy and each bite was delicious.

The homemade sausage was fine.  The links were beef and were heavy on the pepper.  They were properly smoked and the casing cracked appropriately against my teeth.  Nothing about the sausage really stood out to me.

The boudin was good but was not of the smoked variety I have seen at a few other BBQ joints.  I did not detect any smoke and the soft casing was exactly what you would expect from regular boudin.  This spicy link was as-advertised and the spice did not hold back.  The flame grew with each bite and had me finishing my drink early.


The interior of Triple J is small, especially for the crowds they draw.  There is a very small dining area inside Triple J but if you want to dine in, the covered patio outside of the restaurant is probably a more comfortable option.

The sauce is a thin sweet concoction but is unnecessary for any of the meat here.


Triple J is clearly a hit with the locals, as it should be.  It is a shame that they do not get more press across the Houston area because this place is worth seeking out.  They have excellent ribs, good brisket and boudin to boot.

Address: 6715 Homestead Rd, Houston, TX 77028
Phone:  713-635-6381
Hours: Tuesday – Thursday: 12pm – 6pm; Friday – Saturday: 12PM – 9PM

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Smitty's Bar-B-Q - Brownwood

I do not go to Brownwood in search of great BBQ but I found myself there anyway and just could not pass up the bright red building that is Smitty’s Bar-B-Q.


 I ordered a plate of brisket, pork ribs and their housemade sausage to go.  The woman behind the counter scurried around the small kitchen space of industrial metal counters to box up my order.  Before finishing, she heaped a large helping of unrequested sauce across the meat and finished by sprinkling Cajun seasoning on top of the soupy mix of meats.

Sauce covering a three meat plate at Smitty's

The well-trimmed brisket actually looked decent as it peeked through the sauce.  The meat may have had a bit of smoke on its own but honestly it benefited from the sauce.  Without the dark tangy stuff, the dry meat would have been tough to swallow.

The ribs were utterly unremarkable.  They did not carry a lot of meat and were way too hard to pull away from the bone.  They had no flavor on their own and suffered from even more dryness than the brisket did.  This lady knew what she was doing as she ladled the sauce on.  This meat needed it.

I was looking forward to the house sausage that seems to be pretty popular with the locals.  Sadly the sausage was nothing special.  It was pretty standard pork sausage and just didn’t have much flavor.  What could have been this joint's saving grace was just another letdown.


The sides were actually the highlight of the meal.  They were homemade and unique.  The potato salad was most interesting with surprising sweetness.  Collard Greens are one of Smitty's specialties but they were unfortunately not available on this trip.


Smitty’s is what I unaffectionately call “A Slatherer”.  Truly good Texas BBQ has no need for sauce and it certainly should not be the focus point.  Unfortunately the meat I found today was not the kind that can stand on its own and the sauce served as a welcome distraction from the meats’ deficiencies.

Address: 708 W Austin Ave, Brownwood, TX 76801
Phone: 325-646-5922
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10:30AM – 8PM

Monday, August 11, 2014

Gonzales Food Market - Gonzales

From the historic downtown square to the spark of the Texas Revolution, history is at the heart of Gonzales.  I was thrilled to see a banner above Gonzales Food Market proclaiming their 50th anniversary “Since 1959” (perhaps the banner needed updating), proving that Gonzales also has a history of BBQ.


I passed up the offer of beef ribs and lamb ribs and ordered the Texas Trinity of Brisket, Pork Ribs and housemade Sausage.  My meal was sliced and plated in assembly line fashion.

Texas Trinity plate from Gonzales

The brisket lacked much of a smoke ring but had a really well formed crust.  The crust was surprisingly crispy and carried plenty of smoke.  The crispiness was an interesting texture that actually worked well on the meat.  The meat itself was a bit tough with a lot of chew.  It carried plenty of smoke and was altogether pleasing.  It was not the best brisket I have had, but I saw potential that went beyond today’s product, which was still pretty good.

The pork rib had a perfectly simple rub with welcomed flecks of black pepper.  The meat was wonderfully moist around the bone though the edges were a bit dry.  The meat had a good tug and won the meal for me.

The sausage is made in house and carries a unique flavor.  It had a perfect snap and the casing contained a dense, coarse filling.  The first bite was met with the squirt of juice from the casing.  Each remaining bite contained plenty of flavor as additional juice dripped from the fatty links.

The sausage at Gonzales Food Market


The joint sits in a historic building near the courthouse square and across from a 1910 memorial to the heroes of the Texas Revolution.  The seating area consists of old-school booths and tables around the central serving area accommodating plenty of hungry patrons.

The exterior of Gonzales Food Market

The sauce was an interesting concoction.  The bright red liquid was unlike anything I’ve ever tried and did not really pair with any of the meats I had.  It was tangy and not too sweet or smoky.  Am I crazy or do I detect cinnamon in this sauce?

The sides were pretty standard, the meats are clearly the star of this joint, as they should be.


Gonzales Food Market is another welcome joint at the intersection of the Texas Independence Trail and the Texas BBQ Trail.  All of the meats I tried were pleasing but the pork ribs shined brightest.  I would like to return to give that brisket a second chance because I am certain it gets even better.

There is some good BBQ here in Gonzales, all you need to do is “Come and Take It.”

Address: 311 St. Lawrence Street, Gonzales, TX 78629
Phone: 830-672-3156
Hours: Monday - Saturday: 8AM - 7PM

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Billy's Old Fashion BBQ - Jasper

Billy's Old Fashion BBQ has been on my To Do list for quite a while but it is that type of place that would require a special trip to check out.  Once they were named to Texas Monthly's Top 50, I knew a special trip would be justified.


We arrived a little after noon as the only guests and were greeted with by Mrs. Mahathay (Billy's wife) with a big East Texas smile and a friendly voice.  I opted for a three meat plate, wanting to try the brisket and pork ribs along with the homemade link.  Mrs. Mahathay warned that the link might be a little spicy.  I assured her that I could handle it.  A short while later, my meat was delivered...slathered in a Thick layer of unrequested sauce.
Brisket, Pork Ribs and Sausage covered in Billy's BBQ Sauce

We were off to a bad, but in retrospect, a completely predictable start.  The dark sauce was very thick and carried a strong, sweet and smoky flavor profile that I did not like.  The thick sauce completely engulfed most of the meat and there was not a piece that was spared from the stuff. 

You could tell that the ribs were prepared well but they were marred by the sticky sweet sauce.  Even if you like this sauce, or sauce in general, I think that the ribs would have stood well on their own.

I fished some brisket from the sludge in the bottom of the container.  The brisket had a good texture but had soaked up the sauce to the point where no other flavor was detectable.  It basically tasted like BBQ sauce disguised as meat.

The homemade link was probably the highlight for me, maybe simply because there was meat inside the casing that was spared from the sauce.  This link was most similar to boudin. It did not have the snap you expect from Texas Sausage, but rather the soft squeeze you'd equate to eating boudin.  There was a bit of spice to the peppery link, but not enough to warrant a disclaimer from the proprietor.


Mrs. Mahathay insisted that they put their money into their pride: their meat, and not in their building.  That is evident from looking around the restaurant furnished with three small diner booths, an old TV showing a cooking show, a counter filled with pictures of friends and notable athletes/politicians and a basic refrigerator filled with sodas. It's not much but they don't care, and neither do their customers. While I waited for my food, three regulars came in and were greeted by the woman, picked up their usual order and paid their anticipated amount. From the moment I entered, there wasn't a second that wasn't filled with the woman's friendly conversation. It's clear that Billy and his wife live to work hard to serve their community with smiles.

There were two jars of brightly colored liquids underneath signs advertising "Kool-Aid Pickles" to accompany your meal.  Unfortunately the jars contained no pickles during our visit so I went home without a sample.


It really is a shame that a place so highly regarded with such likeable owners would spoil their meat with a sickening amount of syrupy sauce.  You cannot ever let your guard down in East Texas, no matter how highly rated a joint is.

I saw nothing at Billy's to warrant another special trip just to try the meat sauce-free.  Therefore my memories of the meat are going to be stuck in that thick sauce.

Address: 1601 N. Main, Jasper, TX 75951
Phone: 409-384-8384
Hours: Monday - Saturday: 11AM - 6PM

Brooks' Place - Cypress

At first glance, Brooks' Place might just seem like a small trailer sitting in the parking lot of an Ace Hardware store in Cypress.  Well, actually, that's exactly what it is.  However, the reach of this little trailer is huge, drawing in fans from all across the Bayou City.


I arrived at Brooks' at 12:30 on Saturday ready to try it all.  I ordered by the pound, making selections of brisket, ribs, sausage and pulled pork.  After a short wait, I was unpacking a bag of gorgeous meats.

Spread of four of Brooks' meats: Brisket, Pulled Pork, Pork Ribs, Sausage

The thin slices of brisket were extraordinary.  The well rendered fat lining the edge of the meat and a deep pink smoke ring proved this meat was done right.  The cuts had a thin, but well defined crust encasing the meat.  Each slice featured tons of smoke and along with the juicy fat, made for a delicious bite.  The slightest downside of the brisket is that it did not have much tug and fell apart a little too easily.  Still, this was some good, GOOD brisket.

The pulled pork was honestly pretty good.  The meat was juicy and carried good flavor but the tangy sauce provided actually made for a great companion to the pork.

The pork ribs were a bit dry and had issues with toughness but I still enjoyed them.  They carried a slight rub.  The rub was sweet but not overpowering.  The mix of smoke and sweet was tasty.

The flavor of the sausage was pretty good but the link did not have any snap.  It was chore to eat as the casing was just too tough.


Most of Brooks' Place's orders were To Go and wrapped as such.  However, if you prefer to enjoy your meal alongside the atmosphere of the community hardware store parking lot, Brooks' will accommodate you at their covered picnic tables.

Brooks' Place BBQ sits in the Ace Hardware parking lot

I rather enjoyed the sauce that was provided on the side.  As noted above, their meat does not require sauce but the tangy, interesting concoction pairs well with the bread provided.  Also, since the rules are different for pulled pork, don't be afraid to apply a little sauce to further enjoy the pork.
Brooks' Place does not only deserve the high praise it receives in the Houston Area, the brisket demands to be recognized across the entire state.  This is a hardworking trailer putting out some fine BBQ.

Address: 18020 FM 529, Cypress, TX 77433
Phone: 832-893-1682
Hours: Wednesday - Sunday: 11AM - Sold Out

Rock'N R BBQ - Cleveland

Rock'N R BBQ sits in a simple tin shed just east of Cleveland, Texas.  It is a humble building on a rather un-noteable stretch of Texas road. The sign in the dirt parking lot, however, is anything but modest.  It advertises "The Best BBQ On The Planet."


I ordered a two meat plate from the typical service line, selecting sliced brisket and pork ribs.  By the look of the meat, I knew that I had not stumbled upon the Best BBQ on the Planet, but the title for Best BBQ in Liberty County was certainly up for grabs.
Pork Ribs and Sausage at Rock'N R BBQ

The brisket looked dry and lifeless on the plate.  This meat had very little smoke and was just flavorless.  It was a chore to eat as the meat had dried out sometime before it had even been placed on my plate.

The ribs were marginally better.  They were well prepared, featuring the moderate tug you want in a pork rib.  The ribs did not carry much flavor though.  And the slight  flavor was provided entirely by the sweet rub applied to the ribs.


The sides I sampled were pretty standard.  The beans were fine.  I appreciated the fact that pico de gallo was mixed in for added flavor.  I did not care for the sweet sweet BBQ sauce that came on the side.  The folks behind the counter were friendly and chatty, as you would expect in this region.

Rock'N R BBQ is a rather plain building


The bad news is that Rock'N R BBQ does not have the Best BBQ on the Planet.  The good news is that if you are looking for the Planet's Best BBQ, Cleveland, Texas is probably not on your itinerary anyway.

Address: 18206 Highway 321, Cleveland, TX 77327
Phone: 281-593-2022

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Terry Black's Barbecue - Austin

The motivation and conflict behind the establishment of Terry Black’s BBQ is well documented.  If you’re not a BBQ Historian, this saga can be summed up this way:
The Nephews of Kent Black (Black’s BBQ – Lockhart) said their uncle was not staying true to their grandparents’ traditions by doing things like using rotisserie cookers.  Therefore, the two broke off to setup their own “more traditional” joint, naming it after their father (after the threat of lawsuit from using the Black’s name), promising to smoke everything with post oak in their large smokehouse.  Later this fall, Uncle Kent plans on escalating the rivalry even more by opening up his own trailer down the street from Terry Black’s.
I absolutely love Black’s BBQ in Lockhart and with this much drama, you would have to expect the BBQ at Terry Black’s to be something special. 


I arrived in the parking lot of Terry Black’s at 10:45, which was plenty of time to be first in line and secure the first cuts of the day.  The man behind the counter loaded me up with brisket, pork ribs and a beef rib.
Terry Black's Texas Trinity

The brisket was the highlight of the visit.  The slices were well prepared with a perfect amount of tug.  The rub was simple with plenty of thick pepper.  The fat present was well rendered and melted into the meat with each bite.  There was nothing to dislike about this meat.

The pork ribs were just fine.  The flavor came from the slightly sweet sauce present on the ribs.  The ribs were in need of more smoke.  The meat held together too tightly and were just tougher than ribs should be.

The beef rib was pretty standard and really did not stand out at all.  The rib was well prepared and easy to eat. It had a lot of fat throughout, which was well rendered, but it lacked much flavor.


Terry Black’s has a large dining area with available seating outside on the patio.  The atmosphere and souvenir counter are sure to please tourists that stop by.  Personally, I was thankful for the large parking lot, which in Austin is a luxury.

Terry Blacks has a large building with a large parking lot
Large Restaurant Complete with Large Parking Lot
Terry Black's detached smokehouse
Smoking the Old Fashioned Way
Three sauces were available on the table: Tangy, Spicy and Regular.  Personally, I found the Tangy and Spicy sauces much, much too sweet.  The regular sauce was fine, but unnecessary.


Overall these guys are off to a great start.  It was a good experience and was highlighted by that excellent brisket.  The brisket neared the perfection that we’ve become accustomed to from the Black family.  The promise is there but they still have work to do with the other meats to catch up to Uncle Kent. They’re also well on their way to catching up with the Mueller family in the drama department.

Address: 1003 Barton Springs, Austin, TX78704
Phone: 512-394-5899
Hours: Every Day: 11AM - 9PM

Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ - Austin

This review is about their old location.  They are now have a permanent location way down in Manchaca. It's still terrific!

The first time I heard of Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ, I thought it was too good to be true.  Combining something as sacred as Tex-Mex cuisine and good smoked BBQ is a novel concept but certainly could draw much scrutiny in the Lone Star State. 


We arrived shortly before the noon opening on Saturday and waited patiently while studying the menu.  The menu is rather limited but the options are glorious.  Meats can be ordered as sandwiches, tacos or by the pound.  The meat options are restricted to brisket, pulled pork and chicken.  At high noon, the window of the trailer opened and we were placing our order for sliced brisket and a pulled pork taco. 

Brisket and Pulled Pork served alongside tortillas at Valentina's

The sliced brisket was accompanied by fresh tortillas.  The brisket was gorgeous with a well-formed dark crust and smoke ring.  The slices featured a thick, thick layer of fat.  The heavy layer of well rendered fat absolutely dissolved as I bit through.  The meat below was excellent.  The fat, the heavy black pepper crust and the wealth of smoke created a harmony of taste.  This is brisket done right.

The large amount of pork featured on the smoked carnitas taco allowed me the opportunity to poach a few bites and taste it on its own.  The pork was tasty.  It offered a simple presentation of pork and smoke.  Outside of the taco, there was nothing Tex Mex about this pork.  Inside the taco however, the tomatillo habanero salsa took it to the next level.  This was not your typical presentation of Texas BBQ but it certainly didn’t feel wrong.


Valentina’s trailer strategically sits alongside Star Bar.  You can take the BBQ to go, but you also have the option of sitting in Star Bar’s comfortable patio and having the BBQ delivered to your table.

Valentina's Trailer promises Tex Mex BBQ made with Love

The tortillas are fresh, homemade and clearly superior to the typical option of white bread.  The sauce available is fine, slightly sweet with a bit of a spice, but the salsas are what you need at this joint.  The salsas are great and are far from the ordinary salsas you find in typical Mexican restaurants.  These salsas are well crafted to compliment the items on the menu.

Pork Ribs are available on Wednesday and this fact is firmly on my radar for future trips.

Valentina’s does not only feature an intriguing concept, they execute that concept very well.  I am not sure I have ever seen a menu as near to perfection as Valentina’s gets with their blend of Texas BBQ and Tex Mex street tacos. This trailer could change the way you see Texas BBQ.

Address: 1500 Manchaca Rd, Austin, TX 78745
Phone: 512-221-4248
Hours: Monday - Sunday: 8AM - Sold Out

Friday, August 8, 2014

Brown's BBQ - Austin

Brown's BBQ has been around Austin for a while.  The current trailer has been serving customers since 2011.  However, the buzz for Brown's just now appears to have reached an all-time high. 

Brown's had been on my "To Do List" for a while so I was pleased to finally make the trip on a Saturday at 11:30.


I placed an order for Brisket, Pork Ribs and Beef Ribs.  The meats were sliced and served quickly.  All three meats looked the part with beautiful browns flanked on either side by a pink smoke ring.  However, all three meats missed the mark when it came to texture.  Something was off here.

Pork Ribs, Beef Ribs, Brisket at Brown's BBQ

The pork ribs presented were tough.  It was a battle to free the meat from the bone.  A sweet flavor was present in the unrelenting, almost caramelized crust.  The meat itself was dry but carried a decent flavor.  It was a workout for my jaw that was not worth the payoff.

While the pork ribs simply struggled with toughness, the beef ribs were massacred by it.  The spongy meat from the beef rib refused to yield to my teeth.  The plastic fork that came with the meal helped to pry some meat off but the rib was shortly written off as a lost cause.  The meat that was freed from the bone presented very little flavor.  This beef rib definitely needed more time.

The brisket was the highlight of the meal and presented an experience exactly opposite of the ribs.  This meat had spent plenty of time smoking, so much so that it was reduced to the consistency of butter.  The soft meat fell apart as pieces were shoveled into our mouths.  The brisket carried a simple salt & pepper rub which allowed the strong smoke flavor to be showcased.  This brisket was definitely not bad, but the potential was just so much higher! Unfortunately that potential fell to the table in clumps.


The highlight of the meal actually came from a surprising side: Cabbage.  The cabbage, in fact, is one of the best sides I've ever encountered on my adventures.  The cabbage is soft but still contains a slight crunchiness.  The slight sweetness is complimented by small bits of bacon in the delicious concoction.

Brown's BBQ is serving up some DELICIOUS cabbage
Brown's serves out of a trailer, pretty standard on the south side of Austin.  The trailer sits outside of Corner Bar The trailer has a few picnic tables outside or if you want to beat the heat, you can tote your meat into the bar.


I really wanted to like this place and I was truly looking forward to the brisket and ribs with all of the superlatives I have heard attached to them.  Unfortunately, this was poorly prepared BBQ.  The brisket carried good flavor for what it was.  The ribs fell flat.  I see plenty of promise with this joint, especially in that smokey brisket, and I am nearly positive that I caught them on a bad day.  They certainly have A+ Cabbage but today the BBQ was just a C+.

Address: 1901 South Lamar Dr, Austin, TX 78704
Phone: 512-517-8520
Hours: Tuesday - Wednesday: 11AM - 7PM; Thursday - Saturday: 11AM - 11PM

*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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