Wednesday, June 30, 2010

BBQ in the News

It's only been a week since the last update about BBQ in the news, but the stories just keep coming.

Man Up Texas BBQ filled us in on Anthony Bourdain's trip to an old school bus that is Old School BBQ & Grill in Austin. You can read more about them on Austin360.

Mayor Tom Leppert offers his pitch for LeBron James to come to Dallas. The BBQ Snob appreciates that his #1 reason to come to Dallas involves Texas BBQ. Be sure to invite me along.

Ruthie Johnson who is part of the Houston Chowhounds offers her recap of the recent BBQ Smackdown in Houston.

Also in Houston, Greg Morago writes about a Texas BBQ roadtrip in the Houston Chronicle. Mouthwatering.

On a sad note, the Southern Foodways Alliance announces the death of Luke Zimmerman who was one of the owners of Ruby's BBQ in Austin. He will be missed.

- BBQ Snob

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Big Barn Bar-B-Que

8021 Main Street

North Richland Hills, TX 76180


Open M-Thur 11-10, F-Sat 11-12am, Sun 11-7

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2010: We arrived just in time. Not only was this the first anniversary of the joint, most of the dining room was reserved for a banquet. They all got in line just behind us. My wife was game to let me sample a majority of the menu, so we each got three meat platters.

Her plate featured turkey, chicken and sausage. The sausage was dense, well seasoned, and flavorful with great smoke and nice snap. Chicken had no smokiness beneath the skin, but the meat was perfectly moist with great flavor. Turkey was even better with a hint of smoke in these slices that came from an actual turkey breast. On the side, mac & cheese was very generic, but the green beans were excellent.

My plate featured brisket, ribs and hot links. The hot links were the best item. Smokey and spicy with great flavor and a great snap. These were not generic hot dog flavored links with fake food coloring. Ribs had good seasoning, great moisture and good texture, but they were missing some good smokiness. Brisket had a hint of smoke in the crust, but none outside of the crusty bites. The meat was moist and nicely tender with a bit of well rendered fat along the edge. A great version of broccoli salad and mashed potatoes rounded out the plate.

After the meal, I talked with the pitmaster who informed me that they use a Southern Pride smoker. I also learned that both their sausage and hotlinks come from Eddy Packing Co. in Yoakum, Texas. I'd passed over their products on the grocery store shelves in the past, but no longer. I really enjoyed them both.

While the smoked meat at this joint could use some more smoke, they really put pride into their product and ensure that it all well cooked. Given the fact that I enjoyed everything I ate, although some of it tasted little more than baked, I had to give them a decent rating.

Rating ***
Big Barn Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

BBQ Smackdown 2010

The Houston Chowhounds hosted the third annual BBQ Smackdown over this past weekend. The event was held at Pearl Bar where meat from six competitors was laid out for the taking. The premise is simple, taste samples of brisket and ribs from six different Houston joints, and rate them in terms of what amounts to taste and texture. Reviews of the first and second annual events can be found here, and here, and Pierson's is the only joint that has been involved in all three.

Attendance was strong, and included Houston Foodie, Drew and Brad from Man Up Texas BBQ, Ruthie Johnson and Houston Chowhound founder, I'm Never Full. These are some serious foodies.

Sample #1 Vincek's in St. Bernard

Sample #2 Virgie's in Houston

Sample #3 Pizzitola's in Houston
Sample #4 Dozier's in Fulshear

Sample #5 Smokin' Mike's in Sugar Land
Sample #6 Pierson's in Houston

I had a full head of steam when I started, but as the samples wore on I started to really fill up. After all that I was still able to get another sample of my favorite joint which was Virgie's. Those oak smoked slices of brisket were perfectly moist with a great line of silky fat left on for more enjoyment. My least favorite ribs were actually the winners while the sample from Pierson's, which was incredible on a recent visit, were over seasoned and oversmoked.

After the final results were tallied (and I was at the next BBQ joint watching the World Cup) there were four joints in the top three spots that will move on to next year's Smackdown.

#1 Smokin' Mike's
#2 Virgie's
#3 (tied) Pierson's
#3 (tied) Pizzitola's
#5 Vincek's
#6 Dozier's

In all, it was a great time, and a very well organized event. The system works well for good comparisons, but it is flawed by no fault of the Chowhounds. All of the meat that was sampled had been sliced at least an hour before it was eaten, if not longer. This created some brisket slices that were pretty dry for all the samples. It's really just a symptom of bringing samples from so far to one location, and the ability to sample so much good BBQ in one place far outweighed having to eat some slightly dry brisket. I can't wait for next year.

- BBQ Snob

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Monday, June 28, 2010

BBQ Book Review - The Big Book of BBQ

Title: The Big Book of BBQ
Author: Editors of Southern Living
Published: 2010 by Oxmoor House

If you remember Troy Black from my previous post about his cooking class, he's more than just a barbecuer, he's an author too. Along with Southern Living magazine, Troy shares his 'cue knowledge in this huge cookbook chocked full of great colorful photos highlighting fine smoked meats. (Full disclosure, I got this book for free from the publisher.)

While the basics like ribs, pulled pork and brisket are covered in depth, many other recipes are included like smoked shrimp, salmon, pecans and even smoked cheddar cheese. More important than the recipes are the clearly illustrated explanations of each cut of meat. Every type of rib imaginable is discussed along with a concise guide of how to successfully smoke these cuts no matter what your equipment. Sprinkled throughout the book are lists of BBQ joints to try in the many states where it's revered, as well as an introductory course to many of the BBQ competitions around the country.

While the recipes are a bit superfluous for this reader (do we really need a dozen sauce recipes), a good breadth of items are covered, and many of the recipes are unique preparations rather than rehashes of old standards. My only beefs with the book are using the title "Dixie Caviar" for what should properly be called "Texas Caviar", and the inclusion of Capital Q in Galveston as good BBQ option in Texas along with the likes of Black's, Louie Mueller and Kreuz Market. This place was terrible when I visited a few weeks ago, and it's only been open since last August. I've got to cynically wonder what, or who guided that decision. Otherwise, this is a solid 'cue book with great explanations and incredible photos. It's been a great addition to my ever growing BBQ library.

- BBQ Snob

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Charby's BBQ & Burgers

HURST: Charby's BBQ & Burgers
145 W. Pipeline Rd.

Hurst, TX 76053


Open Daily 11-9

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2010: Open since early May, this joint is still working on a permanent look. The sign is a tied on banner, and a poster board with block letters of the name an address of the joint are taped to the window. Ordering is done at the register, after which your order is compiled back in the kitchen. After getting my bag full of goodies, I went to enjoy them in the car. Just before I ate, there was a tap on the window from the owner asking why I was taking photos of the sign. I was startled and evasive, mainly because I wouldn't have been able to give him an honest opinion of the still untried smoked meat. He left to let me enjoy the waiting meal.

One of my favorite Texas dishes is pea salad. The mixture of crispy bacon, sharp cheddar, creamy dressing and fresh peas create a vibrant pop in every bite. This sad rendition was a mish-mash of flavors due mainly to the use of bland canned peas. In comparison, the Charby beans were a revelation from the standard bland ranch beans. These were sweet beans with the addition of onions and bacon for a smoky and savory concoction.

Meats showed potential. Brisket had a good beefy flavor, with some smokiness in the crust. The smoke didn't penetrate the meat, and the slices were a bit dry and tough. Slicing against the grain rather than with it would have made for more tender meat. Ribs however, were great. Smokey St. Louis cut ribs were meaty. The bark on the ribs had a robust flavor, and any fat in these ribs was perfectly rendered. I admit this rating is based a bit on potential given their early age, but if the ribs are always this good, and they learn to slice the brisket right, Charby's could really put out some good smoked protein.

Rating ***
Charby's BBQ & Burgers on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Slagle and the Clod

A friend and coworker of mine invited a group over to share in his smoked meat festivities. There was pulled pork, ribs and sausage, but Scott Slagle had promised a brisket, which he failed to deliver. Instead we were treated to one of the most incredible cuts of smoked beef I've had the pleasure to enjoy. It was a shoulder clod doused in hickory smoke.

Coming in 14-20 lb hunks, this cut isn't carried at your normal supermarket, so Slagle had to order his through his friends at Good 2 Go Taco in Dallas. What is a shoulder clod, you ask? If you're familiar with the big boys in Lockhart, then you've probably sunk your teeth into some clod. Both Smitty's and Kreuz Market offer lean beef and fatty (or moist) beef. The moist beef is brisket while the lean beef is shoulder clod. This cut is from the beef shoulder (you'd normally purchase a portion of it as blade steaks, like the flatiron, or chuck roast), and much like a pork shoulder, it's loaded with intramuscular fat that renders out slowly while it smokes. Also like a pork shoulder, it's pretty much bullet proof in the smoker.

Brisket's place in the BBQ lexicon is fairly recent. Most joints in Central Texas were smoking shoulder clods for a large part of their history, probably because it's a fairly common cut for European butchers. Black's in Lockhart claims to be the first joint in Texas to serve brisket exclusively, and while they may have been smoking briskets since their opening in 1931, the brisket didn't gain widespread popularity in BBQ joints across the state until the fifties and sixties.

As I enjoyed this piece of history, I noticed a few distinct differences between this cut and a brisket. First, the fat cap is much more uniform on the clod, and this even coverage of the surface keeps it moist while allowing for more of a sugar cookie flavor over the whole surface. Second, the intramuscular fat keeps the meat moist, but it's nowhere near the silky tenderness of a brisket point. Lastly, the clod is such a compact and thick muscle, it's much harder for the smoke flavor to penetrate this meat like a brisket. While brisket will probably remain my favorite for its shear moisture and smokiness, a clod will certainly find it's way on to my smoker it home after this experience. Thanks Slagle.

- BBQ Snob

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

BBQ in the News

The Observer talks with chef Tim Byres to get the lowdown on Smoke's menu makeover. BBQ just got more expensive, and still no smoked meat sampler plate. At least the charcuterie trend is gaining traction here, as it's already got a firm grasp on Houston.

D Magazine provides a good look at a local chain that exploding. Dickey's BBQ has plans for world domination, but they don't want anyone to know they're from Texas.

Our newest local food critic gets baptized in Central Texas smoke. Now she's ruined for life.

Finally, the Houston Chowhounds went on a well documented Central Texas BBQ run. Surely they were sharpening their palates for this weekend's BBQ Smackdown in Houston. I can't wait.

Outside of Texas, the Huffington Post claims that NYC is becoming a bona fide BBQ town, but the article is more about the quantity of joints than the quality.

- BBQ Snob

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Holsters Texas Bar-B-Q

HURST: Holsters Texas Bar-B-Q
1101 Melbourne Road

Hurst, TX 76053
Open M-Sat 10-9, Sun 11-6

Holsters is a tony joint inside the mall with no website, but oddly has a promotional video instead. Tucked between Dick's Sporting Goods and Macy's, the food court has a multitude of food options. Generally a large chain like Sonny Bryans or Dickey's would have a spot here, but this is an independent joint.

Those multiple options mean that the pre-made 'cue here may need to sit around a while before enough takers drop by the counter. This was evident in the dry and chewy spare ribs whose age showed in the off flavor profile. Moist slices of well smoked brisket were much better. There was still a crust, but no smokering. This was the best brisket I've had in a mall, but that's not saying much. Sides were a disappointingly soupy potato salad and bland ranch beans, but the roll was pretty good. Given the nicely sweet and spicy sauce, you might be able to make a decent sandwich from the rolls and the brisket.

Rating **
Holsters Texas Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Porky's Bar-B-Q

KAUFMAN: Porky's Bar-B-Q
303 West Grove St

Kaufman, TX 75142


Open Sun-W 11-8, Thur-Sat 11-9

The giant chicken head above the ordering window makes me think this may have been a fried chicken house at some point, but the smell of smoke as I drove up let me know what was going on out back. I ordered a three meat plate that included ribs, sliced brisket and Pittsburg hot links, all through one of the small windows out front.

After about 15 minutes, my order was ready, and so was I. I dug into the slices of beef which had a great smokiness to them. They could have been a bit more moist and flavorful, but it was some above average brisket. Ribs were better with great flavor and good texture. The meat was smokey and not too dry. The hot links are from a Texas legend, but they are somewhat of an acquired taste to me. The links are the texture of a hot dog with the flavor of taco meat and incredible high saltiness. The fake red coloring is odd and unnecessary, but they were definitely unique. The experience didn't prohibit me from trying to acquire that taste.

Sides of okra and mac & cheese were both great, and in my book Porky's is worth the exit off of Highway 175 for anyone passing by Kaufman. Just order an extra water if you get those hot links.

Rating ***
Porky's BBQ on Urbanspoon

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Friday, June 18, 2010

BBQ Book Review - KCBS Cookbook

Title: The Kansas City Barbeque Society Cookbook, 25th Anniversary Edition
Author: Ardie Davis & Paul Kirk
Published: 2010 by Andrews McMeel

This most recent cookbook from the Kansas City Barbeque Society compiles the organzation's last twenty-five years of history. Nearly 500 recipes are included in this 318 page behemoth, with a standard arrangement of appetizers, main courses, side dishes and desserts. Many of the recipes sound promising, but little new ground seems to be broken here unless you count piling layers of cottage cheese, pulled pork and bbq sauce atop one another in a demented attempt at lasagna. There are certainly some hidden gems here like smoked deviled eggs, smoked duck salad, and a great explanation of the boiled peanut phenomenon, but they are sadly few.

While flipping through the pages, it's obvious who has authored this cookbook. It seems that every other page has a recipe by Mr. Kirk or a photo of Mr. Davis' alter ego, Remus Powers. Luckily the book also includes information about all of the other contributors in a column adjacent to every recipe. This helps to create a bit of a story for each combination of ingredients. While they really try to highlight many members of their wide network of cookers, in the end this seems more like a self administered pat on the back for the long time leaders of the organization. If that were toned down, it may have been more interesting with far fewer questionable recipes.

What's missing in all these pages is BBQ. Exactly three recipes are included at the front of the book which feature the meats used in competition. These "recipes" which consist of ingredients as simple as meat and "your favorite barbeque rub" and have directions to smoke the meat at a low temperature until it's done. Did anyone really need a cookbook for that? When I received the book (full disclosure, I received a free copy from the publisher), I was hoping to learn some great smoking techniques from these professional cookers for creating the smoked meats so fresh on the public's mind from the success of the recent BBQ Pitmasters on TLC. What I got instead was a collection of recipes for such droll dishes as barbecued meatballs, a grilled whole onion (add butter, salt & pepper and wrap in foil, wow!) and biscuits whose directions generally begin with "preheat the oven", "place a skillet over medium heat", or"light the grill". Where's the BBQ people?

- BBQ Snob

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Reader's BBQ

A few weeks back I asked if there were any readers that wanted too share their smoked meat photos. I got a few takers, and they're highlighted here.

Andrew from 3rd Degree Berns shared some mouthwatering photos of his whole brisket. He had to pack and and move from Georgia to Manhattan, so he fired up his Brinkmann Cimarron offset smoker with some pecan, apple, cherry and oak, and threw on this whole brisket to celebrate.

After 20 hours at 220 degrees, the brisket was finally done, and it certainly looks like it was worth the wait.

Rusty sent a photo of his mobile smoking rig just to make me jealous. The photos of the meat below actually came out of his Lyfe Tyme smoker at home.

Rusty smoked a whole brisket with mesquite and hickory, and it looks like he got a nice crust and smokering.

He also added a few racks of ribs that are looking mighty tasty.

Thanks to Rusty and Andrew for sending the photos, and I'm always glad to find new ways to stay hungry for BBQ. Fell free to send in your photos too, and I'll get them up on the site.

- BBQ Snob

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

Al's Place BBQ

CUNEY: Al's Place BBQ
Hwy 175 (north side of town)
Cuney, TX 75759

Phone - I doubt it

Open Thur-Sun 11-when they run out

On a trip back from Nacogdoches, I was told by a friend to look for a plume of smoke in Cuney, Texas along Highway 175. "you'll pass two liquor stores on your left, then two on your right..." all in a town of 145 people. "After that, look for a small shack with smoke coming out". Although odd, these directions were spot on, and Al was in business on this particular Sunday.

A joint like this is always good for a story, and Al was ready to share. After telling him I was from Dallas, he let me know about some shady lawyers he was suing in Dallas over a confusing personal injury suit. I nodded sympathetically and waited for my sandwiches.

Unwrapping the rib and brisket sandwiches in the car, I was rooting for them to be good (ask my wife). A place like this just needed to churn out the good stuff, or so I thought.

The brisket was tender with perfectly rendered fat. It tasted like it had only been seasoned with smoke, and it wasn't enough. The meat was bland with very little smoke, and the pungently vinegary sauce didn't do much to help. Ribs were about the same in the flavor department, but were a bit dry and chewy. Al might have been having and off day, but it just wasn't very good.

Rating **

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Baby Blues BBQ

444 Lincoln Boulevard

Venice, CA 90291

Open M-Thur 11:30-10, F-Sat 11:30-11, Sun 12-10

Have you ever noticed that every show on the Food Network or Travel Channel that features BBQ across the country, they'll go to the hot spots like Texas, North Carolina, Memphis and Kansas City which are deep in 'cue tradition, then they always have to include some joint from New York and L.A. just to please some producer who doesn't know squat about smoked meat? Well, Baby Blues BBQ in Venice, California is one of those places.

After paying more than I ever have for a three-meat plate ($30), I had it wrapped up to go. This plate included a huge beef rib (I think an entire short rib), some "Memphis" ribs (St. Louis cut) and some brisket (pulled since sliced was not an option). I was starving when I finally dug into them at the hotel. The sides of creamy mac & cheese, dense sweet potato casserole and some cornbread with whole kernels and a nice spicy bite were all excellent, and may be worth returning for alone. The meat was another story.

I know this is California, and they have different definitions for things that Texans take for granted. For instance, sauced and grilled meat is called barbeque. There's nothing wrong with this type of meat, but it has no smoke flavor whatsoever. I know the proprietors say they smoke everything for like 82 hours after it marinates in the rub for weeks (my exaggeration), but the smoker they use must be some gas fired model that takes a few sticks of kindling during the "smoking" process. This stuff tasted like chargrilled sauce, not smoke.

On the brighter side, all of the meat was beautifully tender and moist. The beef rib didn't have a speck of inedible fat, and the St. Louis ribs were just as pleasing to eat. My only warning is that Texans need not expect smoke flavored meat, and you must know that there ain't no $10 combo plates on the beach.

Rating **
Baby Blues Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Memorial Day With Robb Walsh

You may have already read Robb Walsh's account of his Memorial Day BBQ with his slightly tongue-in-cheek title. Robb's lengthy smoking experience assured there would be no crisis on this federal holiday.

The so-called crisis was caused because a whole Kobe flank was mistaken for a brisket (seeing these similarly shaped cuts side by side helped me understand why), and was only discovered several hours after it was placed on the smoker. Robb quickly scrambled to the nearest HEB so he could make good on his invitation to let me have some of his smoked brisket. By lunchtime, it was all ready to eat.

First up was the Kobe flank. After smoking and braising, this cut was infinitely tender. The layer of fat was perfectly rendered, and as evidenced by the smokering, the smoke flavor was evident deep into this cut.

Robb chose to leave the brisket untrimmed, so the nicely smoked fat cap was there for the enjoying. Next to the Kobe beef, this cut wasn't as silky tender, but after trying fourteen different briskets in the past few days in and around Houston, this one ranked right up at the top. I'm glad I was lucky enough to be there to enjoy it.

All of this deliciousness came from the heavily used offset smoker sitting on the back deck. This bad boy has definitely churned out a heap of smoke in its time.

Luckily I was able to share these photos with you. After forgetting my camera at the Walsh house, Robb's wife was nice enough to bring the camera up to Dallas during a business trip, so it's my own stupid fault that I had to wait until now to post these great pics. Thanks to Robb and his family for taking us in for an afternoon and treating us like part of the family. The food wasn't half bad either. I can't wait until the next invitation.

- BBQ Snob

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bodacious Bar-B-Q (Henderson)

HENDERSON: Bodacious Bar-B-Q
1005 U.S. 79

Henderson, TX 75652


Open M-Sat 10-9, Sun 11-8

About an hour earlier, I was at the Tyler location of Bodacious Bar-B-Q. They kept me from my daily brisket, so as I was driving through Henderson, Texas, I decided to stop at the Bodacious along Highway 79 to get a brisket sandwich and see if this was the holy grail of Bodacious. After a bite of the brisket, I realized I should've gotten a combo plate (which was $4 cheaper than the Tyler location), but our destination for the day was still far off, and we had a party to get to.

As the photo shows, this was some good looking brisket. A thick black crust enveloping a deep beautiful smokering was making my mouth water. While all the fat had been unfortunately trimmed away, the slices were very moist with a nice texture. A robust flavor from the rub really rounded out the flavor. All told, this was some very good brisket. I wish I'd tried the ribs. This may just be the holy grail of Bodacious, and I'll verify on my next trip that way.

Rating ***
Bodacious Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bodacious Bar-B-Q (Tyler)

TYLER: Bodacious Bar-B-Q
13069 Fm 14

Tyler, TX 75706


Open Daily 10-9

I guess when three high school kids are working the counter "brisket" sounds like "turkey". I didn't know it until I got out to the car, and that look from my wife said we getting back on the road rather than bothering with a trip back inside. I settled for turkey.

We've reviewed several Bodacious locations on this blog, and as Smokemasterone puts it, its like playing three card monty. Every location seems to serve average 'cue, but every review is followed by comments telling us that the really good Bodacious location is in Longview, or McAllen, or Tyler, etc. I stopped at this location hoping that it might be one of the really good ones (if they or it really exists).

It wasn't anything special. Turkey had good salty flavor, but very little smoke. Being a partially processed turkey, it was no wonder where the flavor came from (salt injection at the factory) or how it got its mealy texture. Ribs had plenty of flavor as well, but that mainly came from a glaze which was way too heavily applied. All you could really taste was black pepper and brown sugar rather than pork or smoke. At least the potato salad was good. Needless to say, I have not yet encountered the mythical Bodacious holy grail.

Rating **
Bodacious Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

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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.