But my friend LEGEND still does, and he also has better tastes in food and wine than I do. In fact that’s how he’s earned the moniker. A young man like myself (ahem, still young at 32, right?), he has traveled and eaten widely (and roundly) and has a very discerning and scrupulous palate. Don’t even get me started on the wines he’s consumed.
Michael is less forgiving than I. If he tells me it’s good, I take note. And lately, I fahking love BBQ and especially brisket. Can’t get enough of it. Brisket is the Burgundy of meats. There is so much out there that is terrible, but when it hits you, you know what everyone in Texas is bragging on.
Thusly, I bring you his report from a recent Texas BBQ trip a few friends of mine took a few weeks ago. There are a ton of photos, but it would be a disservice to this beautiful cattle to not share them with you.
Four guys, nine restaurants, a few sushi dinners at Uchiko and MF Houston (formerly Buckhead). Enjoy. — Jimmy
2013 Texas BBQ Tour –
Brisket and sausage are undoubtedly the King and Queen of Texas barbecue. They are served at every respectable BBQ joint and even some that aren’t. Inspired by the BBQ Posse’s most recent trip around the state where they ranked their favorite places this trip included nine barbecue restaurants over the course of 48 hours.
On the list were Frankin, LA Barbecue, Louie Mueller, Black’s, Smitty’s Market, Kreuz Market, City Market, Snow’s, and Pecan Lodge. The idea was to incorporate some of the new guard (Pecan Lodge, Franklin, LA Barbecue) along with the history and tradition of Texas BBQ.
Four guys in total, with two hailing from Atlanta, one from Boston, and one true-blooded Texan took on this brave challenge to find the best BBQ in Texas. While there is more to Texas BBQ than brisket and sausage (there were a couple of pork sightings, as well as ribs, and even turkey) we, as a group, only focused on those two items. No other meats or sides were judged (they were however ordered). Each person was given a scorecard that ranked brisket in 5 categories (1-10 scale) broken down into the following – Bark, Smoke, Rub, Tenderness, and Moistness. Sausage was judged on Snap, Spiciness, and Moistness (also on a 1-10 scale). Brisket was always ordered as “fatty” or “moist” and sausage was always the “original” version.
The first stop was Franklin as the line is notoriously long and with the schedule we were trying to stay on waiting in line for hours just wasn’t an option. With an 8:50 am arrival time our group was 10th in line (on a Friday, YMMV on other days, etc…). Franklin opens at 11 am and if you aren’t in line early be prepared to wait. There are people renting chairs ($5 btw), groups camped out with cases of beers, and families throwing footballs. This can be an all day experience if you want it to be……that said, no freaking way am I standing on a Texas asphalt parking lot for hours on end. If you want to be some of the first people to eat I’d consider getting in line no later than 9:20-9:30am. Even then you’re still looking at 25-40 minute wait until you get food from when the doors open (based on observations from that day).
These barbecue restaurants are more like markets where you order by the pound at the counter and the price of your meal is based on the weight selected. Note – you don’t have to order a ½ or full lb or meat, you can order by the slice if you’d like. This offers a great flexibility if you want to try multiple meats, etc….
Franklin (like most Texas BBQ joints) only has 1 person cutting meats, so this doesn’t help with the speed of the ordering process. However, it does allow for you to view your meats as they are being cut and it does give a great interaction between you and the cutter. As a side note, if you are with a large group, Franklin does offer pre-ordering where they allow you to order 5lb of meat (can be mixed, ie 3lb of brisket, 2lb of sausage, etc…) for pick up before they open. This process is only available via email and spots are limited and do fill up early so plan ahead.
After leaving Franklin we attempted to hit John Mueller Meat Company but due to lack of screening around his pit he has been temporarily shut down (looks to reopen very soon). This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as our next stop was LA Barbecue “Cuisine Texicana”. John Lewis is the pitmaster here and was formally the assistant to Aaron Franklin at Franklin Barbecue. While the brisket was no slouch (5th overall) the sausage (called “Hot Guts” on the menu) stole the show. A combination of brisket, beef heart, and beef liver this sausage ranked #1 as the top sausage of the trip with an average of 28.5 points out of a possible 30. If you are in Austin, this is a can’t miss bite of food. Thumbs up to the free keg of Lone Star (tips appreciated) and some great live music.
Next up the group headed south to what is considered the heart of Texas barbecue, Lockhart, TX. Three of the most famous Texas barbecue restaurants are located within minutes of each other. Knowing the lauded reputations of these three legendary locations my expectations were high to say the least. Expectations are one thing….being able to deliver on those expectations is another. Overall Lockhart was a sad disappointment of BBQ (Texas or not). It was a sad disappointment because of the BBQ, not because of my (or the group’s) high expectations.
Black’s was up first and while the brisket (6th overall) had flavor, it was improperly cut. Yep, this is supposed to be one of the best in Texas and even at this level stupid mistakes happen. The brisket was cut with the grain versus against the grain, which caused the brisket to be tough, and added some chew into the equation. The flavor was good as was the rub, moistness and smoke level but the group just couldn’t get past the extra chew. The sausage was good, but nothing to write home about (6th overall).
Kreuz Market and Smitty’s Market were up next. Kreuz is a huge facility with seating for over 600 people and 24 gigantic pits. At both Kreuz and Smitty’s Market the pits are hot, 600+ degrees hot. This isn’t the low and slow method of BBQ that you’re used to…and it shows. The brisket at both locations was beyond poor with Smitty’s Market being the worst offender (scoring 25 points out of a possible 50). Overcooked would be an understatement.
The final stop of the day was in Luling, TX at City Market. Also another famous institution of Texas BBQ, City Market has been around for decades. This wasn’t a good way to end the day. Yes, a step up from Smitty’s but more like a baby step as City Market had the greasiest/fattiest sausage on the trip. It was truly disgusting the amount of grease that cascaded out onto our hands while eating (note – no forks at City Market). The sausage finished in 8th place (out of 9) with a score of 17.75 and the brisket wasn’t much to talk about either as it ended up in 8th as well with 29.75 points. Total points of 47.5 landed City Market with an overall place of 8th.
Day 2 (Saturday) kicked off with an hour long drive from Austin to Snow’s which is located in Lexington, TX. Snow’s is only open on Saturday and is owned by Kerry Bexley with Ms. Tootsie Tomanetz maintaining the pit. They have been open since March of 2003 and in 2008 were named the best BBQ in Texas by Texas Monthly Magazine. They open at 8am and while the line has shifted to places like Franklin this is still top quality BBQ. Snow’s is something special as was demonstrated by the second helping that was had by the group…yes, seconds. In the second helping we ordered a slice of lean brisket that was nearly as spectacular as the moist. The moist brisket was spectacular with the proper balance of smoke, seasoning, tenderness, moistness, and proper cooking. Snow’s brisket was the top of the trip with a score of 44.5 points and the sausage came in 2nd place with 25.5 points. An excellent showing lead Snow’s to be the overall winner (70 points). This is easily worth a trip if you are in Austin or Dallas (3 hr drive), and honestly, might be flight worthy.
Up next was Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, TX which is a short 30 minute drive from Lexington. If you are in the area at Snow’s, there is no reason not to go to Louis Mueller. In fact, it’s worth a trip of its own. The brisket is huge/thick with ample seasoning, crust, and tender. Known for their extensive black pepper seasoning, the meats here aren’t lacking any seasoning. The extensive black pepper was a welcome change to the other (similar) flavors in previous rubs. The brisket was so good that it placed 2nd overall with 40.75 points. Although it wasn’t rated, the brontosaurus sized black pepper crusted beef rib was spectacular. The Rib is enough to easily feed 2 grown males. Louie Mueller also has multiple types of sausage that were quite tasty. The original (sausage) placed 4th with an overall score of 24.25 just behind Franklin (25 points) and Snow’s (25.5 points). The chipotle sausage was a welcome change that provided a nice kick of spice and a bit of extra flavor.
Final stop on the Texas Barbecue trip adventure was Pecan Lodge that is located in the Dallas Farmer’s Market – Shed 2. This relative newcomer has quickly become one of the most highly regarded barbecue restaurants in Texas, and for good reason. The brisket ranked in at #3 on the overall standings scoring 37.75 just 1 point behind Franklin and only .25 ahead of LA Barbecue. The sausage was good, but didn’t show as well as the brisket coming in 5th overall with a score of 22.75. Pecan Lodge takes a bit more liberty with the offering of menu items than some of the south Texas BBQ spots. These included things like fried chicken (yeah, it’s pretty damn good) and “The Hot Mess” (Jumbo sea salt crusted sweet potato stuffed with barbacoa, cheese, chipotle cream, green onions, and crumbled bacon). Even though it wasn’t scored the burnt ends were spectacular chunks of double smoked goodness. One of the best bites on the trip.
Overall a great trip was had (approx 700 miles in the car….), some disappointments (I’m looking at you Lockhart, Texas) and some high points (Snow’s, beef rib at Louie Mueller, burnt ends at Pecan Lodge, and sausage at La Barbecue).
Hopefully the Carolinas are next……
Overall Winners –
Brisket – Snows (44.5 pts)
Sausage – LA Barbecue (28.5 pts)
Overall Combination – Snow’s (70 points)
Worst of the Worst –
Brisket – Smitty’s (25 pts)
Sausage – Smitty’s (15.75 pts)
Lowest overall combination – Smitty’s (40.75 pts)
Snow’s – 44.5
Louie Mueller – 40.75
Franklin – 38.75
Pecan Lodge – 37.75
LA Barbecue – 37.50
Black’s – 35
Kreuz – 33
City Market – 29.75
Smitty’s – 25
LA Barbecue – 28.5
Snow’s – 25.5
Franklin – 25
Louie Mueller – 24.25
Pecan Lodge – 22.75
Black’s – 20
Kreuz – 18
City Market – 17.75
Smitty’s – 15.75
Combined in order of “best” to “worse”
Snow’s – 70
LA Barbecue – 66
Louie Mueller – 65
Franklin – 63.75
Pecan Lodge – 60.5
Black’s – 55
Kreuz – 51
City Market – 47.5
Smitty’s – 40.75