Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lamberts Downtown Barbecue

AUSTIN: Lamberts Downtown Barbecue
401 W. Second

Austin, TX 78701


Open Daily 11-2 & 5:30-11

Downtown Austin is home to many new structures, many of them modern. In the midst of the building boom sits Lambert's, which is located in a historic two-story brick building with lofty ceilings and an open kitchen. On a Wednesday afternoon, there were no open tables during lunchtime, so we made our way to the concrete bar.

Detractor's generally chalk up Lambert's as "fancy barbecue" and insist that it does not belong in the discussion of great Texas 'cue. The descriptions on their menu do little to dissuade the first time visitor. Rather than brisket, ribs and sausage, you can instead choose from "Brown Sugar & Coffee Rubbed Natural Brisket, Maple & Coriander Crusted Natural Pork Ribs, and Homemade Jalapeno Hot Link." Fortunately the bartender understood when I simply asked for brisket, pork ribs (they do offer beef ribs) and sausage.

A thin line of fat hugged the bottom of each beautiful thick slice of brisket. The black crust held a deep smokiness that permeated the meat and the fat. I initially peeled some fat off before my first bite, which I rescued later after realizing just how good each previous bite was. The only negative I could find was a slight toughness to the meat which could just be chalked up to a consequence of the thick slices. The sweet rub on the ribs was incredible. It wasn't cloying, but it married well with the smoke flavor. Each rib had a deep red color with well rendered fat and excellent flavor throughout. The rib meat was also less than velvety in texture, but not uncomfortably tough. The jalapeno sausage is house made and features a bold pepper flavor, a fine grind and great snap. Each bite of link also had a great smoke flavor. Three sauces are offered in mild, hot and mustard, but save it for your bread...this meat needs no adornment.

The owner has a sense of humor as evidenced by the menu which pokes fun at this joints supposed reputation by adding the question "Fancy Barbecue?" at the bottom of each page. As far as this BBQ Snob is concerned, if it's good tender meat that is caringly smoked over oak wood, then superfluous descriptions and cloth napkins are no reason to keep you from enjoying some paticularly scrumptious 'cue.

Rating *****
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Jasper's Bar-B-Q

WACO: Jasper’s Bar-B-Que
105 Clifton St

Waco, TX 76704


Open M-Sat 9-2

Jasper's is a tiny joint housed in a building that stands next to the remains of an old railroad track. It was opened by Jasper DeMaria, whose son later opened Tony DeMaria's (I have since learned that this is incorrect. See this post for clarification) just a few blocks down the street. This joint has changed hands a few times, but it has retained the family owned feel. While standing in line I was asked to step aside by the pit boss so he could pelt the guy behind me with a balled up piece of bread. Everyone was amused, including the victim.

All items are ordered at the counter. One guy cuts the meat, another assembles everything on a tray, then a third guy follows you to a table with your order. I ordered a rib sandwich and a sliced brisket sandwich. I was given a sausage sandwich by mistake, but the guys quickly whipped up the right order and let me keep all three sandwiches. I got the sauce, which they call gravy, on the side. The brisket had no crust, no smokeline, or much flavor beyond roast beef. The fat was well rendered, but it was too tender leading me to believe it had been steamed to doneness. The ribs were better. Smokiness filled the air when I unwrapped the sandwich, and the flavor did not disappoint. The crust was delicious as well as the meat beneath it. The sausage was average with little smokiness but decent flavor. The major disappointment was the "gravy". It was thin and nearly flavorless, and didn't help to revive any of the missing flavor from the gray brisket. Hopefully Tony has something better to offer down the street.

Rating **
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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Big Bruce's Bar-B-Que

DALLAS: Big Bruce’s Bar-B-Que
8018 S Lancaster Rd

Dallas, TX 75241


Open Daily 11-9

Update: This joint is CLOSED and is now a Soulman's BBQ location.

2008: South Lancaster Road Tour/4 of 4 - Big Bruce's is housed in a big metal building just off of 1-20 in South Dallas. At 3:30 on a Saturday, I wasn't expecting a limo in the nearly full parking lot, nor did I expect 50+ people in line for 'cue. I learned that an entire funeral had moved from the church to Big Bruce's so I was hoping that the food warranted the crowd. After 35 minutes in line, I ordered sliced beef and pork ribs to-go, as there were no seats left after I ordered. The ribs had a bit of fatigue from the warmer, but the flavor was smoky and the crust was good, and the meat was moist and tender. The brisket was a big disappointment with no crust and no flavor. The slices were also a bit dry. I'm guessing the popularity of this place on this particular Saturday had a bit more to do with the seating capacity than the meat.

Rating **

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3403 S Lancaster Rd

Dallas, TX 75216


Open M-Thur 11-12am, F-Sat 1-3am, Sun 12-12am

South Lancaster Road Tour/3 of 4 - Near the end of the DART Blue Line sits this tiny joint with a few football fans filling the few tables inside. If this joint had meat worth waiting for, the the long wait wouldn't be so bad. There were four people in line when I arrived, but the glacial service didn't complete our orders for about 15 minutes. They did actually ask if I wanted sauce, and I asked for it on the side. The brisket here had a deceptively dark crust which yielded little smokiness. The lean meat was dry with little overall flavor. The ribs were a better, but also were dry and a bit tough. The intense smoke flavor made up for it. The flavor of the peppery rub also stood out to create a tasty rib. Contrary to the customer's advice at Record's, I saw little difference between the meat at this joint, and the offerings at Record's.

Rating **
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Record's Old Fashioned Bar-B-Que

DALLAS: Record's Old Fashioned Bar-B-Que
2325 S Lancaster Rd

Dallas, TX 75216


Open M-Thur 10-3am, F-Sun 10-4:30am

South Lancaster Road Tour/1 of 4 - A former drive-in houses this take-out only joint in the shadow of the DART Blue Line. Behind the counter was efficient if not courteous service. They would not let me purchase a single rib, but insisted that I buy a rib sandwich along with my sliced brisket sandwich. With a total bill of under $9, I couldn't really complain. Both sandwiches came sauced (no option given) on cheap white bread...not great for portability. In the car I peeled open the brisket sandwich which was encased in a flour-based sponge just 90 seconds after it was wrapped and bagged. The brisket had no crust or fat and little crust. There was no smoke flavor, and the ketchupy sauce did little to improve the flavor. The slices were also a bit tough, but they contained no offensive flavor. The ribs were much better. Despite the unfortunately flavored sauce, the deep smoky flavor of these ribs bits shone through. They had great tenderness and a moist pleasing texture. These were great ribs.

A guy at the counter waiting for his order was inquisitive about my choice in eating establishments. As the only customer with a German car, pale skin, and designer eyeglasses on the entire South Lancaster Road Tour, let's just say I stuck out a bit. I told my fellow customer that I was trying to find the best BBQ south of I-30. He urged me to try TD's down the road. I was now looking forward to my future itinerary hoping to find some better brisket. As I drove away I couldn't help but wonder why the guy was at Record's in the first place if he preferred the joint just 1/2 mile away. Either way, I was still hungry.

Rating **
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Longhorn Bar-B-Q

CEDAR HILL: Longhorn Bar-B-Q
124 N Hwy 67

Cedar Hill, TX
Open Daily 10:30-9

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2088: This joint at the busy intersection of Highway 67 and Belt Line was dead at 5:00 on a Saturday. The brisket was also dead, but not much else had been done with it since its demise. The dry slices were devoid of flavor with no crust or fat to enjoy. The meat was fall apart tender, but that was its only positive. Unfortunately, the pedestrian sauce didn't help to resurrect the pallid beef. The ribs were equally as tender. They were also more flavorful with a dark smoky crust. The sausage was the best with a fine grind, heavy black pepper flavor and a good snap on the casing. Skip the brisket and get some ribs and sausage.

Rating **
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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Texas Smokehouse Bar-B-Que

RICHARDSON: Texas Smokehouse Bar-B-Que
800 E Arapaho
Richardson, TX 75081
Open M-F 10:30-5, Sat 10:30-3

This part of town is home to a variety of business park operations that vary from high-tech to transmission service. At 11:35am on a Thursday, I appeared to be the first customer of the day. I would guess that they primarily sell lunch to workers from the area, but only a handful had trickled in by the time I left, just after noon.

Everything looked as it should. The brisket displayed a promising black crust and pink banding. As you've seen here time-and-again, looks can be deceiving. Although it was nicely done with just enough moisture left, they managed to expunge almost all the flavor as well. A hint of smoke just eeked it's way through the beef. The crust turned out to be a mirage of texture as well with no bark or crunch at all. Ribs were similarly unremarkable. Their sauce is a thinner, sweet & tangy one. I can't recall what side dish I had. Nothing bad to report but they seem to have made the same compromise we see all over, consistency for flavor.

Rating **
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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Smokehouse Barbecue

LINDSAY: Smokehouse Barbecue
307 E Hwy 82

Lindsay, TX 76250

Open M-Thur 10:30-9:30, F-Sat 10:30-10, Sun 11-9:30

Lindsay is just a blip on the highway just past the Gainesville Airport, but it's home to two standout BBQ joints. For being just three doors apart, both joints have oddly similar menu items. Everything from BBQ to pizza, salads, burgers and sandwiches are available on these menus, but BBQ was the only item that got my attention on Smokehouse's menu. Dine-in is an option, but we chose to get our order in the drive-in. A 1/2 lb. of ribs and 1/2 lb. of brisket cost only $8.15, so this joint looked like a good bargain.

On the ride back to Dallas, I sampled some of each not wanting to wait until we got all the way home. My impatience was rewarded with large, lean and long slices of moist, salty brisket. I can still smell the smoke on my fingers as I type, and every bite, every chew, every morsel of this meat was heaped with smoke flavor, which was to be expected from the well formed crust and rosy, yet thin smokeline. The ribs were almost as good, but lacked the savory character of the beef. The crust was well formed and smoky, and the fat was well rendered. The tender pork from these smallish spare ribs was neither chewy or mushy, but had just the right tooth to it. Next time I'm in Lindsay, I may stop next door for a steak, but the Smokehouse is where I'll go for good 'cue.

Rating ****

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Dieter Brothers

LINDSAY: Dieter Brothers Restaurant
401 E Hwy 82

Lindsay, TX 76250


Open M-Thur 10:30-10, F-Sat 10:30-11, Sun 11-10

Just off of I-35, a big yellow billboard along Highway 82 let us know were headed towards Dieter Brothers Restaurant in tiny Lindsay, Texas, population 733. The menu is wide and varied with salads, steaks and pizza, but BBQ was the only thing on my mind. I ordered a two meat plate with sliced beef and pork ribs. The spare ribs were enormous, but all that meat came with a thick layer of poorly rendered fat. The rest of the meat was fatigued from being stored creating a tough exterior while the interior remained tender. The flavor of the meat good with smoky undertones. The brisket was better with lean slices of picture perfect meat with its rosy smokeline and black crust. The smokiness went deep into the meat, but there was little flavor complexity. Every slice was moist and pull-apart tender, and the accompanying sides were also delicious. Next time, I'll plan to drop by during a lunch rush rather than at 4:00 on a Sunday, and hope the freshly smoked meats don't look or taste so tired.

Rating ***
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Monday, November 3, 2008

Bubba's Bar-B-Q

ENNIS: Bubba’s Bar-B-Q
210 I-45 S
Ennis, TX 75119
Open Daily 11–9

This joint is all about meat. There is a large cooling case at the entrance where you can choose your own raw steak to be grilled per your specifications. Whether you want steak or bbq, everyone waits in the same line...unless you choose to sit and order from the menu. I know, it's confusing. While admiring the large model planes hanging from the ceiling, we waited in the line and got a look at some nice black brisket. We ordered sliced brisket and ribs, and the brisket was a specimen to behold with a thick rosy smoke line and the aforementioned black crust. The smoky flavor permeated the meat, but it was unfortunately dry. The flavor was also lacking complexity beyond the good smokiness. The ribs had a rub that provided a sweet undertone to the mild smoky flavor. The pork was also a bit dry, but the overall flavor was good.

Rating ***

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mama E's BBQ

818 E. Rosedale
Fort Worth, TX 76104
Open Sun-M 11-5:30, Tues-Thur 11-7, F-Sat 11-9

Mama E's is on a desolate strip of Rosedale Ave. next to the I-35 overpass. The building is small with only a few tables, and the business is mostly takeout. The menu is wider than most of the joints I've tried with catfish, spaghetti, meat loaf and other soul food favorites. My meal arrived in a styrofoam container with a heap of pre-sauced thinly sliced brisket and giant spare ribs. The potato salad was whipped with mustard, and was good and tangy. The beans were just average. Although the meat was sauced, the sauce was thin and complemented the meat well rather than overpowering the flavor of the meat. The ribs still had a good crust with a fleeting smoke flavor. The meat was tender with well rendered fat and a great overall flavor. The thin slices of brisket had a good crust with little smoke line. The smoke flavor was slight, but the fat was well rendered and the flavor was above average. With friendly service and good food, this lonely joint is a welcome oasis along this sparsely populated street.

Rating ***

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Riscky's BBQ

FT. WORTH: Riscky's Barbeque
300 Main Street
Fort Worth, Texas 76102
Open M-Thur 11-10, F-Sat 11-12am, Sun 11-9

Sundance Square is the last on the list of many Ft. Worth neighborhoods where I would start a search for authentic Texas 'cue, but that's what Riscky's advertises, so I stopped in when I found Bailey's up the street was closed. I ordered a two meat plate that was staggerinly large, and equally pricey at $14.50. The ribs were average at best with little crust and that flavor that only comes from being stored in steamer wrapped in plastic. The brisket was better with a good crust and smoke line. The smoke flavor was better than average, but the slices were dry with no fat. The sides were nothing better than average, and the best item might have been the smoked bologna appetizer that was sprinkled with "Riscky Dust". WHo knows what that is, but they may want to try it on the rest of the meat to kick up the flavor.

Rating **

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mom's BBQ

1509 Evans Ave.
Fort Worth, TX 76104
Open M-Sat 11-7, Sun 12-6

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2008: Mom's is in a newer brick building with a small footprint. Five or six small tables sit in front of a large counter where orders are taken. I was the only customer at 1:30 on a Friday, and I ordered a sliced brisket sandwich and two pork ribs. The large spare ribs arrived unsauced with a heap of sliced beef on top. Three slices of white bread for the "sandwich" sat longingly on the side. The brisket was fatty and slightly tough, and needed more time in the smoker. The crust was immature but had decent flavor. The overall taste was good, but it needed more smoke. The ribs were also tough with gobs of unrendered fat. The meat had a poorly formed crust with fleeting smoke flavor. The rib meat was average. For a joint that gets a lot of praise from locals, I was expecting more, but this may have been an off day.

Rating **

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Freeney's Barbecue

DALLAS: Freeney's Barbecue
7822 S Loop 12
Dallas, TX 75217
Open M-Sat 10-7, Sun 10-5

When cops frequent a joint, it's usually a good sign, so I was happy to see two motorcycle cops enter Freeney's at the same time I did. I ordered brisket and ribs. While I waited, instead of smoke, I was overcome with the smell of stale steam table water. Unappetizing to say the least. Not surprisingly, the brisket had little smoke flavor. The slices were littered with large fat globules and did not have a pleasing flavor. The ribs were a little better, but also lacked smoke and tasted as if they'd aged for quite a while on that steam table. The large spare rib was also littered with fat, and was generally unappetizing. And those cops? I later learned that this was also their first trip, and I'm sure it will be their last too.

Rating *
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Friday, October 17, 2008

Eat the World

DALLAS: Eat the World
9850 Walnut Hill Lane
Dallas, TX 75238
Open 5-9 F for BBQ (Fall only)

Update 2009
This joint is CLOSED.

The brisket was monochromatic gray with no crust and had the flavor of liquid smoke. It was so tough I could not pull it apart, but had to bite it instead at which point I got a flavor that tasted of baked roast beef. It was only good once dunked in the thick spicy sauce. The large spare ribs were better with good flavor, but the layers of fat were not well rendered, and there was a low meat-to-bone ratio. Again, the smoke flavor tasted contrived.

Rating *

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Wilson's Barbecue

FT. WORTH: Wilson's Barbecue
5633 Lovell Ave.
Fort Worth, TX 76107
Phone: 817-763-9482
Open Thur 11-6, F-Sat 11-8

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

Wilson's is a little place in what many previous reviewers have called a scary neighborhood. It's really not a bad area during the day when I visited, and this little place has plenty of charm thanks to the grateful host behind the counter. An incredibly friendly older lady took our to-go order, and I had a glass of iced tea while I waited. The tea was poured straight from a pitcher that resided in the cooler otherwise reserved for bottles of assorted soft drinks. When the glass got low, our host gladly refilled it with the lemony sweet concoction. We ordered a rib sandwich and a brisket sandwich. They both were served on white bread with gobs of sauce. I tried to scrape some of the sauce off to try the brisket, but the tender slices just started to tear apart, so I enjoyed a few of the tender smoky slices with the dark red sauce that complemented the meat very well. The crust was still evident, and the meat was well flavored. The ribs were also sauced, but they had not been basted with the sauce while cooking, so a good dark brown crust had already formed. The meat easily pulled from the bone with little effort, and all of the fat had been rendered to create delicious strips of tender, smoky pork. It's unfortunate that they don't allow their high quality meat to stand on its own, but ask for the sauce on the side if you drop in, and I'm sure the gracious host will accommodate you.

On another note, you may wonder why the last several reviews have lacked photos. Unfortunately my house was burglarized, and along with my laptop, my camera was taken along with all that beautiful BBQ footage.

Rating ***
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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cousin's Bar-B-Q

FT. WORTH: Cousin's Bar-B-Q
6262 McCart Ave.
Fort Worth, TX 76133
Open Mon-Sat 11-9

Normally I stay away from chains, but this location made it into Texas Monthly's Top 50, so I thought I'd give it a try. There are four stand-alone locations as well as two more in the DFW Airport, but a friend and I chose to try the original which opened in 1983. The strip mall location is underwhelming, but the smell of smoke inside was tempting. My dining companion had not yet experienced a full day of BBQ tasting, so she insisted on eating a full lunch here (much to her dismay as the hours wore on). We tried sliced brisket, pork ribs and sausage. The sausage was average with little spice, a medium chewy grind and decent snap. The brisket here was standout with consistently lean slices that all had an intense smoky flavor from the deep black crust. Bites without the crust lacked the deep smokiness, but the slices were small enough that it was hard to get a bite without that beautiful crust. The slices were also moist and perfectly tender. The ribs here were the only disappointment. This joint tries to separate itself from others in the market by using a distinct and thick red spice rub on the ribs before they are smoked. Unfortunately, the rub flavor overpowers the meat which was had a good toothsome tenderness and great moistness. The rub flavor was at first spicy but slowly turned to bitter as it reached the back of my mouth. The ribs were shown adequate attention during the smoking process, and I fully expect that these ribs would be far superior with a little salt and pepper, but this joint just chose the wrong technique to try and create their signature.

Rating ***
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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sammie's Bar-B-Q

FT. WORTH: Sammie's Bar-B-Q
3801 E Belknap Street
Fort Worth, TX 76111
Open Sun-Thur 9-9, F-Sat 9-10

It's an odd marketing technique to make it difficult to find the entry into your restaurant, but that's what Sammie's has chosen to do. After parking, you must cross the drive thru lane between the large lit menu and the delivery window. Down a narrow sidewalk you'll find the entry door into a dingy vestibule. You're then given the choice between door #1 (right) and door#2 (left). Door #1 leads into a tap lined bar with an ordering counter at the front. Door #2 leads to a dining room where orders are taken by the wait staff. At 3:00, the dining room was empty minus myself, and old fart eating alone and a loud mouth who figured everyone wanted to hear his hillbilly accent wailing on his cell phone conversations. With meat unavailable by the pound, I got a two meat plate with ribs and brisket. This was the second joint in a row with a heavy handed rub on baby back ribs. These ribs had been cooked far too quickly making it hard to separate the meat from bone. The thick rib meat itself was tough and the rub itself created a mushy surface texture with a stale flavor. The brisket was better with a decent crust and moderate smoke flavor. The slices were very lean, dry and a bit tough as well. The side of potato salad was just as mediocre as the meat. Skip the confusion and head to one of the many excellent joints in this BBQ rich city.

Rating **
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Red Barn Bar-B-Que

4913 Colleyville Boulevard
Colleyville, TX 76034
Open M-Sat 11-9

If you can believe it, this joint is housed in a red barn that looks a little out of place on this busy six-lane road. Entering the parking lot, I immediately smelled heavy smoke. At 2:30 in the afternoon, the place was empty. I noticed a sign advertising free beer, except for to-go orders, but I was in a rush so I did not partake. I got 1/4 pound each of brisket and ribs. These baby backs had great meat girth. They took just the right amount of tooth to come off the bone, but the flavor from the rub dominated any smoke flavor that may have existed. The rub gave these ribs a flavor that had hints of taco seasoning. It wasn't a bad flavor, just not what you'd expect of good 'cue. The brisket was monochromatically gray with all the crust peeled away before slicing. The slices were dry with little smoke flavor, and were just below mediocre. With the closure of Railhead in Colleyville, there are few choices around this part of DFW, but this place only works in a pinch.

Rating **
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Feedstore BBQ

SOUTHLAKE: Feedstore BBQ and More
530 S White Chapel Blvd.
Southlake, TX 76092
Open M-Thur 11-8:30, F-Sat 11-9, Sun 11-8

Traveling along the winding roads of affluent Southlake past large gated homes with perfectly green St. Augustine, I thought I might be on the wrong road for a place with "Feedstore" in the title. But just around the bend I was happy to find this small joint which was once an actual feedstore in then rural Southlake. Orders are taken at the small counter after passing through the dining room containing orderly rows of long tables. After ordering, you can choose to sit in the main dining room or another room in the back. After your meal, feel free to get an ice cream cone for $.50. Just drop it in the tray next to the ice cream machine...honor system style.

The brisket here was mediocre at best. It took some effort to pull apart and was not moist enough. There was little smoke line, and barely a crust with little smoke flavor throughout. The ribs were small but meaty with a simple rub. They could have been more tender as well, but the flavor was good if lacking smokiness. I tried to pep up both meats with some of the spicy sauce, but its flavor did not marry well with the meat. The sides here were standout. Fried okra is floured and fried when ordered, and a great version of dirty rice is a rarity at any BBQ joint. If you have a chance, stop by this little joint and get a glimpse of what Southlake used to be before the ostentatious yuppies took over.

Rating **
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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dat's Good Que

LEWISVILLE: Dat's Good Que
1168 W Main St.
Lewisville, TX 75067
Open Tues-Thur 11-9, F-Sat 11-10

Their website declares that this joint is in old historic Lewisville. That's a stretch. From I-35, you must head west away from the old downtown into the strip mall row that is Main Street. The ghost of the name "Smokehouse Bar-B-Que" was still evident beneath the new title on the aged awning above the door. I walked in with four co-workers who agreed to take a detour with me from an unrelated field trip in order to try this joint. I ordered a two-meat plate with sliced beef and pork ribs. Along with the meat, a bevy of sides was available including yams, greens, mac & cheese, okra and other homecooked items. The thin ribs were sauced, dissolving any crust that had existed. The meat was on the tough side, but the salty rub gave it a good flavor that was flecked with smoke. The brisket also could have been more tender. The fat was not well rendered and had to be picked from the meat. The crust was well formed with a good smoke flavor. The flavor of the smoke barely made its way into the meat that was still a bit roast-beefy. Overall, this was just average meat.

Rating **
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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Hard Eight Pit Bar-B-Que

STEPHENVILLE: Hard Eight Pit Bar-B-Que
1091 Glen Rose Rd.
Stephenville, TX 76401
Open M-Thur 10:30-9, F-Sat 10:30-10, Sun 10:30-8

I stopped here with a friend to conclude a 2-1/2 day, 14 joint road trip. He wasn't used to the blitzkrieg style of BBQ force-feeding, but he handled himself well during the initiation weekend. We agreed to order the bare minimum, two ribs and two slices of lean brisket. When paying for our order, I noticed two stacks of cups. The tall stack labeled "Fountain Drinks", and the short stack labeled "Water and Beer". I didn't see any beer, so I asked at the register, and the angel behind the counter informed me that the beer was free! Reenergized we sat down for our plates of meat with cold beer.

I ordered just two slices of brisket, but they were each about an inch thick of reddish colored meat. The crust and fat had been removed, but the flavor of the rub and the smoke remained. The slices were perfectly tender and juicy, so we had to finish them even though our stomachs were begging for mercy. The ribs were also enormous with the same heavy salt and pepper rub. The thick meat had smoke flavor all the way through, but they could have been more tender. Overall, this original location is still the best of the Hard Eight bunch, and luckily, it's the closest to home.

Rating ****

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Hard Eight Bar-B-Que

BRADY: Hard Eight Bar-B-Que
2010 S Bridge St.
Brady, TX 76825
Open M-Thur 10:30-9, F-Sat 10:30-10, Sun 10:30-9

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2008: The Hard Eight brand is well known to many Dallasites who've driven down Highway 67 to visit the Stephenville location. The second location in Brady took over the former Lone Star BBQ location. After my first Hard Eight experience in Coppell, I wasn't expecting much. The meat is ordered in the same way, right at the pit, and the smell of sweet mesquite while waiting my turn to order made my mouth water. This is an intelligent business strategy. Display the entire menu to a load of hungry folks and dare them not to over-order. A friend and I took the bait with both lean and fatty brisket and pork ribs. The ribs were long and thin with a salt and pepper rub reminiscent of Cooper's style, but this one had a better balance of more pepper and less salt. Every bite of the ribs contained some of that rub, so it was hard to detect any smoke flavor. The rib meat was nicely tender with well rendered fat, but they needed to be thicker to stand up to that rub. The thick slices of brisket made for a nice rub to meat ratio. The brisket was mildly smoky with little difference in overall flavor between the fatty and lean brisket. This was due mainly to the fact that the meat needed more time on the smoker to adequately render the fat. While this experience was better than my first in Coppell, I was anxious to get to Stephenville for a comparison to the storied original location.

Rating ***

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Cooper's Bar-B-Q

JUNCTION: Cooper’s Bar-B-Q
2423 N Main St.

Junction, TX 76849


Open Daily 10:30-9

This is one of many locations run by the Cooper family, and the meat is smoked in a similar fashion as the other joints, but it is not displayed in the large smokers outside. Instead, the meat is displayed on the counter at the entry, and it all looked great. We ordered pork ribs, sausage (which is made for Cooper's in Schulenburg, TX) and both fatty and lean brisket. The sausage links were flecked with black pepper and had a great snap in the casing. They had the right balance of fat and meat with a medium grind. The pork ribs were huge. The rub had black pepper and a generous amount of salt. The ribs were then doused in a thin vinegar sauce that created mire flavor profiles than I'm used to in a simple smoked rib. The flavor of the salt overpowered most other flavors, and hid any smoke flavor that may have existed. The slices of brisket had good flavor, but the undeft hand of the man behind the counter wielding the knife created some very hard to eat slices. The fatty brisket was loaded with unrendered fat, and was sliced with, rather than against, the grain making it tough. The lean brisket was also sliced with the grain, and contained about as much fat as I'd expect in a fatty slice. The salt rub was once again front and center, but a good crust and smoky flavor made this brisket more pleasing than the ribs. The lean slices might have been rated higher if they were more tender, but there's no need to order the fatty brisket here. You'll get the gobs of fat which normally find themselves in the waste bucket.

Rating ***

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Thursday, September 25, 2008


401 Skyline Street

Del Rio, TX 78840


Open Tues-F 11-8, Sat 1-7, Sun 11-3

A small metal building on the edge of Del Rio overlooks Lake Amistad. In addition to being a BBQ joint, they also sell wood carvings bearing various football team logos. The brisket here had no crust and little smoke flavor. The roast-beefy flavor was supplemented with a pronounced garlic rub. The slices were pull-apart tender and moist. The ribs were St. Louis style ribs with little smoke flavor, but a powerful garlic based rub. They were tender with well rendered fat but little crust. Overall the meat here was just average.

Rating **

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Hot Pit B-B-Q

DEL RIO: Hot Pit B-B-Q
309 Avenue F (Hwy 90)
Del Rio, TX 78840
Open M-Sat 11-7

Brisket and sausage are the only meats on the menu, so I asked if the sausage was made in-house. The lady behind the counter said proudly "No, it's from Agra foods. That's it, Con Agra." I ordered it anyway. To be expected, it wasn't very good. I won't even go in depth with a description, and just assume that the reader has tried Eckrich sausage. The brisket wasn't smoked in a Sysco truck, but it wasn't anything special either. It was sliced thin and tender, but there was little pronounced flavor, and no smoke to speak of. In a town short on BBQ joints, it's too bad this is one of just two choices.

Rating *

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Evett's Bar-B-Que

UVALDE: Evett's Bar-B-Que
301 E Main St
Uvalde, TX 78801
Open Tues-F 10:30-6, Sat 10:30-4

Tens of thousands of butterflies were hurling themselves into the grilles and windshields of the vehicles humming along Highway 90 during a morning drive from Del Rio to Uvalde during the great butterfly migration in search of good 'cue. Along Main Street in Uvalde, I found Evett's just down from the closed down shell of Haby's. I wish I'd made it to Uvalde a few years ago to try the famed Haby's, but Evett's certainly made up for it. Before we get to the meat, the sides here were great. The potato salad was mustard based with nearly mashed potatoes, flecks of red pepper and a hint of sugar. Pinto beans rather than bbq beans are the standard in this area of Texas, and this joint puts out a good version. The meat was not to be outdone by the sides though. The brisket had a good smoky crust with a great flavor throughout, but little smoke was evident in bites without crust. The fat could have been more well rendered, and the slices were a bit dry, but a good brisket overall. The ribs were big spare ribs that arrived sauced. This is by rule a negative, but this thin, slightly sweet sauce did nothing but complement the deeply smoky meat. The crust was still evident beneath the sauce, and the meat below it was perfectly tender and all the fat had been rendered creating a nearly perfect rib. A better brisket would have bumped up the rating, but this was a great find in an out-of-the-way town.

Rating ****

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"R" Bar-B-Que

SABINAL: "R" Bar-B-Que
1209 Center St
Sabinal, TX 78881

Open M-F 6-2 & 4-8, Sat 6-9, Sun 7-2

This joint is open late on a Friday night, but it's just past the edge of town, and I wouldn't have found it without the sharp eyes of a friend who was along for the ride. We weren't the only ones, as it was nearly full just 1/2 hour before closing time. The family run joint has a wide menu, but we stuck to the 'cue. Both the brisket and ribs lacked smoke flavor and came sauced. The brisket had little crust and nothing beyond roast-beefy flavor. The ribs were possibly par-boiled with little flavor besides what the sauce provided. Overall, it was decent meat, but not great BBQ.

Rating **

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

McBee's Bar-B-Q

HONDO: McBee’s Bar-B-Q
1301 19th St.

Hondo, TX 78861


Open Sun & Tue-Thur 10:30-6:30, F-Sat 10:30-8:30

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2008: McBee's is right off the highway, and it was a welcome respite from the road. The meat is displayed prominently in a glass case at the counter, and it looked great. I ordered brisket and ribs. It took some restraint not to order one of everything. The spare ribs were enormous with a heavy salt and pepper rub. The flavor of the thin meat at the skinny end of the rib was masked by the rub, but the rub complimented the well-crusted thicker meat well. The overall flavor of the meat was good with the salt permeating through, but it could have used more smoke. The ribs also needed more time on the smoker to provide more tenderness and well rendered fat. The brisket was also cut thick with an excellent crust. The same rub was used providing a good flavor, but there was still not enough smoke flavor. The fat on these thick slices was well rendered, and the meat was tender. I can't wait to get back here and try the rest of the menu.

Rating ***

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Pit Stop BBQ

709 US Hwy 90
Castroville, TX 78009
Open M-Thur 11-3, F-Sat 11-8, Sun 12-7

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2008: I should have known better when the sign read "Pit Stop BBQ and Sports Bar". The ribs here were boiled and had an off-putting flavor that resembled the smell of sweaty feet. The brisket was nothing more than a bad attempt at roast beef. They should do all passer-by a favor and take the word "BBQ" off the sign.

Rating *

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The BBQ Pit

106 Water St
Waxahachie, TX 75165

Open M-W 11-2, Thur-Sat 11-7

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2008: This little joint in downtown was packed at 1:00 on a Friday. It has a real down-home feel, not only in the clientele, but also in the community ice bucket for drinks and the crusty ladle in a steaming crock-pot of BBQ sauce. Orders are placed at a window inside, so I could not get a look at the meat, but the scent of smoke hung in the air. I sat a table in this small dining room waiting for my order. A plate of brisket, ribs and sausage arrived quickly. The St. Louis style ribs were sauced after cooking, so any crust that had formed was now soggy. There was a thick band of unrendered fat just below the would-be crust. The remaining meat was tender with good flavor, but with little smoke. The sliced brisket was mostly gray with a slight smoke line. There was little crust to speak of and little smoke flavor. The fat remaining in the meat was well rendered, but it didn't contribute much to the mediocre, roast-beefy flavor. The sausage had decent snap with heavy black pepper seasoning and a medium grind. There was just the right amount of grease, and a great flavor. I could see myself as a regular at this joint if I lived in this area, but I don't think I'd drive very far to try it again.

Rating **

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Cooper's Pit Bar-B-Q

MASON: Cooper’s Pit Bar-B-Q
502 San Antonio St.
Mason, TX 76856
Open Daily 8-5:30

Update 2008 - I had heard that this joint's quality was suffering, so I stopped by to check things out. Business was slow, and the pits were unattended when I pulled up. Once the carver ambled over, I ordered pork and beef ribs as well as sliced brisket. The brisket was sliced with the grain rather than against it, so the dried out slices were very tough. I ended up slicing them into chewable strips in order the enjoy the salty rub and deep smoky flavor. The large spare ribs were also a bit dry, but still had great flavor. The fat was not well rendered enough, but the level of tenderness was good. The beef ribs were the best item. They were incredibly thick with excellent flavor and well rendered fat throughout. After being one of my favorites in the State on my first visit, this time didn't live up to those standards.

Rating ***

2006 - Mason, Texas isn't near anything but Mason, Texas, but it's worth traveling to if you want some great BBQ. This joint is in what looks like a converted gas station. The giant black pits are siting out front, and ordering is done with your index finger...some of that, a few of those...and it's all placed on a plastic cafeteria tray. No Plate. No butcher paper. You then have the option to have the beautifully smoked morsels of meat dunked into a vat of sauce like so many McNuggets. I opted for sauce on the side. Your order is then weighed, paid for, then taken into the picnic table filled room at the back of the building where it's finally time to chow down.

I tried lamb ribs, pork ribs and brisket. The lamb ribs taste like you'd expect lamb to taste. They were not outstanding, but I don't have much to compare them to. The pork ribs were a bit dry, but the fat was well rendered, the flavor was good, and the smoke flavor was fair. The brisket had an intensely smoky crust that was almost crispy, and a good salt and pepper rub. The meat was moist, tender, and even the fat was good. This was some of the best brisket I've had, and I've drive all the way back to Mason to get some more.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ricky Ray's BBQ

PLANO: Ricky Ray’s BBQ
3100 Independence Parkway, Suite 299
Plano, TX 75075
Open Tues-Thur 10:30-9, F-Sat 10:30-10, Sun 11-7

Update 2009 - This joint is CLOSED.

When a two-meat plate costs $16+, I expect a great plate of smoked protein. What I received was merely mediocre. The brisket was sliced thin which contributed to its dryness. The slices were not only dry, but were also tough. There was a decent crust with the slightest of smoke lines, but the overall flavor lacked punch. The ribs were a little better. These were huge spare ribs with a bright red rub. No crust had formed over top this thick rub which tasted like BBQ flavored potato chips. Layers of unrendered fat remained in this rib that required considerable picking-through to get at the mediocre, nearly smokeless meat. The sides of fried okra and potato salad were the only standouts here.

Rating *

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Bar-B-Q Barn

PLANO: Bar-B-Q Barn
2129 W Parker Rd.
Plano, TX 75023
Open M-Sat 11-8:30

Stepping into this strip mall storefront, I was greeted at the door by a stuffed bear adorned in a white waiter's vest and a Little Joe cowboy hat. Far from a barn, this joint was pure suburbia. At 2:30 on a Saturday, it was empty, although threats of Hurricane Ike may have dampened business. I ordered a two meat sandwich with brisket and ribs, and the owner informed me that ribs have bones in them. After my OK, he built my sandwich anyway. The St. Louis style ribs had a dark crust, but little smoke or any other flavor. The tenderness was fine, but they were a bit mushy from prolonged storage. The brisket was worse. The crust was non-existent as was the flavor. Any flavor that remained was pure roast-beefyness. I wouldn't bother again, even to laugh at the bear maitre d'.

Rating *

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Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.