Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tiger's BBQ

2555 N Dallas Ave
Lancaster, TX 75134


Open M-Thurs 10-11, F-Sat 10-midnight, Sun 12-10

Lancaster is Tiger country. Across the road from Tiger's BBQ is the towering Tiger stadium, and I'm guessing this little joint gets plenty of student traffic. The students were long gone when I stopped during the dinner hours and grabbed an order to go. I asked for a special menu item of "Breaks" which are deeply smoked rib tips (like rib burnt ends), but they were all out. I went for the standard two meat plate of ribs and brisket instead with some soul food sides of yams and greens.

Those yams were syrupy and way too sweet for my tastes, but the greens were great. With no more moisture than your average cardboard box, the brisket disappointed. Each slice had every remnant of crust or fat shaved off, and it barely tasted smoked. Big spare ribs were much better. They were cut in half and the bone end was tender, smoky and well seasoned. The fat was nicely rendered, so I was surprised that the rib ends, though flavorful, were chewy. A few dunks in the spicy sauce helped me polish off the ribs while those sad brisket slices continued to dry out in the box beside me.

Rating **
Tiger's BBQ on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

BBQ Book Review: The Brisket Book

Title: The Brisket Book
Author: Stephanie Pierson
Published: 2011, Andrews McMeel Publishing

Pecan Lodge serves some of my favorite smoked brisket. They also serve an oven braised brisket flavored with chiles that is used for their (unsmoked) brisket tacos. I've read reviews complaining that this braised brisket isn't smoky, and it makes me want to remind these folks that brisket is a cut of beef, not just a smoked hunk of meat. If they would just read this new cookbook dedicated to this cantankerous muscle, then they'd know just how versatile brisket is. The Brisket Book has a narrow focus, but it's recipes cast a wide net. It helps that the author has an undeniable love for this undervalued cut. This fact makes it even more odd that the very first recipe in the book is for a vegetarian "brisket" that is a big hunk of flavored seitan. Huh? You just got done telling me how wonderful this beefy muscle is, then you suggest I down a hunk of formed wheat gluten? Curious indeed, but the recipes improve from there, you just won't get to another one until page 90. That's okay, because this book is packed with brisket knowledge.

The book takes on the brisket in three categories - Braised, smoked and corned. A good bit of history is given for the smoking portion of the book while the rest reads like a Jewish history lesson. Texas barbecue in particular gets it fair share of mentions. Robb Walsh is heavily quoted, Perini Ranch offers a recipe while Kreuz Market, Black's BBQ and Opie's BBQ all get mentions. She brings plenty of firepower in the well respected brisket authorities quoted in the book, so it's curious that she quotes message board contributors to Chowhound and the like so frequently.

Even with so much talk of smoked meat, there are only two recipes that don't begin with "Preheat the oven to...", and the book offers little beyond very basic smoking information. A scant twenty-four recipes are included in the 200 page book, and not a single one is included for pastrami or corned beef even though the author quotes a idol of hers in Christopher Kimball as saying that corned beef is "mindlessly easy". Texas BBQ fans may not be happy that the book has a decidedly New York tilt to the recipes offered and stories provided. The only pitmaster interviewed at length is Robbie Richter, former pitmaster at Brooklyn's Fatty 'Cue.

I enjoyed the absolute love the author shows to this sometimes unappreciated muscle. She truly loves brisket, and enjoys cooking it. Although she pays heavy lip service to smoking and brining, it's obvious that her comfort zone is braising a brisket. Those looking for braising tips will find all they need, but barbecue hounds will finish the book wishing for more.

- BBQ Snob

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q

ATLANTA: Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q
1238 Dekalb Avenue Northeast
Atlanta, GA 30307
Open Sun-Thur 11-10, F-Sat 11-11

This was a visit of pure happenstance. I was traveling south of Atlanta for work and accidentally went north from the airport into the city. My wife said it was my BBQ radar taking control of my subconscious, but no matter how I got there, I found myself just minutes from this joint that has received heavy praise from multiple sources including Dustin at The Georgia Barbecue Hunt. He surely knows more about where it falls in the spectrum of smoked meat in Georgia, but I know what I like and Fox Bros. delivered.

The owners are from Texas and claim they do Texas style BBQ here. Unfortunately they were out of sliced beef at dinner, so I had to settle for the chopped beef, baby back ribs and house specialty hot wings. The wings are smoked, fried and sauced in a homemade sweet and spicy concoction. They were very similar to the best wings I've ever eaten at Green Mesquite in Austin. Respectable chopped beef is easier to pull of than the sliced, and this was a good example. Plenty of crusty bits and rendered fat were mixed in with the hickory smoked beef made for a very Texas style flavor. A sweet rub on the ribs was a bit of a departure from traditional Texas barbecue, but I'm guessing you can only go so far in Georgia. Nevertheless, these ribs were perfectly smoked with exemplary tenderness and they were plenty moist.

Another house specialty is the fried ribs. After suffering through so many poor versions at the State Fair of Texas, I have a new respect for how good these were. While the menu item is most likely a way to use up yesterday's ribs, the chicken fried batter was crispy and well seasoned and the ribs beneath remained tender. Even after a hot oil bath the smokiness still shined through.

I'm certainly curious to see how the sliced beef stacks up to the best in Texas, but from what I saw in my first trip I'm more than happy to return.

Rating ****
Fox Brothers Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Branding Iron Restaurant

WICHITA FALLS: Branding Iron Restaurant
104 E Scott Ave

Wichita Falls, TX 76301


Open M-Thur 11-3, F-Sat 11-8

I was traveling with a couple of folks who had differing ideas from me when it came to barbecue. While I was happy to try the take out only Prine's or the Bar L Drive-in, one of my dining companions was looking for one thing in their BBQ joint - good old air conditioning. This led us to the sit down joint in the middle of town called the Branding Iron. As we walked through the door and made our way into the cafeteria line, it was quickly made obvious that the A.C. was not functioning or did not exist. We hurried through the line and found an empty table just below a ceiling fan.

Both the brisket and ribs on this plate lacked smoke and were severely overcooked. Brisket was also dry and fell into chunks when bothered. The meat was pure roast beefiness. Pork ribs fell from the bone and had a mushy texture. They needed more seasoning and a whole lot more. Pea salad from canned peas was equally limp, and the okra had lost its crispiness on the steam table. Hopefully those other joints in Wichita Falls have a bit more to offer.

Rating *
Branding Iron on Urbanspoon

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

South Dallas Better Block and Gospel BBQ

Team Better Block is known for putting on great events around the city that bring communities together. Yesterday they had an event along Grand Avenue in South Dallas just a few blocks from Fair Park. Given the inclusion of "Gospel BBQ" in the name, this is not an event I could pass up. There's plenty that can be said about the set-up, the entertainment or limited amount of attendees, but I'll leave that to others. I was there for the barbecue.

First up was Teal's Ribs. These folks had a storefront in Cedar Hill that I tried to visit but found them closed a couple of times for various reasons before they were closed for good. I don't know much about them other than ribs are the obvious specialty. On this day they also offered a turkey leg at the Disney World-like price of $10. I peeled back the foil to find a pale leg that required the finger test to see if it was cooked. It was indeed cooked, but to call it a smoked turkey leg was definitely false advertising.

After getting beyond the gummy skin, the meat beneath was tender enough, but was a solid disappointment, except for my daughter.

Another $7 got me three tough spare ribs that had a hint of charcoal flavor and no smoke. Chewy meat and chewy fat didn't deepen my sadness that I missed visiting their restaurant.

Eva's House of BBQ has been pleasing enough on a couple of visits, so I had higher hopes from their trailer. The $7 turkey leg wasn't any better than Teal's. The skin was so tough I literally could not bite through it. After prying it away, there was more tough and mildly smoky meat.

A chopped beef sandwich was thrown together affair on a cold bun, and not representative of the good sandwiches I've had at their store.

I understand that this was a one-off event done for the good of the city, but the way these vendors mailed it in left a bad taste in my mouth. The rest of the city should know what they're getting if they choose to request their services at another event.

- BBQ Snob

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Joe's Smokehouse

WICHITA FALLS: Joe's Smokehouse
740 Sheppard AFB

Sheppard AFB, TX 76311

No Phone

Open M-F 1030-1400 & 1600-1900, Sat 1100-1900

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2011: I was on site at Sheppard Air Force Base for a store renovation project I'm working on, and I noticed a BBQ trailer next to the store. No smoke was being emitted, but the menu was up as was the window. They were open for business and I had just a few minutes to spare before my actual BBQ lunch in downtown Wichita Falls.

Pulled pork with an Alabama white sauce has been rearing its head around Texas recently at places like Lockhart Smokehouse in Dallas. At just $9 for a three meat combo, I thought I'd throw in the extra protein on top of brisket and ribs. In asking about the pit, I was told by the owner that a Fast Eddy was his smoker of choice and that he smoked off a number of briskets twice a week and rewarmed it the other days. Now I was just hoping for somewhat fresh beef.

Brisket slices were trimmed too close and dry. A good crust had formed, but the smokiness was still fleeting. Just as I was about to finish my second slice, the owner came over to give me a few more slices that he said were fresher. While they were certainly better than the first batch, it made me wonder why he wouldn't have served me the good stuff to begin with. Pork ribs tasted like they had been stored a while. The meat was good and tender, but no crust had formed due to the heavy rub. They had decent spice and hint of sweet, but needed more smoke. Pulled pork looked like the best option with its numerous black flecks of crust, but it too lacked good smokiness. The meat was certainly moist with the white (yellow) sauce making a good complement, but on all accounts, this was meat that was meant to be sauced rather than enjoyed alone.

Rating **

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Sausages of West, TX

Update: I just learned from a reader (Thanks John) that Nemecek Bros. has closed for good. I called the Czech American that served their sausage and they confirmed saying that Nemecek’s has been closed since the spring. Czech American is now using locally made sausage from Tom’s Ole Czech Smokehouse on their menu.

11/16: It's not West Texas. It's West, Texas. This small Czech town a few minutes north of Waco is a popular stop for hungry travelers who want a quick handheld snack called a kolache. If you're unfamiliar, a kolache is a sweet roll with a fruit filling in the middle. Think a very thick and airy danish. Sometimes confused with the kolache is the klobasnek which is a sausage filled roll. In both Houston and Dallas, these are incorrectly referred to as sausage kolaches, but they have the terminology right in West.

Whether in or outside of the klobasneks, West is also home to a few sausage houses. Nemecek's is the most well known, but their early closing times on weekdays and lack of weekend hours have thwarted many of my attempts at patronage. I'm not suggesting they change their hours, it just sucks that most travelers through the area won't have a chance to buy their sausages from the historic market. Another option if you want some hot Nemecek sausages is to try the Czech American restaurant down the street that features them on their menu. Unfortunately, I didn't learn this until a few days after my visit.

As for kolaches and klobasneks, the most popular stop is the Little Czech Bakery, aka the Czech Stop right off the highway. The parking lot is packed and the lines are long. If you brave it all you'll end up with the third best kolaches in West.

The sausage in the klobasnek was unfamiliar and not very memorable. The dough is good and sweet, but it's denser and more greasy than other options in town.

Just a block up Oak Street is the Ole Czech Smokehouse & Bakery, aka Gerik's. The cases of pastries on display when you walk in are a big contributor to over-ordering.

Inexplicably, the lines here are not usually long, but the kolaches are phenomenal. They also have a number of klobasnek options including ground sausage or hot links mixed with cheese or jalapenos or both. All sausage save the hot links are supplied by Tom's Ole Czech Smokehouse next door. A microwave is provided for the public to warm their own breakfast, but these pastries need only a few seconds. While the heft of the hot link is nice for a hearty meal, the regular sausage with cheese is a favorite of mine. The dough here is sweet, airy and rich without being greasy.

Tom's next door has sausage for sale and also makes a good jerky if you need to pack up some provisions for the rest of your trip.

Further down Oak Street across the tracks into the middle of town is the unassuming Village Bakery. Per their website, they were the first Czech bakery in the state when they opened in 1952.

Neither kolaches and klobasneks are on display here, but are instead fetched from the back after you order. Be sure to ask for them warmed. While the klobasneks use a very respectable sausage from Slovacek's, the dough can get a bit soggy. Not so in the kolaches which are always perfectly buttery sweet and soft. The blueberry is my favorite in town.

With Nemecek Bros. closed, I thought I'd try the sausage at this newer place called Nors Sausage and Burger House right in the center of town.

Not expecting much from a place with "Burger House" in the title, I was blown away by the quality of the sausages. These smoky links are accompanied by Czech fries (fried potato slices) and kraut. Without a doubt, this was some of the finest sausage I've eaten anywhere and Nors is a must stop for sausage fans who find themselves near this quaint town.

These links are house made and smoked over mesquite wood giving them a pungent smokiness. The meat was coarse ground and a bit loose in the snappy casings. A jalapeno cheese sausage had great kick from the chiles that went well with the black pepper. I brought home some of the original links, and they filled my fridge with smoky goodness until I cooked them the following night. I have some of their liver sausage in the freezer waiting for a special occasion.

- BBQ Snob

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Monday, November 14, 2011

The Pitstop BBQ

MEMPHIS: The Pitstop BBQ
317 N Boykin Dr

Memphis, TX 79245

Open Tues-Sat 7-8

Elvis was blasting on the radio as I passed the Memphis city limits sign, and I was in search of some barbecue. I knew I wouldn't be getting any barbecue spaghetti because this wasn't Tennessee, it was Memphis, Texas. A town small enough that they deliver your drink order to your table before you sit down - without asking. Combo plates with ribs were not an option, so I grabbed a brisket sandwich and the smallest order of ribs I could get which was a half rack.

Brisket smoked with pecan and mesquite tasted like it had been washed of all flavor. It had been stored for hours, possibly sitting in liquid. The texture was mushy, beyond that of pot roast, and there just wasn't much of any flavor left.

Ribs were highly touted by the server, but suffered the same texture issues as the brisket. The crust was chewy while the interior of the meat was mushy and beyond overcooked. The bones served no purpose here as the meat came away in large chunks at the slightest tug, and the burnt flavor didn't make up for it. I guess we should leave it to the Tennesseans to make Memphis barbecue.

Rating *

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Three Little Pigs

Three Little Pigs is a food trailer that does not take its place alongside a gaggle of other trailers in a gravel parking lot like so many other Austin food trucks. It sits in an asphalt parking lot alongside East End Wines on Rosewood Avenue. A couple of tables and a brick pit that held a whole pig earlier that day form a cozy outdoor dining area.

I came for the whole hog that Scrumptious Chef just wouldn't shut-up about, but started in with a regular menu item of pork belly sliders. The pork belly was thick cut with a perfectly crisp crust on every surface. The fat was rendered soft instead of remaining chewy like so many other pork belly dishes I've had elsewhere. Even at $7, I'd get it again in a heartbeat.

The star of the day was supposed to be that whole hog. The trouble with it was all about expectations. I was imagining a whole hog on display that I could choose my preferred cut. No hog was in sight and I soon learned that it had already been completely broken down. Instead of getting to choose some of the good outside brown that I'd grab immediately at an old fashioned pick pickin', I was instead given barely seasoned inside meat. The sauce and potatoes on the side were both great, but the stringy meat that I got was held together with a bit of chewy fat. At $9 it was a bit disappointing. Being next to a great beer and wine store was quickly taken advantage of with a few cold ones as we watched the sun go down over Austin. Any more pork on this night and I may not have had enough room for all that smoked meat at the next day's festival.

- BBQ Snob

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Duncan's Smokehouse Pit Bar-B-Que

VERNON: Duncan's Smokehouse Pit Bar-B-Que
829 Wilbarger St

Vernon, TX 76384


Open Tues-Thur 11-2 & 5-8 F-Sat 11-2 & 5-9

It was Summer's Last Blast weekend in Vernon, and the classic cars were everywhere. The revving of engines was incessant, and the streets were packed. I pulled off the main drag into the Duncan's Smokehouse parking area to run in and grab a to go order.

Watching the staff open a residential oven to retrieve the foil wrapped meats was not a good sign. Then I watched as they sliced brisket from a rolled portion of the familiar muscle. Ribs and hot links were also part of the package.

Both brisket and ribs were awful, and should not have been labeled 'barbecue'. The meat were overtender, underseasoned and straight up oven-baked protein. There wasn't much to like until I bit into the bright red hot link.

Normally in a link of this bright red color, I would expect a hot dog like texture on the interior with a faint one dimensional heat. This one however had great seasoning and fine-to-medium grind with real identifiable heat. While the link was also not smoked on site, it had plenty of good flavor and a satisfying bite. It's too bad the rest of the meal was so poor and that so little attempt goes into making real barbecue here.

Rating *
Duncan's Smoke House on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bar-B-Q Heaven

AUSTIN: Bar-B-Q Heaven
SW Corner of Seventh & Red River

Austin, TX 78701


Open 4-4

It was eleven o'clock at night in downtown Austin. I was parked illegally in a spot that I could keep in sight while I walked up the window at the Bar-B-Q Heaven truck. A man wearing a shirt from this popular food truck looked on agreeably, so I thought I should be safe in the parking spot just vacated by a taxi hauling unsteady students just back to school. Smoke still surrounded the trailer as I made my way up to the ordering window. My glances were shared between the man cutting the meat behind the window and my car in its illegal spot. When money was exchanged and my bag of meat finally came through the window, I was off into the night avoiding a collision with the revelers of Sixth Street.

Back at a friend's house, I opened the container to find meats of widely varying quality. Brisket took the low end of both flavor and texture. The meat was both overcooked and mushy while still allowing the fat to be chewy. There was no crust, smokering or smoke flavor. This made the high quality of the ribs confounding. The pork was well smoked, perfectly tender with great flavor. The fat was nicely rendered out the split spare ribs, and they were quite enjoyable. Sausage fell right in the middle. The dry disks were well beyond their prime, but the underlying peppery flavors were good as well as the smokiness. To be fair, I had a sample of their brisket early one evening a few months ago and it was very promising, but if this poor brisket is a possibility on any given visit, then beware and stick with the ribs.

Rating **

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Vic's Bar-B-Que

AUSTIN: Vic's Bar-B-Que
3502 Burleson Road

Austin, TX 78741


Open M-Tues 6-7, W-Fri 6-8, Sat 6-7

I was running late to the judge's table at Gettin' Sauced, but I couldn't pass this joint just a block north of the contest site. I quickly grabbed a to-go order of brisket, ribs and sausage and took it to the judge's table. All of the meats here are available in an 'order' portion which is just meat and bread without the sides. An order ends up being about a half pound , so there was plenty to go around.

One of my fellow judges identified the sausage as V&V brand out of Flatonia, Texas. I wasn't able to confirm that, but it was a tasty link. It had plenty of smoke and was good an juicy with a nice snap and bold black pepper flavor. Salty slices of brisket were a bit dry, but had good smoke and a nice crust. A requested burnt end had the fatty and salty intensity I was seeking. Ribs could have used a bit more meat and smoke, but the flavor from the salt and pepper rub was enjoyable. These ribs were perfectly tender and moist and didn't need a bit of sauce. This was certainly a stop I didn't regret, and neither did my fellow judges.

Rating ***
Vic's Barbecue 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.