Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Real. Texas. Festival. in Mesquite

Here's a copy and paste from the event organizers in Mesquite. It looks like you can learn to BBQ, enter the BBQ competition, then go eat some BBQ inside the Mesquite Rodeo.

"We're a month out from Mesquite's 4th Annual Real. Texas. Festival. with featured guest - Championship Barbecue Chef and founder of, Troy Black. He will be offering a special BBQ 101 cooking class as a "pre-festival" event on Thursday, April 22nd, at the Mesquite Convention Center. For those who want to learn how to create over-the-top pulled pork, brisket, ribs, and chicken, this is where it begins. This class is an excellent way for both novices and long-time backyard grillers to learn from a master. For more details about the class particulars, go to his website at Additionally, he also has a brand new cookbook the Big Book of BBQ, on sale April 6, and DVD project Real BBQ Know How, that is now available for sale, that he will be promoting during his demonstrations during the festival.

Troy also has a VERY INTERESTING back story in that he worked editorial for Southern Living magazine, covered a barbecue competition for the magazine and got completely hooked, and has now walked away from his "day" job and makes his living being competing in barbecue events professionally, and obviously, other BBQ endeavors.

Can you think of any better city to host a barbecue competition than Mesquite, Texas? We will also be hosting our "Taste of Mesquite" Barbecue Cook-Off during the festival, which will run during the festival, April 23 - 24, it is open to the public (anyone can sign up to compete), and we will have a $2,000 payout, with a $500 Grand Champion Prize. Entry fee is $60 and categories include beef brisket, pork spare ribs and 1/2 chicken. Rules/application form available at"

Is anyone out there planning to enter the 'cue contest?

- BBQ Snob

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Ruby's BBQ

512 W 29th St
Austin, TX 78705
Open Daily 11-Midnight

You won't find Ruby at Ruby's since this joint is run by Pat Mares. In addition to being a pitmaster and smoked meat proprietor since 1988, she is also a board member of the Central Texas Barbecue Association. We didn't get to meet on this rainy Sunday afternoon, but a pleasant staff member (probably a UT student from next door) took my order from the counter just inside the door. I then sat at my table with my order number proudly displayed. I wish I could have gotten a glimpse of the offerings from the counter, but this full size menu requires a full kitchen. Of course you get all the standard BBQ meats and sides, but there are two kinds of beans, cole slaw and potato salad in addition to the salads, cajun, and tex-mex favorites, all made fresh.

When my standard order of ribs and brisket arrived with the simple sides of cole slaw (vinegar rather than creamy) and beans (BBQ rather than black beans), I knew the brisket had some serious potential. From their website I learned the reason for this. Their "all natural beef brisket comes from Dakota Farms and is processed in their own plant in South Dakota. The cattle are fattened without the use of hormones and no antibiotics are used at critical stages. While this beef is leaner (20-25% less fat) than other U.S. beef, it is juicy and retains a great smoky flavor. After the briskets are prepared with a dry rub of mixed spices, they are smoked with oak wood in brick pits for 12 - 24 hours." You can visit those all brick pits, fashioned after the pits at Smitty's, if you ask nicely.

Those brick pits are full of nicely smoked meats, of which I got a good sampling. The brisket was indeed leaner than I'm used to, and the fat was mostly trimmed away. What was left were adequately moist, and incredibly smoky beef. The deep smokering was enveloped in a beautifully thick crust which cracked beneath my teeth. The meat had minimal seasoning, but great natural flavor. The ribs ha the same smokiness, but they had been cooked dry. The flavorful meat had little bark, and it took some work to get them off the bone. What they seemed to lack was rendered fat of any sort to keep things moist. Given the quality of the brisket, these ribs may have been an anomoly, but they cost them in the rating.

If you're interested to learn more, you can find and excellent oral history of the joint that was put together by the great folks of the Southern Foodways Alliance, and this history was also documented in the recent book Republic of Barbecue. Happy reading.

Rating ***
Ruby's BBQ on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beckham & Mandel Rib Fest

Last week, I was invited to attend the Rib Fest at the law office of Beckham & Mandel. In addition to being an accomplished litigator, Blake Beckham is an amateur pit master who wanted to get an honest read on his 'cue abilities from the BBQ Snob. His huge mobile smoker was parked behind an extended cab pick-up in the parking lot for all to see from the fifth floor terrace where the party was held.

With Blake and Roger as my guide, we snaked through the crowd to make our way to the grand table where the meat was ready for serving. Before I dug into a hand picked rib, Blake explained his test for a great rack. If you peel back the rib membrane, and it comes off cleanly in one piece, then the ribs will be perfect. He then cleanly removed the membrane from the rack and tore off a few bones to try. These were baby backs which can get very dry, but the meat one these bones was moist with just enough of a fat layer left on. The meat came off the bone a bit too easily showing that they may have spent a touch too long on the smoker, but the meat had good texture and was far from mushy. The pecan smoke was evident along with the black pepper and salt rub that was applied with the proper restraint. These were some very good ribs.

After the rib tasting, I made my way back into line to check out the other offerings. A whole hog (a boar from Blake's ranch) was being pulled and chopped, so I went for all the crusty bits I could find. Since we were eating whole hog, some of the meat was chewy while others were meltingly tender. All of it was smoky and flavorful, and didn't need anything from the large bowl of sauce that sat next to the serving trays. I watched as Blake cringed every time someone reached for that ladle to taint the beautiful meat.

To round out the plate, there was a venison sausage that was made from a deer that Blake had processed at Kuby's. The flavor was so unique and any gaminess was easily tamed with cheese and jalapenos. The sausage was dense with a nice snap to the casing. I only wish Kuby's could actually sell this stuff, but there's no legal market for reselling deer meat.

Beckham & Mandel hosts these rib-fests a few times a year. Any 'cue lover would be happy to find themselves on the guest list, but these parties are thrown by the firm to thank their clients. If that's the only way to get on the list, I might consider suing someone to get some more of that smoked meat. I hope they'll have me back either way.

- BBQ Snob

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Dixon's BBQ

DALLAS: Dixon's BBQ (Whole Foods)
8190 Park Lane

Dallas, TX 75231


Open Daily 8-10

Against my better judgment, some friends and decided to grab lunch at the new Whole Foods Market at Park Lane in Dallas during the day of their grand opening celebration. The place was positively packed, but it was great to see and feel the excitement for this new store opening. The place is positively huge with so many prepared food options in addition to the groceries it can boggle the mind. I didn't have any trouble deciding on this day, as I was here for BBQ.

Dixon's BBQ , much like it's Lakewood counterpart, Bluebonnet Bar-B-Q, has various meats wrapped in foil and stored in heated steam trays ready for slicing. While the chalkboard behind the counter advertises cabrito and beef ribs, they were not yet available on the first day. I've later learned that they're having trouble finding a supplier for organic goat, so the cabrito hasn't found it's way into the daily options although it confusingly remains on the chalkboard. I opted for brisket, ribs, and pulled pork.

The pulled pork from the shoulder was well cooked with nicely rendered fat throughout, but even with the nice black bits of crust, there was very little smoke flavor. In fact there was little flavor at all from the inadequate seasoning. The ribs had no bark, but better seasoning. The dry meat was a bit undercooked, and had very little smoke flavor. Brisket was the best tasting offering, but was quite tough. It took some effort to pull apart the large slices, and the line of fat remaining was still chewy. The flavor of the meat was smoky and each slice had a hefty smokering and a nice crust.

While this was opening day, there were no doubt some kinks to work out. I look forward to returning for more smoked meat to see what they can produce once they've had a chance to get into a routine. On my return trip I'll try to get a look at the smoker to see if they're using a Southern Pride like the Lakewood location, but my guess is they are.

Rating **

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fakin' Bacon

You may have an inkling about my bacon fascination from previous posts. The silky fat juxtaposed against crispy smoked pork is hard to equal, and even harder to beat. Some ridiculously hopeful souls are out there trying. After a friend hounded me to try Baconnaise, I succumbed and purchased it among other bacon alternatives found at the grocery store. While it was tempting to head to the vegan aisle to check out soy bacons, Meatpaper already covered the options in their seventh issue, and it wasn't pretty. My mission was to weigh the options of a non-meat eater when trying to flavor their dishes with the essence of smoked pork belly.

First up was Bacon Salt from J&D's Everything Should Taste Like Bacon company. That is their full name, and they began the company after winning some dough on America's Funniest Home Videos...not joking. From there, they launched Bacon Salt, which is now available in six staggering flavors (wait, I thought this was bacon flavored salt). I picked up the Hickory flavor because it was the only one on the shelf, and quickly learned that it's both kosher and vegetarian friendly. Which brings me to a pet peeve about vegatarian food always trying to mimic meat. The ironic message seems to be, we know meat tastes better, but we can't eat it. What if we grind up some bulghur wheat, blacks beans and wrap it in burlap? Now that's a burger! I like vegetables, and I eat them regularly. What's wrong with just eating a plate of bulghur wheat and beans, hold the burlap? Bacon Salt raw tastes like salt with a hint of liquid smoke. I actually think it smells more like bacon, and just really tastes like smoke. A very poor bacon substitute indeed.

Next up was Bac'n Pieces, or more commonly referred to as Baco's. These hard bits of salted textured soy flour had a slight aroma of cardboard with little payoff in each salty bite. The extreme crunchiness also took away any fake bacon points. Another dud.

Baconnaise comes from the same boys responsible for Bacon Salt. In addition to these fine products, they also offer bacon flavored ranch dressing mix, microwave popcorn, and envelopes; yes envelopes. These products were sadly unavailable in the stores that I frequent. Unfortunatley, Baconnaise is widely available. Though not made from bacon, they have somehow captured the mouthfeel of slightly congealed bacon grease with this product. The flavor has not a hint of baconny goodness, but instead tastes like an overly salted mayo made with bacon grease. It will surely hang around for a while as a novelty buy, but I won't be a repeat buyer.

The best option was the Tom's Bacon Cheddar Fries. They tasted like neither bacon or cheddar, but after the previous three products, it proved most edible.

It may have been admittedly unfair to try these items without accompaniment, so I went for ultimate test of bacon fakery. Would these products be able to quell the BLT cravings of a salivating Jewish vegetarian. Thick slices of tomato were covered in Bacon Salt, leaf lettuce was carefully added, and lightly toasted bread was topped with a generous schmear of Baconnaise. One bite and I was transported to a place that induced a gag reflex. I actually spit it out. The main culprit was the Bacconaise.

Not that the world needed proof, but there is no substitute yet for the beauty and flavor of bacon, but a little Bacon Salt on some extra tomoato slices wasn't half bad.

- BBQ Snob

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Friday, March 26, 2010

City Pig BBQ

2001 Eighth Ave.

Fort Worth, TX 76110


Open M-Sat 10-9, Sun 11-7

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2010: City Pig just opened up, and to celebrate (read 'no liquor license') they've been serving free beer with every entree. I made a quick stop on the way back from a weekend getaway in beautiful Fort Worth. City Pig is run by a friendly proprietor who's happy to share some samples especially of his homemade sausage. Some folks in line with me were already retun customers based mainly on the smoky and spicy pork sausage. With flecks of black and red pepper, and dare I guess sage, these hefty links tasted more like breakfast sausage than kielbasa. The slices of meat were moist but not fatty and had a great smokering around a gray center (no nitrates here).

The other meats weren't as successful. The ribs were shiners (so little meat that bone showed through the top) and there was no bark to speak of. Not surprisingly, they also failed to have the slightest smokiness. The meat was tough to pry from the bone, as was the layer of unrendered fat, and it's flavor was lacking. Brisket was a bit better with a decent crust, a bit of smoke, and a good beefy flavor. All the fat had been trimmed, and the flavor wasn't incredible, but it's got some potential.

This place is certainly just getting started, and there are some wrinkles to work out. Besides the ribs, the cashier was in the bathroom for a good 5 minutes as I waited to check out, and neither the kitchen staff nor the owner could run the cash register. If they show the same dedication to their other meats as they have already to making the sausage, then this place has a real shot to be good. I'll be back in a couple of months to see how the progress is coming along, but for now...

Rating **
City Pig BBQ on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Food Wars: Lockhart

The latest chapter of Food Wars on the Travel Channel has concluded today by choosing a winner of the Schmidt family feud that boiled over in 1999. As Pat Sharpe explains with easel and pointer, after their father passed, the siblings argued over the rent costs being charged by sister Nina. In a huff, brother Rick took the nearly 100 year old business to a new location down the road, while sister Nina held on to the old building where Kreuz originated. In less than a year, this small town in Texas had grown by one in the stellar BBQ category after the old Kreuz reopened as Smitty's, and the new Kreuz Market soon followed.

In this episode, host Camille Ford first visits Kreuz Market with it's die hard fan, Wyatt McSpadden. Wyatt explains the finer points of Kreuz sausage and brisket, but never gets the chance to extoll his beloved big chop.

On her way over to Smitty's, the host refers to this incredible BBQ as "grilled meat" for the second time in the episode. I can't believe the editors let that slip twice.

After a brief conversation with the always amiable John Fullilove, Camille meets with the ardent Smitty's defender, Mike Watson who refers to Smitty's as the Mecca of meat. After sampling the brisket and sausage, Camille doesn't let on which one she might prefer.

After the cases have been made, it's time for the blind taste test where again brisket and sausage will be the subject of the taste bud debate. Both of the superfans ended up choosing their proclaimed favorite, while the rest of the panel of five gave the edge to Kreuz by a slim margin.

If you missed the first airing, you can check it out again when it re-airs at midnight tonight, or at 7:30 am on Sunday, March 28th.

- BBQ Snob

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Cele Store

CELE: Cele Store
18726 Cameron Rd

Manor, TX 78653


Open Fri 5:30-9:30

Cele (pronounced like "seal") may share an area code with Austin, but that's where the similarities end. We met some friends at this out of the way joint in this small town west of Pflugerville. The town is so small (pop. 92), that it lost its post office in 1902, hence the Manor address. The fresh smell of cow manure greeted us as we exited the car and headed towards the dimly lit screen door. Our friends waited at the bar inside this century old establishment hoping that we had made reservations. Given its secluded location and lack of a wide following, they require reservations for their Saturday dinner service simply to calculate how much meat needs to be smoked that evening. "Vaughn 7:00" written with a Sharpie on our paper tablecloth assured that we had reservations.

Ordering was simple. The choices were brisket, ribs and sausage, and we wanted them all. A short while later a heap of meat on butcher paper was delivered family style to our table. In addition to the meat, the platter included white bread, pickles, onions, sauce and cheddar cheese. Rather than sliced, the brisket had been cubed, but each cube had a bit of the salty crust. There was plenty of fat left on, but it was all nicely rendered so there was no need to pick through those cubes. The smokiness was a bit subdued, but the overall flavor was great from the well seasoned crust. Sausage from Meyer's in Elgin was perfectly smoked with a nice snap and without the excessive grease. Ribs were deceiving. I expected little smokiness given the lack of bark, but each rib was perfectly seasoned and nicely smoked. The meat came cleany from the bone, but the fat could have been a bit more well rendered.

After the meal, we got a tour of pits with pit master Brandon. We also got a bit of the history of the place. The original store opened in the late 1800's and was added on to over the years. The family patriarch, Marvin, had run the place for years until he passed in 2007. The joint then closed for nine months until Brandon and his mother reopened the joint in early 2008. They use the same brick pit that's been there since the 60's and they use all post oak.

The Salt Lick seems to get all the road trip love from Austinites looking for a good weekend 'cue fix, but Cele really deserves some consideration. The atmosphere is more family than party, and it's closer to downtown than Driftwood. Our bill was also only $40 for our party of four, and we were stuffed. In addition to the good food, the sincerely friendly service will keep me coming back. Just bring cash and make a reservation.

Rating ****
Cele Store on Urbanspoon

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Augie's Barbed Wire Smokehouse Barbecue

SAN ANTONIO: Augies Barbed Wire Smokehouse Barbecue
3709 N St Marys St

San Antonio, TX 78212

Open M-Tues 11-3 W-F 11-9, Sat 12-9, Sun 12-6

Augie's is an eclectic joint near Trinity University that was founded in 2000. In addition to serving BBQ, they also operate a cigar bar and wine bar on the premises. It was plenty busy on a Saturday at lunch time, but I was taking my order to go. They allow you to order by the quarter pound, so I went for a pork spare rib, a beef rib and some brisket slices. The knife man clued me in that they smoke with mesquite, and the website lauds their all iron pit, which I presume is wood fired.

My first bite of beef rib tasted like acrid meat. The fat had soaked up too much of the bitter flavor from the mesquite wood, and had tainted the flavor of the fatty parts of the rib. The top of the rib had good smokey flavor, and a nice punch of saltiness from the rub. The salty rub was also present on the fatty brisket slices. The meat was falling apart tender with plenty of well rendered fat to keep it moist. Although it had plenty of smoke, it was overcooked. The decimated pork ribs were also overcooked, and they couldn't even hold their shape. There were gobs of melting fat between bits of meat, but there was just too much fat to wade through to enjoy these ribs. This time there was also just too much smoke and too much fat.

Rating **

Augies Barbed Wire on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

FOOD WARS Texas BBQ style

Update: As previously reported, the episode of Food Wars featuring the battle of Lockhart BBQ was not aired on March 16th, but be there, on the Travel Channel to watch on Tuesday, March 23rd (video promo here). As described by the Travel Channel "Camille's food warring conquest brings her to Lockhart, Texas as she seeks to square off on a lengthy barbecue and family debate between Kreuz Market and Smitty's Market. On Tuesday, March 23 at 10PM (E/T), Travel Channel and host Camille Ford are on a mission to settle this feud and proclaim the King of BBQ once and for all. They both look and sound incredible, but in a blind taste test, five panelists will try both BBQ and declare a winner. Which one will it be?"

If you know your Texas BBQ, then you're already familiar with the storied and personal rivalry between Kreuz and Smitty's in Lockhart, but it will be fun to tune in and see who the judges choose and to see the arguments that ensue. I know I'll be tuning in, but I'll fill you in with all the details here on Wednesday if you miss it.

- BBQ Snob

Earlier: I just got this note from Wyat McSpadden, author of the incredible Texas BBQ, who will be featured on the upcoming episode of Food Wars on the Travel Channel. He writes:

"On March, 16 the Travel Channel will air it's BBQ Smackdown episode of the new series FOOD WARS. This episode will feature the epic rivalry between Kreuz Market and Smitty's Market in Lockhart, TX. I was selected by Kreuz to be their "Superfan". This gave me an opportunity to make a complete fool of myself for the cameras and the cause of selecting the best BBQ joint in Texas and hence, the world. Mark the date on your calendar, it's sure to be a hoot."

Wyatt's on the right

You'll see a recap here after the episdode airs. I can't wait!

- BBQ Snob

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Tejano BBQ & More

DALLAS: Tejano BBQ & More
18120 Coit Rd.

Dallas, TX 75252


Open M-F 6-6, Sat 6-3

After taking over from a former Dickey's location, these owners have changed little in the BBQ department. The temporary looking banner menu hangs inside does display their non-BBQ items like tacosand such, but I was here for smoked meat after Scott of pointed out this joint as one I had not visited after I issued the BBQ Challenge on SideDish.

An order of brisket and ribs was anything but a satisfying discovery. The brisket was nothing but firm slices of roast beef lacking crust, smoke and any flavor at all. Dry and chewy ribs weren't much better. They too lacked smoke, and no crust could form on the meat with the heavy rub that made them taste more like taco seasoning than BBQ. I guess once it's been a Dickey's, there's little hope.

Rating *

Tejano BBQ & More on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

El Paso BBQ

2224 E. Airport Expressway

Irving, TX 75062


Open Daily 8-10

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2010: When "Now Serving BBQ" is printed on 11x17 paper and taped to the windows as advertising, you know that times might be rough. The empty dining room at 12:20 on a Monday was another sign. I noticed some coupons advertising their "Grand Opening" while I was ordering, and I inquired about the age of the business. They've been operating for over a year according to the meat cutter. I don't know how they've survived that long.

Neither meat assuaged my worries that a smoker might not exist on the premises. There was no smoke in the air when I arrived, and neither meat had any smoke flavor. The ribs were falling off the bone, but I don't think is from overcooking in the "smoker". They'd clearly been cooked either one or two days before, and the dry meat had simply given up and lost its grip on the bone. Brisket was simply fatty roast beef with a meager crust and poor flavor. Even the sweet (yes sweet) green beans and waterlogged potato salad were bad. I'm not sure who convinced these folks to churn out BBQ, but they should consider other food genres.


El Paso BBQ on Urbanspoon

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Two Bros. BBQ Market

SAN ANTONIO: Two Bros. BBQ Market
12656 West Avenue, Suite B

San Antonio, TX 78216


Open M-Sat 10:30-8:30, Sun 11-7

02/2010: My second trip to Two Bros. was just a month after the first, but I had to get back there to see if the brisket was great twice in a row, and I forgot to try the cold smoked shrimp and stuffed jalapenos back in January. It was a great day, so I headed right for the patio. From there I could see the pits, and I noticed the same pit master wasn't working. I wondered how this might affect the meat.

The brisket was good. Not as good as the first time, but it was still a very good version of smoked beef. Slices were surrounded by a nice smokey crust and a line of well rendered fat. Each slice was well seasoned and smokey, but the texture was a bit tough. All of the flavor was still there, but it just needed more time on the smoker. A cut I didn't try on the first trip was the sliced pork, and I was glad I got this chance. The pork was tender and full of flavor from the slightly spicy seasoning. The smokiness was there, and the meat was very moist. This was very good pork.

The two items I couldn't resist from the appetizer menu were the cold smoked shrimp and the bacon wrapped stuffed jalapenos. The bacon had crisped well in the smoker, and the spice of the jalapeno was tempered with a cream cheese center. The combination of flavors and texture were incredible. The cold smoked shrimp, while well cooked and nicely seasoned, was missing any real smoke flavor. By all means order it, and you'll enjoy it, but don't expect much smokiness.

Even after a second visit, this joint still holds up. I'll be sure to make another visit next time I'm in town.

Rating ****

01/2010: I know we're well into the last week of January, but this is my official first review of the New Year. I visited this joint when most others were closed on New Year's day. It was nearly empty, so I had the place to myself, and I was free to snap away with the camera without anyone paying attention, or so I thought. Ordering here is done meat market style by asking for 1/4 pound of this, and few ribs here and there. This allowed me to sample a variety of meats, which is always my preference. Of course brisket and pork ribs made it on the red plastic tray as did sausage and their specialty cherry glazed baby back ribs. Based on staff recommendation, I got a side of hum drum mac & cheese, and the zesty vinegar slaw was gratis.

The brisket slices were perfect. Just the right amount of perfectly rendered fat was left on each slice. A deep smokiness found its way into the meat, and each slice was moist, tender and every bite made me crave another. The cherry glazed baby backs were surprisingly meaty and moist. The rub wasn't overpoweringly sweet, an it worked well with the meat which was adequately smoky. The large pork ribs had too much rub to allow a nice bark to form. The meat had decent smokiness and good flavor, but it was a bit dry. Sausage was a good, if not remarkable version of a beef and pork mixture with good snap and decent flavor.

As I was snapping away with my Nikon, a guy walked by from the back door, and looked at me curiously. When I had finished he walked by again asking if I enjoyed the meal. I learned that he was the pit master here. Jason Dady may be the chef, but this is the guy (pictured above) who mans the fire. That fire is first started with lump charcoal, then post oak is used for the smoking process in these giant steel pits. After sampling their well smoked meats, I was surprised to learn that they'd been open for less than a year. Here's hoping they stick around so I can go back and try the smoked shrimp.

Two Bros. BBQ Market on Urbanspoon

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Grady's Bar-B-Q

SAN ANTONIO: Grady's Bar-B-Q
327 E. Nakoma

San Antonio, TX 78216

Open M-Thur 10:30-9, F-Sat 10:30-10, Sun 10:30-8

Grady's is a San Antonio chain much like Bill Miller, it just has 60 fewer locations. They've been serving BBQ since my mama was born in 1948, but this location is crisp, clean and new. They smoke with all post oak. I don't know what kind of smoker they use, but they definitely are adept with the salt shaker.

A three-meat platter was cheap (under $10) and plentiful. The okra was crispy and perfectly fried, and the potato salad was a step above grocery store grade. Ribs were firm and heavily rubbed. The meat beneath the salty rub was so white it looked like, and almost tasted like chicken with little smoke flavor. Brisket had about the same level of smoke, and the slices were a bit tough. The meat tasted like well salted roast beef. Sausage was basically Eckrich with a fine grind and fatty salty filler. Again, it had little smokiness. This is the place to go if you prefer a light smoky flavor to your meat, you just need to have a taste for plenty of salt as well.

Rating **

Gradys on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Gettin' Sauced

The boys over at Man Up Texas BBQ put on a great event in Austin over the weekend where 45 BBQ sauces went head to head for the top rating. In addition to the sauces, there was live entertainment, free beer and BBQ. I was asked to be a judge, and although usually don't bother with sauce, I was happy to be part of such a great event.

The whole family was able to attend, but my daughter's not quite ready for BBQ sauce. No problem, I dove right into the affair with six sauces to start. Saltine cracker palette cleansers were provided, and were definitely required. Each of the sauces had such distinct and powerful flavors when sampled alone, and it was nothing like trying them on some smoked meat.

My tasting notes ranged from "Campbell's Tomato Soup" and "Overly Sweet Marinara" to "Sweet, Spicy and Simple". As I reached the end, the flavors had admittedly started to run together, so I took a break, had a St. Arnold Lawnmower beer, and tasted the finalists once again for the final ranking. Below is the stomach cringing sight of all the sauce cups I sampled from.

After 45 sauces, I had to narrow it down to a top 10 for each category, but I really only truly enjoyed about 5 from each category. My top 5 are below, and I'm glad to know that a few folks agreed with me.

1. Don Strange Pequin
2. Joseph's Riverport Barbecue (First Place in Bottled)
3. Black's Regular
4. Sucklebuster's Original
5. Wooden Spoon Hickory

1. Luling Bar-B-Q
2. Burnet Feed Store Spicy
3. Salt Lick Regular (First Place in Fresh)
4. Stanley's Regular
5. City Market Regular

I was also glad to see that I enjoyed what I thought were some of my favorite sauces (City Market, Black's and Salt Lick), even at a blind tasting. Thanks to Drew, Brad and the rest of the Man Up gang for a great event, and I look forward to your next one.

- BBQ Snob

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Vitek's Bar-B-Q

WACO: Vitek's Bar-B-Q
1600 Speight Ave

Waco, TX 76706


Open Tues-F 10:30-6, Sat 11-4

Vitek's is generally pregame central on football Saturday's given its convenient location just south of the Baylor campus. Most students stop in to rab a "Gut Pak" which is a glorified frito pie which includes fritos, cheese, chopped beef, beans, sausage, bread, pickles, onions and jalapenos. It comes in two sizes, and is their signature dish. They even have a traveling food trailer called the Gut Pak Shak, which will soon be available for franchising according to the website. This is a far cry from the humble food market that opened in Waco in 1915, and leaps ahead of the Vitek's of just a few years ago that was without a website when I first starting researching BBQ options in Waco. Instead of ordering a Gut Pak, I opted for some of the raw ingredients. I was only stopping for a snack after all.

Not pictured above is the third component of the three-meat plate, the homemade jalapeno sausage. It was the best item I sampled, so I'll start there. The coarsely ground pork sausage had good snap and loads of smoked flavor. Bits of black pepper and plenty of jalapeno chunks were present in this pleasing blend, but it was it was not overpoweringly hot. The links had a great balance of fat to keep things moist without tasting greasy. This sausage was also gray, which is the true sign of being homemade. Sausage that is processed for wholesale is treated with nitrates to preserve the meat for a long shelf life, and those nitrates give the sausage the familiar reddish hue.

Ribs were not as successful. The meat had little bark from a combination of under-smoking and over-glazing. They were plenty meaty, but the meat was too firm, and lacked smokiness. The rub was a bit overpowering, but a little more smoke would have balanced it out well. The brisket had a great texture with very good moisture that broke apart without falling apart. The smokiness was evident in the crust, but could have been stronger in the rest of the meat. The overall flavor was robust from the nice salty rub, and I would definitely order it again. Beans and potato salad were both pedestrian entries, but the beans would work well enough as filler for the Gut Pak. I'll be looking for that Gut Pak Shak next time I'm at the game to try all of the ingredients together. I have a feeling I'll like it.

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.