Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cyclone Corral

CYCLONE: Cyclone Corral
18188 Cyclone Rd
Burlington, TX 76519
Open F-Sat dinner only from 1st of May 'til end of October

I've been to some out the way places, but when you're a good fifteen miles outside of Temple, Texas, then you're out there. Janell (Mikeska) Kasberg, no relation to the El Campo, Temple or Taylor Mikeskas, runs this joint all through the heat of the summer. It opens during the rarely mild month of May, and stays open until October. The venue is entirely outdoors save the small bar, and there is no AC. After watching a great video about the joint, I was worried when the temps were topping out over 100 the Saturday I chose to dine there. Once seated in the huge dining room, it was evident that the cross breezes and the fans were going to create a surprisingly comfortable dining environment. Now that the heat of summer has passed, you have one more month to snag one of those tables before they shut down for the winter.

Dining area

It takes little more than five minutes for your food to arrive. No orders are taken here since it's family style. Our table was almost immediately covered in corn, cole slaw, potato salad, beans and three different meats.

Brisket was sliced thin, but the well formed crust was evident. It lent a nice smoky overtone to the slices, and it made for some very tender meat. The flavor was subtle sine they use little or no rub, but the meat was above average. The only problem was how quickly it dried while sitting on our plate. You could almost watch it curl during the meal.

Sausage was a well spiced and well smoked pork sausage. The casing had a good snap, and it was so good, my wife even liked it. Pork ribs were the best item. They had a great bark, good smoke, and a flavorful rub. The meat was perfectly cooked, and came from the bone with just a tug.

All the staff wear the 'No TOFU' shirts.

The smoker is out back, and they cook with direct heat in an old cotton gin dryer. The pitmaster showed me around, and explained that he starts the meat right over the hottest part of the fire, and moves it away in stages until it's off the fire completely on the warm side of the pit. Regardless of the method, the outcome was very good.

Rating ****
Cyclone Corral on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Avery's Bar-B-Q

ARLINGTON: Avery's Bar-B-Q 818
SW Green Oaks Ste 520

Arlington, TX 76017


Open Tues-Thur 10:30-8, F-Sat 10:30-9

With three kinds of sausage available at various prices, navigating the intricacies of this menu can be tough on the fly. The menu says the homemade sausage plate is $9.25 and a rib plate is $10.50. When I tried to order a, $11 three-meat combo plate with ribs, homemade sausage and brisket, I was told that the house sausage would count as two meats. I wasn't quick enough to ask if it would also count as both meats of a $9.75 two-meat combo, and just got a brisket sandwich on the side. With all that meat, there was no more room for anything from their dollar menu. Yes, Avery's has a four item menu that costs only $1 including a chopped beef and pulled pork sandwich.

This joint in about intense flavors. The mac & cheese recipe boldly adds jalapenos to the mix. Sweet potatoes are achingly sweet, and the glaze on the ribs was so salty I needed a sip between each bite. The meat was well cooked on these thick spares, and they were incredibly moist without turning to mush, but the flavors were too intense to detect any smoke or even pork flavor. The homemade sausage had that 'custom' look to it. There were meatless pockets scattered below the casing, probably from the fat melting away from a mixture to rich in fat content. The meat was finely ground, and it fell from the casing as I bit away a chunk. The meat had intense heat and saltiness with some herbal notes reminiscent of breakfast sausage.

The only area lacking that intense flavor profile was the brisket. The meat was dense, gray, chewy and tasteless. There was no evidence of smoke or seasoning, and one shouldn't have to pay more than a dollar for it.

Rating **
Avery's BBQ on Urbanspoon

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tony's Barbeque & Grill

FORT WORTH: Tony's Barbeque & Grill
1704 Galveston Ave.

Fort Worth, TX 76110


Open M-Sat 11-10

I've never seen smoked salami on a Texas BBQ menu, so over the blaring television I yelled my order to the surly pitmaster. He blamed a supplier, saying they were out for the day, so I'd have to return another day to try it. I opted for a bologna sandwich instead which proved a substandard substitution. I waited a few minutes in the AC free zone while the sandwich and my combo plate were assembled.

The ribs were a high point with a nice salty rub and a slightly sweet glaze that wasn't overpowering. The meat was well cooked, but lacked smokiness. The bologna sandwich was an unappetizing slice of barely warm tube steak that weighed in at about 1/2 pound. I would be surprised to find that it had been smoked.

Brisket was good and smoky from the hickory and mesquite mixture, but the chunks of white fat warned me that this might be last night's brisket. Indeed the slices were not even warmed through, and crumbled as I picked up a slice. While the flavor was passable, it's sad to see so little pride in in serving the finished product.

Despite the earlier brisket snafu, I opted to drop by a week later when the smoked salami called me from down the street as I was in the area for another reason. What showed up did not equal my excitement. A poor version of cotto salami was a dead ringer for the bologna outside of the few flecks of pepper corn.

Fool me twice, shame on me.

Rating *
Tony's Barbeque & Grill on Urbanspoon

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Missing Mama Mac

If you stopped by Mac's in Dallas last week you probably encountered the sign below. Mama Mac was a fixture at the cash register right next to her son Billy for years at this joint on Main St. just outside of Deep Ellum. Patrons in the last couple of years may not be familiar with her level of hospitality, as she's been away for quite some time due to illness. They reopened this week, and I dropped in for lunch today to pay my respects and chew the fat with Billy.

Photo by Irwin Thompson

In a sentimental gesture, Billy has reverted to an old recipe for beans that was used when the joint originally opened. The beans had a slight kick to them from more dried chiles, but they wouldn't diappoint anyone who was a fan of the old recipe. While we talked he insisted I grab a copy of the latest Dallas Observer on the rack in the corner so we both could witness the atrocities on their 2010 Best of Dallas list. In their pick for best BBQ there was little grunting at the choice of Mike Anderson's. It's a solid joint that deserves some attention, but the Reader's Pick of Dickey's BBQ made us both chuckle. For those of you who voted for Dickey's, have you tried any other BBQ joint in Dallas before choosing it as the best?

All my sorrows vanished once I sat down to a plate of fries, beans and a chopped beef and hot link sandwich. The best part about this combination of ingredients is that as you eat the sandwich, you can let the excess meat fall onto the fries. When the sandwich is finished, pour some sauce and beans on top of the meaty fries and dig in. This also allows you to have the pleasure of eating the best fries in Dallas, no matter what the Observer says. Stop in and get your order, and pay your respects to Mama.

- BBQ Snob

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Smokehouse Cafe

FORT WORTH: Smokehouse Cafe
5712 Jacksboro Highway

Fort Worth, TX 76114

Open M 11-6, Tues-Sat 11-8

This has got to be the only time I've been able to order catfish on a three meat plate. Although it wasn't listed as an option for the BBQ plates, I'd heard that the catfish might be the best item here, and the owner was accommodating. With so many items on the menu and their sign, the place seems to have an identity crisis. Maybe they just figured they needed to diversify after their time in Springtown when they were known as Hilltop BBQ.

After the move, little has changed about the BBQ. The slices of brisket are still thick and chewy with a jerky like seasoning that might just have five spice powder in it. Ribs were very large and equally underdone. The meat needed quite a tug, and then still didn't release from the bone entirely. As overheard, the catfish was the best item. Flaky fish beneath an ultra crispy cornmeal coating was delicious and homey, even dipped in BBQ sauce.

Rating **
Smoke House Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

For the Love of Meat

Those documentary guys from "For the Love of Meat" I was telling you about a few weeks back have made some rounds through the Hill Country and the rest of Central Texas, and they want to show you what they've seen.

Here's the blurb from their site. "Join us this Saturday at 7:00pm (till 9) at Corona Cafe to open a showing of photographs taken by Matt Johnson and Jeff Jones. All your favorite BBQ Documentarians will be there and you can take in these photos of the people and places we visited while drinking the beer that goes best with BBQ, Lone Star."

Maybe now Jeff can add more food photos to his personal site than the lonely lemon and broccoli spear that currently reside there. Enjoy.

- BBQ Snob

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Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip and Trapiche Malbec

The nice folks at Trapiche sent over a half case of Malbec to see how well it might pair with BBQ. Knowing that 'cue is normally paired with nothing more expensive than High Life or Big Red, I was anxious to see how it might pair with an Argentine red. Rather than going for brisket or ribs, I decided to try a more refined style of BBQ too. Santa Maria style 'cue has been on my mind for some time, and I was happy for the chance to give it a shot. I picked up a couple of nice looking tri-tips at Central Market, but I had some trouble finding the traditional Red Oak used for Santa Maria BBQ. My answer came at Hirsch's Specialty Meats in Plano. They have the best selection of hard woods for smoking, including red oak, and it's all available in bulk. Also available are freshly smoked ribs. I wasn't there for ribs, but I had to give them try.

Baby backs from Hirsch's

The ribs were definitely done right with a thin layer of subtle sauce. The texture was great and they got some good smoke from their Traeger smoker.

After the smoker was up and running with the charcoal fire, I put on a load of green onions seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil. They were served with a romesco sauce and some sliced linguisa also from Hirsch's. The sausage was perfectly spiced with a unique flavor. It was time to uncork some Malbec. The wine proved to be good for sipping as well as a good pairing for the spicy sausage.

Now it was time for the main course. While at Hirsch's, I noticed a lone Wagyu tri-tip in the case, and it was simply impossible to leave it behind. I seasoned all three of the tri-tips that I now had in my possession with coarse sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper and plenty of garlic powder. I started them over the charcoal and red oak fire to get a good sear and grill marks, then transferred them to hot side of the smoker which was now at 375 degrees. It took only 15 more minutes to reach a nice medium rare which is pretty much instant gratification if your used to smoking briskets.

More wine was poured at the table, and the sliced meat was served. The subtle beefiness of the choice tri-tips were no match for the intense flavor of the wagyu tri-tip. The marbling was even evident after cooking, and some thought the taste reminiscent of bacon. It was an eye-opening experience for a wagyu virgin. The Malbec provided a good counterpoint to the bold beefiness without overpowering it. It really was a good pairing.

At the end of the feast, the wine was gone, and so was the wagyu. Luckily it was time for homemade ice cream and corn whiskey cocktails.

- BBQ Snob

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Flying Pig Pit BBQ

2300 Matlock Rd.

Mansfield, TX 76063


Open Sun-Thur 11-12am, F-Sat 11-2am

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2010: After a stop at Tollie's just up the road, I made my way down to Flying Pig Pit BBQ in Mansfield. The joint is less than a year old, and sits in a non-descript corner of Mansfield. You have your option of two entrances, and the bar entrance which I did not use may have been a better option at 2:30 on a Sunday since the dining room was dead. Table service is required to get fed, so I ordered my three-meat plate of brisket, pork ribs and pulled pork. The option of burnt ends was calling my name, but they were sold out. I guess there's high demand when you're one of only two joints in the Metroplex that offers them.

When I tried my first bite of brisket, all I tasted was charred meat from the black crust. It seemed as if they'd taken the 'burnt ends' name seriously and held a blow-torch to the briskets to create a too literal version of the Kansas City delicacy. The meat was otherwise well cooked with a nice texture and good moisture, but the true smokiness was missing. Ribs, which looked better than they tasted, were average in every way. Little smoke, decent amount of meat and a very ordinary flavor. Pulled pork was the best option, The moist meat must have soaked up all the hickory smoke in the wood-fired smoker. The meat was perfectly moist without being fatty, and would have been excellent on a sandwich alongside the other standout item, Mama Cloud's pickles. Other sides were forgettable, but these sweet pickles are spiced just enough for you to take note, but not too much to make you grab for a glass of milk. Another positive was the portion size. The photo above is solely the items I took to-go after finishing up at my table. I just wish the quality matched the quantity.

Rating **
Flying Pig Pit BBQ & Tavern on Urbanspoon

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Off The Bone BBQ

5144 Mansfield Hwy
Forest Hill, TX 76119
Open Tues 11-8, W 11-6, Thur-Sat 11-8

Update 2010: It's been a while since Off The Bone was named best BBQ in DFW, and it was time for a check-up. Eddie and Marilyn were happy to see us, and it was immediately obvious that anonymous dining at this joint would be a thing of the past. Marilyn talked about how inundated they'd become after the article, and how they went through some growing pains trying to accommodate all the new business. Business is still good, but things are back to a more manageable level. One thing that helped tremendously was the addition of a second smoker. Capacity now meets demand.

When it came time to order, I couldn't pass up those ribs, and I'd never tried the chicken, so the menu was set. Okra and potato salad made for a good accompaniment to the smoky meat. Ribs were simply perfect, and some of the best I've had anywhere. The meat was perfectly tender, deeply smoky and well seasoned. Chicken was also incredibly smoky, even under the skin. The white meat was plenty moist, and the flavor was intense.

During the meal, Marilyn brought over their new-old sausage. After their sausage supplier passed away, they thought the recipe was gone for good. That is until they heard from the shop that had made the sausage, and also still had the recipe. They were so excited to have found the recipe again, and it's now back on the menu. It truly is some fine sausage, but then so is everything else here.

Rating ****

Update 2009: Eddie and Marilyn Brown run this little joint off I-20 just SE of Fort Worth which gets little fanfare from the local press. I could not find a single review other than one I published last fall. It was so good back then, I had to return and see how well it was holding up, and I was not disappointed.

A mixture of oak and pecan smoke seeps into every one of the plethora of meats available. Smokemasterone and I shared a smorgasbord of four different meats accompanied by a simple side of canned green beans and celery seed flecked cole slaw.

The most challenging protein for most DFW BBQ joints is brisket, but Eddie displays a deft hand at creating moist, tender slices with a beautiful black crust and pink smokeline. The oak flavor penetrated deep into this hunk of beef, all the way down to the well rendered line of fat at the base of the slices. The ribs had deep red meat beneath the well formed black crust. The meat needed a slight tug to come off the bone, which I enjoy, so the cliche "falling off the bone tender" thankfully does not apply. These ribs are smoked rather than baked or boiled.

We ordered both the hot links and sausage as sandwiches, and the warm buttered buns were delicious on their own. Beneath the bun were both black and red pepper flecked links of sausage with a coarse grind, little filler, and a casing that exhibited a good snap. The flavor of the sausage was unique and unfamiliar, so we inquired about its source. Marilyn informed us that the sausage was made especially for the joint by a friend in Cleburne. After more in depth questioning, she failed to reveal any other details about their source.

A well known Austin sausage shop was the source for the all beef hot links. Smokey Denmark's links have mild spice, but a bold beefy flavor was complimented by copious amounts of smoke to create enjoyable peppery links. Sliced like pickle spears, they quickly became the most popular finger food on the table.

Given the quality of meats across the board here on two consecutive visits, I'm stunned that this joint receives no buzz, especially since the 'cue fans in Ft. Worth are usually quick to point out their BBQ joints that are worth bragging about. Well this one belongs in that category, and it has made its way onto my list of regular metroplex joints.

2008: This former Dairy Queen houses one of the best BBQ joints in the Metroplex. The tall sign out front still has the ghost of past businesses in the background. In the parking lot is a pile of wood destined from the smoker with a "Keep Out" sign sitting on top. The sterile interior has little charm beyond the staff. The friendly cashier was happy to serve me just two ribs along with the sliced beef sandwich. Many places require you to order ribs by the whole or half rack. I wish I had ordered more.

The ribs here were some of the smokiest I've tasted. The crust was deeply brownish red. One bite through it exposed rosy red meat glistening with rendered fat. The juicy meat was intensely smoky and just as perfectly tender as the brisket. I could have eaten a full rack. The sliced beef was incredibly tender and flavorful. The smoke flavor from the deep black crust and thick smoke line was intense and satisfying. Slice after slice was consistently good, but the thin line of fat could have been better rendered. Can you tell it was hard to find a fault? Another nice touch was the hot buttered toast that was crispy and flavorful instead of soggy and mushy like most joints. Don't let the odd location or dated building keep you away, or you'll be missing a real treat. BBQ...that's what I like about Texas.

Off the Bone BBQ on Urbanspoon

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Opie's Barbeque

Opie's Barbeque Spicewood, TX

GUEST CONTRIBUTOR: Here's the winning entry for the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival ticket giveaway. Jacob Reach offers this great review of Opie's.

The nice thing about making a BBQ trip with a lot of friends is that everyone will end up ordering something different, and with bartering you can eventually get a good taste of everything. This worked especially well for my latest trip to Opie’s Barbeque in Spicewood for the Labor Day Holiday. 6 of us rolled into the parking lot and instantly noticed that they finally got around into installing a sign above the building, thus making it much easier to find (this same trip a year ago had our car passing twice before spotting it, despite it being right on the highway). We briefly discussed among ourselves a game plan, and then started ordering a few meats each until we together had at least some of everything (as a cheap plug, wanted to mention that ordering all together also got us well above $50, and thanks to my Q card from Man Up BBQ’s discount program, I earned myself a free t-shirt). We also heard a rumor that Opie’s started pulled pork, and a colleague of mine from Georgia swears it is closest to the real thing he has found in Texas. Unfortunately this new treat is only for weekends, and this being a Monday we just missed out.

Once we got our brisket (both fatty and lean), regular sausage, jalapeño cheese sausage, pork loin, whole pork chop, pork ribs, half a rack of sweet and spicy ribs, and ½ a chicken we were ready to begin. Actually we weren’t quite ready yet, because as anyone who has been to Opie’s before knows, they are one of the few places that has side dishes that just can’t be passed up. That is why each person accompanied their order with a side of Tater Tot casserole, and we added single side of spicy corn to round it out. Corn was heavy on the spice and strong on the liquid. Corn tasted fresh, and the heat hit so bad that some of the females in our group could only manage a few bites, but I enjoyed the full flavor. Tater Tot casserole was everything that is right in over the top side dishes. Cheese and tater tots make up 80% of this dish, and it melts in your mouth with still leaving super crispy potatoes that crunch along with the greasy gooey cheese. It is too good to pass up. They also offer free beans, giant containers of sauce, and bread on the table in the dining room. Beans showed off a good peppery flavor, although they had a bit too much water soaked up in them. Sauce was a tad thin and too much vinegar, but great pepper flavor with a touch of smokiness to it.

What we come for however was the meats, and they ranged from a bit dry and over cooked to near perfect. Both pork cuts, the loin and chop, were a bit tough and dry. This was upsetting because every previous visit had shown us a perfectly moist, tender, and super flavorful pork chop that could be ripped with finger and got you hands dirty with the juices and spices. The strong pepper flavor still tasted good on the outside, but it still took too much tearing of the teeth. Lean brisket had similar issues. No fat in it dried it out too much. The smoke and pepper rub flavor were there, but was so tough a knife was required. Everything up went way up from that point. Fatty brisket fell apart when picked up and the rendered fat melted away with each bit. Smoke ring was a bit faded and it showed in only a light smoke flavor.

Regular sausage was densely packed and juicy, but a bit too typical. The smoke was a bit light in the regular version but salt, pepper, and a distinct sweetness came on nicely. Jalapeño version had the kick we all were craving which left a small burn in the mouth. This was quickly cooled however when the cheese that was cooked inside oozed out of the moist sausage. This was one of my favorites as it didn’t taste of over processed sausage that the regular had, and the spices were dead on. The half chicken must have been taken from a monster bird, because it was a huge serving. The dark meat was much better than the white, having much more flavor and tenderness. Rub on this was smooth and subtle, a perfect complement to the light chicken. This brings me to the two heroes of the group, pork ribs and baby back ribs. Pork rib was meaty and large. A nice tug brought the meat falling of the bone but the rendered fattiness still held it together. The strong pepper rub kept the smoke in and left every bite a similar smokiness with a strong hint of sweet pink rib meat. Baby back had a sweet and spicy glaze, and these locked in the moisture and tenderness perfectly. Sweet and spicy is exactly how to describe the flavors, and they worked well together to bring a bit of heat but cool it down. This combined with the tender sweet meat and the hot smoky flavor made these a big highlight.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Texas Monthly BBQ Festival

This afternoon in Austin's Long Center was the first of hopefully many Texas Monthly BBQ Festivals. TM got together 20 joints from their top 50 BBQ picks in the June 2008 issue and had them all cook up samples for hundreds of hungry BBQ fans. It was great event to showcase some of the best BBQ has to offer, and it was also a great chance to meet and visit with the proprietors. There were also a few vendors including Wyatt McSpadden selling his great Texas BBQ book and those great t-shirts, and the Q Card was for sale, but I've already got mine.

Wild Blue BBQ

They came from near and far, but none further than Wild Blue BBQ from Los Fresnos, Texas. They're just 10 miles from the southern tip of Texas, and traveled over 6 hours to get to the event. They were also the only joint to serve a sandwich, and that chopped beef on a sweet white roll was moist and delicious.

Wild Blue BBQ sample

One great interactive item was a photo-op wall which proved popular to the crowd. Everybody seemed to be posing for a photo under the neon sign.

BBQ fans

Buzzie's Bar-B-Q plate

Buzzie's Bar-B-Q had the most impressive portion with a little of everything. I'd never tried this place before, but their brisket was outstanding today.

Wayne Mueller and a BBQ fanatic

I grabbed a hefty sample from Louie Mueller Barbecue, which was my winner of the day. The beef rib was tremendous, and the brisket was some of the best I've had from LM, not to mention a solid pork rib and spicy sausage.

Cousin's mobile smoker

Most all of the joints were cooking on site, where they had little time to prepare since regulations didn't allow them to set up until 7:00 am for a noon start. The group from City Meat Market in Giddings was working hard all day keeping their fire going. Cousin's brought in a mobile Oyler smoker custom made for them by J&R Manufacturing.

City Meat Market smoker

Kerry Bexley and Tootsie from Snow's

Another great brisket was from Snow's in Lexington. Kerry Bexley is the owner, and he's popular with the ladies. The Crown Royal girls said they couldn't get enough of his sausage. I was a big fan of the brisket and ribs coming from the Hashknife tent.

Hashknife on the Chisholm

Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Q Crew

I think Stanley's was the team having the most fun at the event, and it continued as the People's Choice winner's were announced. They debuted a new recipe sausage which was a huge improvement from their previous offering. I really enjoyed the grind and the spice level and it's from a local (to Tyler) sausage maker.

When the winners were announced it took a while for it to sink in that they had just won over the best-of-the-best in Texas. Johnathan, the pitmaster at Stanley's, hurried to text a photo of the award to his wife who couldn't make it to the event.

The final winners were:
Beef Ribs: Cousin's
Pork Ribs: Stanley's
Sausage: Cousin's
Brisket: Buzzie's and Snow's (tie)

It was truly a great event, and well attended. I can't wait for next year, and I hope all those out there who weren't able to get a ticket this year will jump at the chance to get tickets to 2011 event. You can sign up here to be the first to know.

- BBQ Snob

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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.