Thursday, February 7, 2013

Conger's Smoke Shack

SAN ANTONIO: Conger's Smoke Shack
2347 Nacogdoches Rd.
San Antonio, TX 78209
Open M-Sat 11-3

A smoker attached to the back of this food truck parked under an old gas station canopy in the shadow of the interstate was belching out oak and pecan smoke. This was a good sign. I was wearing a t-shirt that read "I love BBQ" when I ordered through the window. You'd think this would be a clue to give me the good stuff, but what I got was a mixed first.

The pork ribs were a great start. They are served either glazed or naked depending on your request, so I went for a half and half. The whole rack was beautiful, but those glazed ribs had an extra shimmer. They looked as if they'd been prepared for a photo shoot. A well formed bark was on both versions, so I took a bite of an unglazed rib first. It was exquisite. The meat peeled away from the bone easily without falling off, and even without the glaze they were very moist. Smokiness pervaded every bite, but the sweetness of the rub was a perfect balance. The sweetness was enhanced by the glaze, but it wasn't needed. The naked rib was perfection.

First Brisket

Not as much could be said of the first brisket we received. The meat was a bit dry and the flavor was washed out. There was a great crust and nicely rendered fat, but it just tasted like old brisket. By this point the owner had come out to the table to see why we were taking photos. I gave him a card and he asked our honest opinion on the meat. I was honest and he quickly got up to get some more brisket. While I could have chalked this up to good customer service, I knew that most customers wouldn't have gotten this level of service.

Second Brisket

I was more annoyed when he came back with some slices from what he called a "fresh brisket". It was obvious that I was being fawned over, but there was no contest between this replacement brisket and the first one. The meat was smoky, well seasoned and had perfectly rendered fat. This was some great brisket.

Along with the new brisket was a sample of pulled pork. The moist and smoky meat came along with some sweet mustard sauce for dipping. Both the sauce and meat were excellent alone, but it was an even better combination. I got a nervous note from the owner the next day to see how I liked things. My response could be used as words of wisdom for many pitmasters who are striving for greatness. When excellence is your goal then you need to know when to make the hard decision to either throw out a brisket or just turn it into chopped beef. There's no room for serving your best stuff to some customers while others dine on your mistakes. If he heeds my advice, then this joint could be a five star place. At this point, the ribs are some of the best in the city, but given the spotty quality of the brisket it's just not to that level yet.

Rating ****


kindofabigdeal said...

I've had one chance to go there. I got brisket like your first plate. My pork was decent, but lacked much crust. As I recall everything came sauced. I think I'll make another stop by there soon to check them out. I'll be sure to print up a business card so i get some good stuff.

PM Summer said...

This is a good example of why my newspaper food critic friends (I think I have two left) go out of their way to not be identified or recognized in any way, usually sending surrogates to pre-test a place before they follow-up later by ordering the exact items in similar conditions. The danger is too great that special treatment/cuts/servings will be offered a recognized "food critic."

Maybe you ought to get a t-shirt that says, "I love fried chicken." ;-)

plastic business cards said...

Both the sauce and meat are excellent.looking delicious.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I'll waste my time trying it. Thanks

Charlie Patin said...

I was curious why you gave it 4 stars? Sounds like should have been a 2 or at best 3 from your post. What am I missing?

Anonymous said...

Great tasting brisket each time I come here. 4/5 every time.


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.