Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Polak's Sawsage Farm

KARNES CITY: Polak's Sawsage Farm
2835 S Highway 181
Karnes City, TX 78118
Open M-Tues 8:30-8:30, Thur 8:30-8:30, F-Sat 8:30-9, Sun 8:30-3

If I could judge this joint on sides and items on the menu besides the barbecue, then it might get a more solid endorsement, but the barbecue at Polak's Sawsage Farm isn't worth stopping for.

A side of sauerkraut flecked with bits of smoked meat was well seasoned with just the right amount of crispness. A German potato salad was richer than expected in a good way. I finished them both. The homemade sausage links was decent, but the casings hadn't crisped up at all and there was little evidence of smoke. It made me wonder if maybe the sausage wasn't smoked. The brisket on the other hand was inexcusable. It had been sliced then rewarmed on a flat top back in the kitchen. The surfaces of the slice (singular) were browned and the edges were crispy. I cringed as I took a bite knowing that it wouldn't be pleasant. It wasn't.

Rating * 

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Lil' Joe's Bar-B-Que

ROSEBUD: Lil' Joe's Bar-B-Que
212 N 5th.
Rosebud, TX 76570
Open Thur-Sun 11-6

You wouldn't think that a town the size of Rosebud, Texas (population 1,412) could support three barbecue joints, but then you find the small painted wooden sign for Lil' Joe's along the highway just inside the city limits. A bit of Dallas Cowboys memorabilia decorates the small dining room, and orders are placed at a back counter. I took a three meat combo of sausage, brisket and spare ribs to go.

Out at the car I could smell the smoke which got even stronger when I opened the box. The colors were right, but the black crust of the ribs was just too much. They were overcooked and falling off the bone while also being oversmoked with a distinct taste of creosote. The brisket had a more appropriate level of smoke but it was so dry it crumbled apart. A well spiced sausage was enjoyable enough, but not enough to save the plate of what was otherwise poorly executed barbecue.

Rating **

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Jake 'N' Boo's Backdoor Bar & Grill

ROSEBUD: Jake 'N' Boo's Backdoor Bar & Grill
341 W Main St.
Rosebud, TX 76570
Open Thur 11-8, F-Sat 11-9, Sun 11-6

There's something ironic about the feeling I get after seeing the walls of a barbecue joint lined with competition trophies. This should be a good sign that several panels of judges have found the owner's barbecue enjoyable, albeit in a different setting. Unfortunately, there rarely seems to be a correlation between barbecue competition prowess and great restaurant barbecue, which is why I was suspicious when walking into Jake 'N' Boo's. There were trophies and plaques everywhere and not another customer in sight during our mid-afternoon visit. We sat down after ordering a meat sampler plate at the bar.

Just as important as the cooking of barbecue in a restaurant setting is how it is held through the day. This isn't a challenge on the competition circuit where the meat is sliced, plated and served immediately after smoking. One method for holding is to keep the meat in a broth or drippings, or to use those drippings to brush the meat. This can awaken dry meat and provide an extra oomph of flavor. An overly salty broth can also overwhelm the meat. This was the case at Jake 'N' Boo's where every item we tasted had a similar greasy film and overly salty flavor. The chicken stood out as being extremely overcooked and mushy while the rib and brisket were both incredibly dry despite the added moisture. It was just a sad plate of barbecue, and I can't say that I saw enough potential to think it would have been much better a few hours earlier.

Rating *

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Suds and Smoke at Deep Ellum Brewery

Get your tickets for a BBQ and beer event that happens NEXT MONDAY to benefit Foodways Texas.

The Food:

Justin Fourton of Pecan Lodge - Pepper Crusted Smoked Pork Belly

Brian Luscher of The Grape - Smoked Beef Red Hots

David Uygur of Lucia - Mussels, N'duja and Grilled Bread

Tim Byres of Smoke - Lamb Barbacoa Tacos

Terry Chandler of Fred's Texas Cafe - Mesquite Fired Tablitas (beef short ribs)

Central Market will be providing several salads if you need a break from the meat.

In addition to the food, beers from Deep Ellum Brewing are included in the price. They'll have six beers on tap.

I hope to see you there. Click for tickets.

- BBQ Snob

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Friday, February 8, 2013

Bunkhouse BBQ

CLIFTON: Bunkhouse BBQ
1001 South Avenue G 
Clifton, TX 76634
Open Tues-Sat 11-8

There is nothing more disheartening at a barbecue joint than watching the meat slicer take the back of their knife and scrape away the layer of beautiful fat cap and throw it in the trash. When the black crust on a freshly unwrapped brisket glistens with moisture it makes my heart skip a beat. No matter how many joints I've eaten at that day, my mouth waters and my stomach grumbles. I can almost feel the fat melting on my tongue as the fat jiggles on the cutting board. Then, to see that brisket violated by the back of a knife makes me want to press charges. I was on the verge of calling 9-1-1 at Bunkhouse BBQ.

I requested some fatty brisket in the hopes that some of the fat remained. I also added some ribs and pork loin to the order. Outside on the trunk it took just one bite of the beans and potato salad to determine their dubious quality. The thick ribs were tough and undercooked with a thick sweet glaze. The excessive salt and sugar blasted away any other flavors including the smoke. The pork loin was incredibly dry, but it tasted better than it looked. A dip into the homemade sauce just brought more of the excessive sweetness that was on the ribs. That brisket that could have been great was just inching beyond good. The meat was moist and had the perfect tenderness. All of the seasoning and smokiness were long gone, but it didn't have to be that way. Do us all a favor - keep the fat, keep the flavor.

Rating **

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Doc's BBQ

US Hwy 77 & Co. Rd. 225
Schulenberg, TX
Open ?

This joint is already CLOSED, but here are the photos. It was on a empty stretch of highway between Schulenburg and Hallettsville.

None of it was good, and the sauce didn't help. It's always sad to see a joint close, but when it's as secluded as Doc's was, they really need to make it worth the trip, and this wasn't.

Rating *

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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 bag...at 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 ****

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Barbecue Station

SAN ANTONIO: Barbecue Station
1610 Northeast Loop 410 
San Antonio, TX 78209
Open M-Sat 11-9

You could smell the smoke in the parking lot of Barbecue Station. It's all mesquite and oak smoke coming from the wood-fired pits, so I was hoping for some good stuff. The joint was nearly empty in the mid-afternoon, so my order came out quickly. For just some brisket and ribs, my bag felt heavier than expected. I'm guessing they were a little generous with the 1/2 pound of each that I requested.

The two huge spare ribs may have weighed in at a 1/2 pound each. The meat was juicy, but the rub was so heavy that it overpowered any hint of smokiness. They hadn't gone light on the salt for sure, but the ribs mostly tasted like roast pork.

The brisket was also plenty moist, but had been overcooked to the point of falling apart. The crust and smokering looked as if the slices might pack a smoky punch, but it was more like a light shoulder tap just to remind you that it was smoked meat. I may have gotten more meat than I paid for, but what I really needed was the smoke that I smelled in the parking lot to find its way to the meat.

Rating ** 

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The Big Bib

2427 Austin Hwy
San Antonio, TX 78218
Open Tues-Sat 11-8, Sun 12-6

The first time I saw the listing for the Big Bib, I just assumed it was a typo and it was supposed to be the Big Rib. Not so. A few barbecue folks around town directed us here, so on the way out of town we stopped at this tiny storefront. What is pictured below is far less than what I actually ate. As I ordered at the counter they asked if I'd been there before. When I said no they started setting out samples of nearly every meat they served, although I had only ordered a simple combo plate.

It was hard to remember all of those rapid-fire meat samples, but the turkey was moist and smoky whole muscle meat. The pulled pork was juicy and studded with bits of crust. The sausage was forgettable, but the chicken was smoky and better than I expected. Back in the car I had a bit more time to contemplate the brisket and ribs alone. The baby backs had a generous rub, but a nice crust was still allowed to form. The meat had great tenderness, but had dried out a bit. It needed a bit more smoke, but was a good rib overall. The brisket also needed some of that smoke, but the meat was well cooked with a good crust, nicely rendered fat, and good flavor overall.

It might be a tiny joint, but the Big Bib displayed some hospitality in a big way. Their barbecue was better than average which is worth noting in a city that doesn't have a huge number of great barbecue options. I'd be happy to return.

Rating *** 

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

BREAKING: John Mueller Meat Co. Opening in Austin

You may remember last October when John Mueller was shut out of his well regarded JMueller BBQ trailer on South First St. in Austin. To say the least he wasn't happy about it, but stayed quiet plotting his return. That return will occur in just two weeks, and for smoked meat lovers everywhere, let's hope it's a triumphant one.

Wednesday, February 20th (Now Saturday, February 23rd) will be the opening day of John Mueller Meat Co., and the trailer will be set up in the parking lot of Kellee's at 2500 E. 6th St. This will put John a stone's throw from Franklin Barbecue and spitting distance from Live Oak Barbecue in East Austin.

The new trailer will be open Tuesday - Saturday with the same menu that I applauded at John's old location. Just like his previous set-up you can eat at one of the picnic tables in front of John's trailer or you can take your barbecue inside and buy a beer at Kellee's.

If you're too impatient to wait two weeks, you can get a preview in Houston where John will be smoking brisket, ribs and sausage for "Q for a Cause" from 12-4 at Cottonwood Bar at 3422 N. Shepherd on this Saturday, February 9th.

Finally, for all the folks with unfulfilled hope that the Aaron Franklin v. John Mueller barbecue rivalry would blossom, they can now shift their focus to a genuine intracity family feud. John's sister LeAnn Mueller (who ousted him from the trailer on South First St.) and (I'm guessing former) friend John Lewis now head up the pits at la Barbecue in John Mueller's old barbecue trailer. Sparks are gonna fly.

- BBQ Snob

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BBQ Openings in D/FW

A few years ago there were few BBQ openings that would garner a mention by even local media. Most joints didn't bother even making an announcement, but things have changed. These days with every opening there seems to be a press release, a new website and maybe even a chef. More than once I've been frustrated at the lack of marketing prowess of those that make barbecue their business, but that doesn't seem to be a problem any longer. Here are a few of those openings:

FM Smokehouse is coming to Irving. They've announced a March opening at 660 Walnut Ridge Rd. This joint will be from the owners of Holy Grail Pub in Plano.

Slow Bone will open in Dallas in late February or early March. It'll be in the old BW's BBQ building across the street from Off Site Kitchen. Jack Perkins of Maple & Motor is at the helm with a solid staff behind him.

3 Stacks Smoke and Tap House will open on February 8th in Frisco at 4226 Preston Rd. Trace Arnold known as the Rib Whisperer will work the pits, presumably taking some time away from the Ultimate Smoker & Grill that he designed.

Kenny's Smokehouse in Plano has already opened despite their Facebook banner that still says "Coming Soon". It's from chef Kenny Bowers and is located at 5760 Legacy Dr.

Peak & Elm Cocina y Bar isn't a barbecue joint, but they will be cooking barbacoa. I haven't confirmed the cooking method, but via their Twitter account I've learned that they will offer whole head barbacoa (barbacoa de cabeza) and the more popular cheek meat (cachete). They'll open Friday, February 8th at Peak and Elm Streets in Dallas.

Brooks Backyard BBQ opened in Garland two months ago without any fanfare. They're doing some decent barbecue and they cure and smoke their own bacon.

You'll have to wait until later today for the biggest opening news so far this year. I'll be sure to give a full report on all of them.

- 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.