The Bar B Q Series, Our methodology.

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The Pit at Kreuz Market

This is the first of a series on finding the best bar b q experiences in Texas. The Boomer Culture web site decided to get involved in this bar b q deal because of Texas Monthly’s most recent list. We find them woefully lacking and will present our own opinions on the Texas Bar B Q. Some suspicion, Texas Monthly is trying to move the Capital of Texas Bar B Q from Lockhart to Austin. The rest of the state don’t even consider Weird Austin a part of Texas so how can they qualify as the BBQ Capital ? Politics is one thing, bar b q is serious business.

What are this web site or my qualifications ? Nothing extraordinary but I do love my bar b q. Here’s a limited resume.

John Boykin…..

I eat bar b q once a week, somewhere. I work as a photographer in the oil patch and construction. I travel the United States on business. I look for bar b q joints every where I go. When on the road bar b q is my food of choice.

I was born in and went to University in Memphis. I grew up, in a German descendent household, in a small North Arkansas river town. Bar B Q was a way of life. It’s what we ate. It’s who we were.

I am fourth generation German bar b q griller. Not smoker, griller. Our style is different from the slow smoke of Texas but that does not mean I don’t understand, wood, fire, meat, time and smoke.

When we moved to Texas 20 years ago, by the Grace of God, we landed in Lockhart. There I found Jesus and Texas Bar B Q. Both were moving events. I admit, I judge all Bar B Q restaurants by what I learned in Lockhart.

I spent many years in the hospitality industry. I’ve worked in Four Star Resorts and wined and dined clients all over Europe, Canada and the U.S. As a 19 year old, I managed a full service, busy Holiday Inn Restaurant in downtown Memphis. I kinda grew up in the food industry. 

Those are my qualifications. They are light in the smoking end but heavy on the hospitality and experience side. I will be going to the Texas Monthly list, plus quite a few they left out. Examples: two of my first four were left off the top fifty bbq joints in the state. They also happen to be two of the most popular in the entire state. They are The Salt Lick and Smitty’s. 

I will be looking for more than just meat cooked right. That has to be a given. I will be looking for a good bar b q experience. 

I did Kreuz’s Market first for a reason. Until someone proves other wise, it will be my gold standard of Texas Bar B Q. I know the folks that own it, the people who work in it and the town that’s patronized them for many, many years. I know most of the local bar b q history.

As far as the rest of the state. I have no idea how many bar bq joints I have eaten in. I’ve lived in Dallas, Lockhart and San Antonio for the last 20 years. I’ve worked all over Texas from the Sabine to the western Pass. I’ve traveled the state from Dalhart to Brownsville no telling how many times. There are new restaurants I intend to try. Plus, I will go back to the old places and do fresh assessments. This is gonna be fun.

Here are are a few things that will set me apart from Texas Monthly.

The restaurants must:

1. They must be open regular business hours. No hobby joints or part time, nothing to sell, operations. That will leave out Snow’s in Lexington. Sorry. I am looking for competitors who service the public full time. They must be available to the marketplace just like the rest of the restaurant industry.

2. They must have an established address and not work from a truck. 

3. On gas plus wood versus wood only methods..This is an explanation I wrote after my third experience with great restaurants using wood plus gas. they changed my mind about that whole purist thing.

Taken from the Clem Mikeska story…….On the second visit Clem toured me through the back of the house. I learned more about the “new” method of Texas meat smoking. Clem and two others I’ve toured are now using a much more controlled, less expensive method of smoking. They have replaced the big wood eating pits with one or more metal wood and gas rotisserie. I may have the process down wrong but from what I can figure out is the thing works by loading the revolving shelves with meat, throwing wood into the back fire “pit” and setting the time and temp. The brand I saw twice was “Old Hickory” made in Nashville, Tennessee. The key to this cooking unit seems to be the thermostat and the ability to dial up the amount of smoke taste desired. Some want a lot of smokiness others not so much.

At the brand new San Antonio Blanco Bar B Q just this week, CIA trained Chef and G.M., Arthur Mayo, explained the process. In his and Clem’s eyes, they are not being untrue to the Texas smoking method, merely more efficient in the smoke application. They feel they can get a more efficient cooking cost, a more consistent product and apply exactly the amount and type smoke needed for the desired taste.

My thoughts on the divide between all wood and wood plus gas ? I thought about it and thought about it. Then, like Chief Lone Waddie, I decided to “persevere” and go with the theme established early on in this series. It the “EXPERIENCE” stupid ! if the meat taste like Texas Bar B Q and the restaurant is a pleasant place to enjoy a meal then what the hell ! 

I ate at Clem’s twice and at Blanco Bar B Q twice just to be sure I wasn’t about to recommend a fake poseur method. Well, the taste was excellent and the meat was as tender at these two places as any I’ve found. I’m going with the over all experience for my “baby boomer” crowd. Would I rather be in Lockhart or Luling ? Yes, but that is a personal history thing more than experience.

Clem made the same decision as the new Blanco Bar B Q planners. He built a big new building and accommodated it with the latest high production smoking equipment. They are both doing huge volumes and turning out excellent bar b q product. I think it’s what we will see in the future of newly constructed higher end, higher volume, higher initial investment bar b q facilities. Will these new technology smokers replace standard pits ? Hell No ! There is plenty room for all kinds of cooking methods in the big old Lone Star state so let em fly. The more bar b q the better.

So I guess you can call me something other than a purist but at this stage in life I will take comfort and taste over equal taste and hardship. So there.

4. The meal has to be not only good meat but an enjoyable experience. This is of primary importance. The better places are investing in enhancing the customer experience. Texas Monthly compared all the restaurants on who could make the best brisket. We are looking for something a little more than just a taste testing. We are looking for that great Texas Bar B Q experience.

5. At first I thought I would grade all the places into three categories. I have now decided if I can’t say something nice about them I just won’t say anything. If I have reviewed a town and a bar b q restaurant does not show up on this list it means I have not recommended it. There is a second list of those I don’t recommend without comment. The stories will be only on those recommended 

6. If I have yet to visit an area the restaurants will not appear. It’s not a negative it just means I haven’t had a chance to get to them yet. I need the readers to let me know about really good places.

I hope you can use my experience and descriptions to decide if it’s the kind of place you want to spend your money. I will try to offer sufficient photography to depict an accurate description. 

Texas style is Texas style. Good food is good food. A good time is a good time. This is about all of the above. I welcome your suggestions and comments. If I have not been to your favorite, let me know about it. 

John Boykin

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5 thoughts on “The Bar B Q Series, Our methodology.

  1. John

    My neighbor dragged me to Two Brothers BBQ yesterday (Memorial Day). I’m not a BBQ maniac, but everything was very good. My neighbor and I both felt like we were “on the road” even though it was just 10 mins. from our ‘hood. Nice homey dining room with booths. Big outdoor area under the live oaks.
    It’s mentioned in the new Texas Monthly article but don’t hold that against it.

    John

    Reply
  2. admin Post author

    John,
    I sat next to you at an SPE meeting about 5 or 6 months ago at the Petroleum Club and have enjoyed reading your articles. I had to respond back to you on this one because the Texas Monthly article hit me the same way it did you. While I am sure that some folks wouldn’t consider me a worthy “judge” of good BBQ, I have 55 years of eating experience in Texas that might carry me past the “Keep Austin Weird” folks at TM. Lockhart and Luling are the BBQ Meccas in my opinion (and yours too it sounds like). I have to admit that mesquite rather than oak is my preferred smoke (because I grew up in South Texas where oak wasn’t very available) but those folks know how to make oak work and their sausage can’t be beat—I don’t care what the others have in their pits. One of the San Antonio BBQ (so called but not in my opinion) places that made the TM list was the The Granary. What an over-priced disappointment this place is—but it’s in the “cool” part of SA, so I am sure that is why TM put in on their list. I heard others rant about how good this place was—guess I should have known better or considered the source. A group of us went there for lunch last week and I can honestly say that was the worst $15 I have spent in a long time. We got there at straight up noon, so not at the tail end of lunch by any means. You order your drinks first and they are pushing their $3.50 home-made root beer or $6.00 home-brewed beer. I can’t stomach the idea of paying $3.50 for a root beer in a BBQ place no matter how good it is supposed to be. I was working that day so a $6.00 beer wasn’t going to be happening either. Brisket, pulled pork, and turkey were the meats available at the time and were $8.55 per half pound and nothing to write home about in my opinion after trying the brisket and pork. Just as I was placing my order with the girl at the register, it was suddenly announced that they had just sold their last link of $6.75 sausage—both of these are unthinkable in my mind—running out and $6.75 for a link of sausage. Out of a main-stay meat by noon? How many links did they cook–five? Then came the sides. Burnt end beans sounded appealing until I got them—cold and more like baked beans with a few kidney beans thrown in—not Texas beans by any means and I don’t know if I saw a burnt end among them. My other side was corn, which was a skinny ear served on the cob with the shucks pulled back for that “rustic look” I guess. It was dried out and no butter or even margarine to help try to resuscitate it was served along-side. Needless to say that is the last time I will spend my money at this over-priced and over-rated establishment—let all the “pretty people” keep them in business. I would have been happier at Bill Millers than this place.

    While we’re on the subject of over-rated, I made a special trip a couple of years ago to Snow’s BBQ in Lexington based on TM’s raving reviews and that was another over-rated place. Food was ok but I wouldn’t drive out of my way again to get any of that food either.

    Looking forward to your next round of BBQ reviews.

    Jim

    Reply
  3. admin Post author

    John, Walt, and Jim,

    Thank you all for the great comments. That is exactly the type interaction I had hoped for. Maybe we will hear from some more folks on their favorites and not so favorites. That kind of information helps us all.

    John B

    Reply
  4. admin Post author

    From my North Alabama cousin who I can promise is a bar b q expert of the Alabama style. Schooled in Tuscaloosa ribs and Quad Cities Dick Howell slaw sandwiches, he is an expert in possibly one of the least recognized geographic regions. Alabama should be listed with all the other bar b q hot spots…

    John B.

    Enjoyed your article about Kreuz’s. I also appreciate your being grown up about your experience at the Barn Door. Sometimes even George’s has a bad night. Hope to eat at all three soon. If you’re going to be in town let me know ahead of time and we’ll hit Bunyan’s, Brook’s or Howell’s for slaw dogs for lunch, then George’s for supper. We can diet later.
    John Copeland.

    Reply

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