Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ben & Al's BBQ

171 N Denton Tap Rd, #600

Coppell, TX 75019


Open M-F 11-9, Sat 11-5

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

05/2009: Walking into this strip mall storefront just 15 minutes before closing during a rain storm didn't bode well for the possible protein related outcomes, but the wash of smokiness that came over my nostrils as I passed through the glass door got my tastebuds working. To-go was my only real option at this late hour, so I sat in the front seat of my car alone with the seductively scented styrofoam container. Inside it, I found mediocre green beans and better than average sweetened mustard potato salad. Also included were dark crusted ribs and tender slices of brisket.

According to the owner (presumably "McCoy" from the available business cards) the meats are seasoned only with thick hickory smoke. Smoky they were. The ribs were deeply smoky with a nice crust. The moist meat could have more tender with better rendered fat, but I'd definitely eat them again. The brisket wasn't quite as smoky, but this meat was both moist and tender. Bites outside of the crust were slightly roast-beefy, but this was good 'cue. I think both meats would benefit from a light rub given that they both lacked the bold flavor that the mixture of smoke and salt can provide. I look forward to trying what this joint can do during a lunch rush when their meat as at its peak.

Rating ***
Ben & Al’s BBQ on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dueling Sausages

Update: So I fired up the smoker on Memorial Day, and threw on some sausage. Included in the lineup were Earl Campbell's Hot Links, Vince Young's Smoked Links, and my favorite commercial polish sausage from Rudolph's. I smoked all of the links for about an hour over lump mesquite charcoal and soaked mesquite chunks.

Earl Campbell's on the left, Vince Young's on the right

One noticeable difference was how wrinkled VY's became compared to EC's telling me that more filler (fat) might be present in VY's. From a flavor standpoint, EC's soaked up the smoke flavor more efficiently than VY's but was much more salty. Flecks of black pepper in VY's were a positive flavor addition issing in EC's, and provided a nice balance to the salty meat.

Earl Campbell's on the left, Vince Young's on the right

Rudolph's Polish Sausage

The Rudolph's sausage also took the smoke flavor quite well, and seemed to have less filler spewing out the sides than either EC's or VY's. The flavor profile was missing a distinct black pepper flavor, and the meat was just as salty as the others. What stood out with this entrant was the presence of other spices that provided a flavor profile with more depth.

Rudolph's Polish Sausage

In the battle of the UT stars, Vince Young came out on top, but neither star could tackle Rudolph's quality.

Previous Entry: You may have noticed the dueling sausages from your favorite University of Texas football alumni at the local grocery store. It seems that Vince Young is trying to steal some market share from Earl Campbell. Earl's hot links have been around for quite some time, and are a favorite in many joints around the state.

Vince's offering is a newcomer to this smoked meat genre, but both sausages are given equal shelf space at my local Kroger. Although the packaging and labeling is similar, they are made by different companies. Vince Young Foods is in Yoakum, Texas, while Earl's are made by Earl Campbell Meat Products in Austin, Texas. I'll have to give them a head-to-head tasting to see who measures up best, but for now Texas fans are going to have to decide if they want to opt for new school or old school.

- BBQ Snob

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

BBQ Book Review - BBQ Joints

Title: BBQ Joints
Author: David Gelin
Published: 2008 by Gibbs Smith Publisher

With a similar scope to the previously reviewed America's Best BBQ, this book covers the author's 60 favorite BBQ joints in the south. New ground isn't really broken with brief histories of each joint and an attached recipe sometimes and sometimes not from the associated restaurant. The stories generally focus on the genesis of each joint, and provide a nice glimpse into their formative histories, but the author doesn't provide much back-up for why we should care about his BBQ opinions. I will give him credit for not including all of the obvious cast of characters that many feel compelled to include lest they be judged negatively by the Lockhart sycophants (which includes this reviewer), so seeing a place like Stanley's in Tyler included rather than Sonny Bryan's in Dallas is refreshing. I do look forward to trying many of his chosen few from the Lone Star State, but the book doesn't really provide enough mouthwatering detail to get me beating down doors to get started.

-BBQ Snob

For those interested Texans out there, here's a list of all the Texas BBQ joints included in the book:

Austin's BBQ, Eagle Lake
Beans N Things Bar-B-Que, Amarillo
Big O's Barbecue, Valera
City Market, Luling
Cooper's Bar-B-Q, Mason
Iron Works Barbecue, Austin
Louie Mueller Barbecue, Taylor
Sam's Bar-B-Que, Midland
Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Q, Tyler

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Full Custom Baby

What better way to announce the arrival of my new daughter to my readers than with this shameless plug of a photo. She's already gotten a hint of fame with a mention in a recent CNN article, but she's handling it well, and has not forgotten where she came from. If she had already forgotten that, we'd be worried given that she was born just two weeks ago.

Thanks to Jessica and Jennifer for the outfit.

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BBQ 801 - Formation of the Smoke Line

Any good smoky cut of meat has a good smoke line (or smoke ring) but where does it come from and what reactions form it? More importantly, is it really a sign of good meat?

Brisket from City Market in Schulenberg

Fire up the charcoal and wood that you've chosen, and get that fire cozy at about 220-250 degrees. Once you set the meat above the fire several things start happening. Steel Town BBQ explains it scientifically. "Nitrous oxide (NO), a gas, is being produced by the combustion of the wood. Nitrous oxide is a relatively unstable molecule and in the presence of heat and oxygen is oxidized to nitrous dioxide (NO₂) As the NO₂ passes over the moist meat, it comes in contact with water forming nitric acid (HN03). The acid dissolves on the moist meat surface and forms a nitrate ion (N03⁺). This nitrate then combines with the myoglobin forming a pink compound. This myoglobin – nitrate pigment is responsible for the “smoke ring” found in barbequed meats. The smoke ring is generally only ¼ to 3/8 of an inch think. The depth of the smoke ring is limited by the ability of the nitrate ion to penetrate the meat and by the temperature of the meat.

Southside Market Brisket (from Boots in the Oven)

"Myoglobin proteins begin to denature (break apart) at about 120°F. Denatured myoglobin is no longer able to combine with the nitrate to for the pink pigment. It is important to remember that the formation of the smoke ring occurs early in the barbeque process and its maximum development requires plenty of oxygen (air) at the fire, moisture on the meat and relatively cool meat surface temperatures." I couldn't have said it better myself.

So basically, it takes a well controlled fire and moist meat to get that smoke line, and while it doesn't necessarily mean the meat will be good, it is a sign that the it was cooked low and slow which is probably going to make for better than average results.

- BBQ Snob

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Friday, May 22, 2009

CNN Article

It looks like I made it on CNN. Check out the article here.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sam's Restaurant

FAIRFIELD: Sam’s Restaurant
474 S I-45
Fairfield, TX 75840
Open Daily 6-10

Steam tables as far as the eye can see...that's the welcome you get at this mediocre buffet thta some misguided sould described to me as a BBQ joint.

The three meat plate of brisket, sausage and ribs arrived absolutley drowned in a thin vegetal sauce that lacked complexity or smokiness. There was nary a bite avialable without sauce, but I doubt I would have liked it any better. The sausage must have been seconds from the Sysco truck since they didn't even measure up to Eckrich. The brisket was tender, but dry and mostly tasteless. Even bites with the crust weren't worth going back for. The ribs were the best item once the sauce had been scraped away. They seemed to be the only meat that was introduced to the smoker, but they weren't exactly stellar.

The rating is based on their "specialty" BBQ, not on the rest of the food, but I'm not going to bother stopping again.

Rating *

Sam's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Soulman's Bar-B-Que

MESQUITE: Soulman’s Bar-B-Que
1125 Gross Rd

Mesquite, TX 75149


Open Daily 11-9

After trying countless mediocre meals of subpar smoked meat, I've come to recognize the flavor of the meat before I take a bite. It's kind of like biting into a McDonald's cheeseburger. You know exactly what it's going to taste like before you even take off the wrapper. I've come to refer to this type of BBQ as "corporate 'cue". Soulman's is the epitomy of corporate 'cue.

The sliced brisket was moist and tender, but it exhibited a slight crust and a meager smoke line. The meat lacked smokiness, and bites without crust had little flavor at all. The ribs were a bit better, but they suffered from a soggy crust brought on by being stored in plastic wrap for too long. The meat had a good level of tenderness, but it was missing any robust smoky flavor. While both meats were nothing special, the sides were great. The pinto beans had been kicked up with some pico de gallo, and the cabbage was tasty with bits of sausage. The sides may have been given some love, but my eyes didn't deceive my taste buds on this day, and that meat tasted exactly as I imagined it would as I watched it being carved...corporate 'cue.

Rating **
Soulman's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

BBQ Book Review - Follow the Smoke

Title: Follow the Smoke
Author: John DeMers
Published: 2008 Bright Sky Press

The idea, the layout and the writing of this book are excellent for both skimming, as well as reading it cover-to-cover (I've done both). I enjoyed the photos and the stories, but the most basic description of how the joints were chosen for inclusion in the book is ignored. The 14,783 miles traveled in search of great barbecue is impressive, but it doesn't explain why so many of the classic Texas smokehouses were completely ignored while so many no-name joints with no more than a few years of history were included. A full 30 of the 111 total joints are located near on the Gulf Coast, while places like Prause Meat Market in LaGrange, City Meat Market in Giddings, and Food Market in Gonzales were missing from the list. My guess is that the author's Louisiana roots and Houston history may two reasons the book seems to be so heavily focused on coastal Texas.

I was lucky enough to meet the author, and I asked him just how he determined which joints made the book. He didn't seem to be dodging the question we he described the hours of research, the numerous Chamber of Commerce phone calls, and the tips from his many friends across the state, but his answer made me realize that he hadn't really considered knocking any of the joints that he had visited out of the book. They all made it in.

The book is great for any wandering soul who's always on the lookout for great 'cue on the backroads (see preview here), just don't consider it the authority on where to find the best barbecue in Texas.

-BBQ Snob

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Cousin's BBQ on Good Morning America

Cousin’s BBQ in Fort Worth has made it as finalist on “Good Morning America Weekend’s Best Barbecue Challenge”. Pegasus News has information on the behind-the-scenes filming that will take place at Cousin's Bryant Irvin Road location.

If you love Cousin's, be prepared to vote for them on the GMA Weekend website on May 23rd. The polls will be open for only 24 hours.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Baby J's Bar-B-Que & Fish

PALESTINE: Baby J’s Bar-B-Que & Fish
FM 2419 at U.S. 287

Palestine, TX 75801


Open Thur-Sat 11-8

Sweet Baby J's may be a more appropriate name for this joint. The sauce was sweet, the greens were nearly candied, and the tea was downright syrupy. Even cut with half a glass of unsweet tea, this was liquid sugar that required a water chaser.

The meats were spared from a dose of sugar, and got a good dose of smoke instead. The brisket slices had a good crust, and a decent smokeline. The tender slices were moist and flavorful, if a little too fatty. The ribs were a tad chewy with an odd flavor created by being basted with sauce while being smoked with a combination of hickory, oak and pecan. The smokiness was there, but more time in the smoker could have added some tenderness and rendered the fat a little better. The spicy, dense sausage was incredible with a hefty amount of red and black pepper. The beef and pork mixture had a flavor similar to italian sausage with a deep smoky twist.

Pulled pork is not usually found on a Texas bbq menu, but this version was smoky and tender piled high on a bed of pickles and onions and doused with the sweet sauce. The buttered bun tied this sandwich together, and it was quite good.

Out front are a bevy of smokers that vary from the tall rotisserie style one pictured, to a couple of offset steel smokers, to the smoker housed inside a renovated camper. One of the owner's friends was using the tall smoker to cater a prom dinner for his daughter and 23 of her friends. He looked busy.

The interior was sparse but homey, with wall murals painted by a local "artist". Some of the smoke painted on the wall looked a lot more like Mr. Hankey than smoke bellowing from a fire.

Overall this joint is an interesting place to visit to get some distinctively flavored meats, and with a bit more time on the smoker, the meats could really be stellar.

Rating ***

Baby J's Bar-B-Que & Fish on Urbanspoon

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Hawk's Hickory House Bar-B-Q

DALLAS: Hawk's Hickory House Bar-B-Q
7777 Forest Ln #A72

Dallas, TX 75230

Open M-F 6:30-7:30, Sat 7:30-3

While waiting in the hospital for our new baby girl to arrive, I decided that the soon-to-be grandpa and I should give this joint in the hospital food court a try. You can bet that I wasn't expecting much, and they didn't do much to counter my expectations. Since they do not offer ribs, I tried a trifecta of sliced brisket, sausage and ham.

I've got to give them props for using what I immediately recognized as Rudolph's sausage, but it tasted steamed rather than smoked. Not even that faux pas could kill the delicious flavor of this fine polish sausage, but they did their best to try. The brisket was lean and dry but tender. It lacked smokiness and any bold flavor. The ham was the worst with a rubbery texture that almost melted in your mouth. Usually that cliche is uttered in a positive way, but not when it relates to ham.

The other items offered were all good. Pinto beans were flecked with jalapeno and had a wonderful earthy flavor. The coleslaw tasted fresh and crunchy, and the deviled eggs and cream cheese stuffed jalapeno peppers that were offered were excellent additions not normally seen in a cafeteria environment. So, if you're waiting around in the hospital looking for a bite, make sure you stick to the sausage sandwich and a few of those quality sides at this joint, and stay away from the other meat offerings.

Rating *

Hawk's Hickory House on Urbanspoon

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

BBQ 801 - Commercial Smokers

This entry concerns the merits of commercial smokers currently used at BBQ joints across America. Homemade brick smokers and anything with Weber written on the side of it are outside of the realm of this discussion, but we will discuss how a tricked out breadmaker contributed to the tasty delights we all get to enjoy these days.

As modern health codes emerged in the 1900's, the use of an open pit in the ground for smoking meat became a thing of the past. In their place came brick smokers custom built for their establishment such as those found at Smitty's Market in Lockhart, or later on, rotisserie smokers fired by wood, gas or electricity. John Morthland wrote in Texas BBQ about gas-fired smokers that produce the same batches of meat every time. He explains "those 'exact same results' lack the deep, smoky, primal flavor of real barbecue - in fact, the stuff tastes suspiciously of roast beef." I couldn't agree more, and the main culprit are the commerical smokers sold by Southern Pride, and to a lesser extent Ole Hickory pits. These smokers are gas-fired with wood added just for flavoring. They are designed to need very little attention during the cooking process, and are made for producing high quantities of consistently, albiet sometimes blandly, flavored meat. Even SP's website declares that "12 of the top 14 grossing BBQ chains use Southern Pride equipment". Notice the emphasis on quantity. Can you put the highest grossing bbq joint in your town into your personal Top 5? Unless you're somewhere in small-town Texas, the answer's probably no.

On the other end of the spectrum are 100% wood burning pits invented almost simultaneously in Texas by Herbert Oyler and Leonard McNeill. Robb Walsh beautifully recounts the story in his book Legends of Texas Barbecue. He writes, "IN 1949, A HOUSTON MACHINIST named Leonard McNeill won a tiny restaurant near Lenox Street in Houston in a game of craps. He renamed it the Lenox Barbecue...McNeill prepared food at a restaurant, where he had to abide by the sanitary codes. But ordinary brick barbecue smokers couldn't accommodate jobs the size of those the Lenox Barbecue was being asked to do. So the former machinist introduced barbecue to the age of mechanization.

"McNeill bought an enormous bread-rising oven from the Rainbow Bread bakery. The oven had a rotating mechanism inside that moved the dough through a timed cycle. McNeill converted this machinery into a mechanized wood smoke rotisserie that could cook three thousand pounds of meat at one time.

"Today, McNeill's Lenox Barbecue on Harrisburg Street in Houston is run by Erik Mrok, whose father was a friend of McNeill's. The restaurant uses three rotisserie ovens of a type patented in 1967 by Herbert Oyler of Mesquite. Oyler, a barbecue restaurant owner from Mesquite, also started by tinkering with a barbecue rotisserie made from a bread-rising oven. Whether he was working independently, in competition, or in cooperation with McNeill is not known.

"Oyler's invention is a steel barbecue pit with a rotisserie inside. It has an electric carousel but no heating elements. It is fueled exclusively with wood burned in a remote firebox. The advantage of the rotisserie is that the meat gets basted with dripping fat, but it is cooked with wood smoke."

Oyler pits are still made today by J&R Manufacturing in Mesquite, Texas. The BBQ joint that Herbert Oyler once ran is still in existence today, but is no longer affiliated with the Oyler family. Unfortunately, even with the help of an Oyler pit, Mesquite BBQ still churns out some very mediocre 'cue. Ironically or fittingly, Lenox Barbecue in Houston currently uses a fleet of Oyler pits for their cooking.

Just remember, if you see the Oyler name, there's a good chance the pit boss knows what they're doing, whereas a joint with a Southern Pride out back might just be looking for those exact same results with as little effort possible.

- BBQ Snob

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Shep's Bar-B-Q

1013 E. Palestine Ave.

Palestine, TX 75801


Open M-Thur 11-7, F-Sat 11-8

This joint was recently featured in Follow the Smoke, and the quality of the ribs and the side items were featured prominently in the profile. I was excited to taste the candy coated ribs and the kicked up pinto beans and green beans. I'm not sure when John DeMers visited, but he must have tasted some different beans than we did on this trip.

When we arrived at about 11:45, there was no line, but the tables were full of hungry customers. As we made our exit, the line stretched to the door. They must have been waiting for the ribs, because they were the only menu item of note here.

These ribs lived up to hype. The spicy and sweet rub coupled with the smoke and well rendered fat turned almost to a candy coating. The tender, moist meat tugged easily from the bone, and every bite seemed to build on the next creating a conundrum when there was one rib left for three people. I ate it.

The brisket was a bit roast-beefy with only crust-rich bites containing any hint of smoke. The slices were moist and tender, but the lack of a robust flavor made this some pedestrian protein. The grocery store grade sausage wasn't any better with a heavy fat, finely ground meat with little casing snap. Both meats needed the smoky sauce that was lathered on top.

The biggest disappointment was the lack of flavor in the side items. Both the pinto beans and the green beans were dumped straight from the can into the steam tray to warm. I'm not even sure if salt was added, let alone the flecks of smoked brisket that were promised in previous reviews.

Rating ***

Shep's Bar-B-Q & Catering Service on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Nextstop & Texas BBQ

Attention BBQ Lovers! A new website has contacted a few of us in the blogging community to ask if we could share our favorite BBQ joints with the rest of the Nextstop community, and they're asking all of you to do the same.

Follow this link to the site.

Basically, for every 5 bbq places added to the catalog, they donate $5 to the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas. Nextstop is a site where people add the places they love most. In this challenge, they're trying to help a good cause and build a great catalog for BBQ lovers everywhere. Log on, share your opinions, and do it for a good cause.

- BBQ Snob

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Eddie's BBQ

Eddie’s BBQ
1324 East 50th (west of MLK)
Lubbock, Texas
Open M-F, 11am-3pm
Eddie DeLavan, Prop.

Guest Contributor: Midnight Smoker sent in this review from the Panhandle. Expect him to be a future contributor for other joints in his area.

Eddie’s Bar-B-Que is a lunch-only joint located in an industrial neighborhood on Lubbock’s east side. Eddie’s been at it for about 3½ years now and has developed a pretty good following at lunch, when I am a regular customer. Last Friday, though, I passed up my regular sliced brisket sandwich in favor of a Three Meat Combo with brisket, sausage and pork ribs. I was glad I did.

The best part of a meal at Eddie’s is always the brisket. Over the years I’ve been a regular at a few places and know that the quality of smoked brisket can be inconsistent. Just last week I ate at a Texas Monthly Top 50 joint with brisket so dry I had to drown it in sauce and wash it down with coke. Eddie tops his brisket out and uses the bottom portion for his “sliced beef”, so the slices are naturally very lean, yet they are always tender and moist and nicely smoked. Today’s serving was no exception, and though I forgot to request sauce on the side (rookie mistake, I know), I did not need it.

The pork ribs were also delicious. The dry rub formed a flavorful crust
and even though my ribs were huge, the meat was easily pulled off the bone from end to end, smoke penetration was easy to see and taste, and the fat was well rendered throughout each one. Eddie’s sausage is a hot link delivered from Houston that he smokes before serving. It was smoky and moist and spicy but not too spicy (still, next time I’ll just go with the brisket and ribs). The from-scratch side of pintos was good, with a peppery taste I like, but the potato salad was pre-made and not that great – next time I’ll try the slaw. Eddie’s sauce is on the sweet side and can dominate the meat if care isn’t taken, so it’s better to get it on the side.

For about $11 I got the combo and a coke and was able to eat my fill at lunch and have enough left over for dinner that night. Eddie’s is a pretty easy drive for me, but if it wasn’t I’d be taking a few long lunches, for sure.

Rating ***
Eddie's Barbeque on Urbanspoon

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Friday, May 1, 2009

BBQ Book Review: America's Best BBQ

Title: America's Best BBQ
Author: Ardie A. Davis & Paul Kirk
Published: 2009 by Andrews McMeel Publishing

On this blog, I have documented my visits to over 160 BBQ joints. The authors of this book claim to have tried 8000 joints between the two of them. Skeptical? Remember that they've each had the BBQ bug for over 50 years a piece, and have the sauce stained white beards to prove it.

The book starts with an explanation of how the joints were chosen for the book, and the authors are very open about their sometimes less than rigorous method. The rest of the book is full of recipes from each of their favorite 100 joints in the country. All of the classics like smoked brisket, Brunswick Stew, Pulled Pork, Baby Back Ribs, and Burgoo are included, but the variation of recipes required to include unique recipes from all 100 joints led to a few forced items such as the very un-barbecue like Volcanic Goat Cheese, tamales, and deep fried Oreos. Most of the recipes are solid choices that really seemed to reflect the essence of their associated joint, and the well written stories that accompany the recipes help to provide some background for each joint.

Throughout the book, the authors add tips and tricks for good 'cue as well as a few stories about some of the personalities they've encountered on their journeys. One of the best stories was about the Florentine chef that they convinced to travel to the US and enter a barbecue competition. Near the end of the book, a list of joints the authors would like to try are listed. Given their knowledge of 'cue nationwide, I'd be happy to show them around some of the Texas joints that they've missed along the way.

The major beefs that I've got with this book may seem like a shallow pot-shot, but the authors have opened themselves up for criticism by providing their national Top 10 list. First, both authors chose RUB BBQ in New York City as one of the nation's Top 10. I'm not saying that New Yorkers can't do good 'cue, but it just doesn't seem right to include a joint that one of the authors (Kirk) has ownership in without adding one giant asterisk. My other beef is with Mr. Davis choice of Cooper's in Junction. On my trip to Junction, Cooper's wasn't even the best joint within this town of just over 2600 people, but it may have just been a good day for Lum's. Darn, I guess I'll have to go try them both again.

- BBQ Snob

For those interested Texans out there, here's a list of all the Texas BBQ joints included in the book:

Black's, Lockhart
Clark's Outpost, Tioga
Cooper's, Junction
Cooper's, Llano
County Line, Austin
Goode Co., Houston
Iron Works, Austin
Louie Mueller, Taylor
Luling City Market, Houston
Meyer's, Elgin
North Main BBQ, Euless
Rudy Mikeska's, Taylor (Closed)
The Salt Lick, Driftwood
Smitty's, Lockhart
Southside Market, Elgin
Tom's Ribs, San Antonio (Closed)

Read the rest!


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.