Sunday, July 27, 2014

Poll: What are your top 5 Texas BBQ joints?

A father and son wait to order at a Texas barbecue joint. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

It's hard to say what's a more emotional subject for Texans, barbecue or politics.

Over the years we've tried to keep the Posse blog free of partisan politics, there are plenty of other places on the web where you can endlessly argue that subject. But when it comes the BBQ, strong loyalties and opinions have been shared between writers and readers on the Posse blog over the past five years.

Nothing gets BBQ fanatics going like a list of the "top" BBQ joints in Texas. We saw this once again when Gary Jacobson wrote More evidence that Lockhart has lost its barbecue magic last week. He shared the top five lists of several of the Posse members who went on our recent Houston BBQ tour. Some of our readers agreed, others didn't. That's how Texas barbecue goes.......

Just for fun, here's a chance to pick your top five favorites. We listed 26 top Texas BBQ joints (in alphabetical order) to choose from. If some of your favorites aren't listed, just add a comment to this blog post & we'll add it in the final results.

survey solution

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

More evidence that Lockhart has lost its barbecue magic

Smitty's Market oak wood pile & the Caldwell County courthouse. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

On our way back to Dallas from our recent Houston-area barbecue tour, all 6 Posse members on the trip listed their top 5 joints in the state, in no particular order.

Specific criteria probably varied from person to person, but these would be places we'd drive across the state to eat at or recommend to good friends that they do the same.

Since then, we've been asked to run each person's top 5. Those lists are below.

Three joints mentioned by each of us: Killen's Barbecue in Houston, Pecan Lodge in Dallas and la Barbecue in Austin. Only 3 of us listed Franklin Barbecue in Austin, generally considered the best joint in the state.

Others receiving at least one mention: Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Miller's Smokehouse in Belton and Snow's BBQ in Lexington.

Reviewing the lists now, a bigger revelation than the lack of unanimity for Franklin, is the total absence of any joint in Lockhart. Five years ago, that wouldn't have been the case. Then, Smitty's, Black's and Kreuz Market demanded a pilgrimage.

That's more evidence that Lockhart is no longer the barbecue capital of Texas.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Strong reviews for CorkScrew BBQ in Spring...but

Brisket, ribs & sausage at CorkScrew BBQ in Sprint. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

The food is excellent at CorkScrew BBQ, a trailer joint located behind a shopping center in Spring:

"This could be a Top 10 joint," said friend of the Posse Bryan Norton, who joined us on this stop in our 35-hour, 610-mile barbecue tour of the Houston area.

"I can't stop eating," said Posse member Phil Lamb as he picked from a selection of fatty brisket, pork ribs, turkey, sausage, pulled pork and chopped brisket. Later he said he would have liked more smoke flavor on the brisket and ribs.

"The brisket is on a par with la Barbecue," said Daniel Goncalves, referring to the top Austin joint.

"This is really good," said Tom Fox. "The chopped brisket is better than the pulled pork."

"I'm with you, man," echoed Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins about the chopped brisket. "I could eat two pounds of that."

At CorkScrew, customers eat outdoors, at shaded tables. And anyone who eats outdoors expects some bugs from time to time. On this visit, though, the flies were out in force. We had to shoo them away before we could take a piece of meat.

"I couldn't bring my wife here," Lamb said. "She wouldn't put up with the flies."

CorkScrew BBQ, 24930 Budde Rd., Spring, 832-592-1184. Open Tues-Sat 11am-til the meat runs out. Website: (Texas Monthly Top 50)

Customers wait in line on a Friday at CorkScrew BBQ. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Complete Idiot's Guide To Wine Tasting

Brisket and wine were on the menu for the Posse at Pecan Lodge. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves/

By Bruce Tomaso/Texas BBQ Posse

On Tuesday, the BBQ Posse was invited to join the Dallas Morning News Wine Panel for a tasting at Pecan Lodge. The mission: Find the red wines that pair best with Texas barbecue. (Look for the story in the July 30 Arts & Life section of The News.)

Diane and Justin Fourton served up platters of Justin’s other-worldly smoked brisket. Cathy Barber, the paper’s food editor, and Tina Danze, a Dallas freelance writer, served up 26 bottles of wine. The wines came from around the world: Argentina and Australia, France, Spain, and Portugal, California and Washington State.

The brisket was pure Texas.

The members of the Wine Panel sniffed and sipped and swirled.

The members of the Posse tried not to scarf down all the brisket.

Truly, this was a meeting of the connoisseurs and the goobers. The people on the Wine Panel are master sommeliers, well-known Dallas chefs and restaurateurs, people of rigorous training and refined palates. They’ve spent decades studying wines.

The BBQ Posse is a less exclusive society. To get in, you have to ask.

I know a great smoked brisket when I taste it, but if you put a revolver to my head, I couldn’t tell a Malbec from a Merlot, a Shiraz from a Petite Sirah. I don’t pretend otherwise.

Sometimes, the less you know, the easier it is to learn. If the gaps in your knowledge are the size of moon craters, it’s not hard for one or two small nuggets of insight to carom in there and settle.

Here, then, are six lessons that I learned from my first wine-tasting. (Once Cathy and Tina read this, I’m pretty sure it will also be my last wine-tasting.)

Pecan Lodge pitmaster/co-owner Justin Fourton delivers out first of two briskets. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

1. Use the spit cup

It seems counter-intuitive to put wine in your mouth and not swallow it, especially when it’s good wine and you’re getting it for free. But there’s a reason that experienced tasters spit out each sample.

If you’re tasting 26 wines in two or three hours and you take one small sip of each, you will be inebriated by the time you stand up to leave.

And if you drain your glass 26 times, you’ll be picking fights afterward with bikers coming out of tattoo parlors.

2. Don’t use your fingers

When the platter of beautifully smoked, expertly carved brisket arrives at the table, you should resist the temptation to reach in, grab a blackened, juicy bit with your hand and stuff it into your mouth.

This is perfectly acceptable, even customary, on a barbecue tour. Among people who know where the butter plate goes, you will be regarded as a cretin.

3. When you sip, stick your nose in the glass

This is to experience the wine’s aroma as well as its flavor. I was surprised to discover that wine smells just like wine.

4. Assume the authoritative voice

After tasting each wine, listen to the experts before you fill out your evaluation sheet. They will use phrases like “subtle spice notes,” “dense, peppery palate,” “hints of courant,” “dense tannins,” and “elongated finish.” Write these down.

Don’t worry if you don’t know what they mean. At any given moment, half the people on Earth who are speaking have no idea what they’re talking about. Bill O’Reilly knows no more about immigration policy than I do about Côtes du Rhône. That hasn’t shut him up. My three nephews know more about sports than Skip Bayless, and ESPN pays him $500,000 a year. If you write that the Merlot “displayed aromas of dark stone fruits,” who’s going to argue with you?

Four Seasons master sommelier James Tidwell pours wine at the tasting. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves/

5. After a while, you’re faking (and you’re not the only one)

The BBQ Posse once hit eight Central Texas joints in just over 24 hours. (We were young and foolish back then.) By the time we got to our last stop, the mere sight of ribs and brisket – the mere sight of a guy in a greasy white apron with a carving knife in his hand – was enough to make us queasy. I’d have rather eaten a small box of paper clips than that eighth barbecue meal.

The gross overload not only killed our appetites; it blunted our ability to distinguish one brisket, rib, or sausage from the next. The same was true with the wines. Twenty-six was too many.

Halfway through the tasting, I found myself thumbing ahead through my stack of evaluation sheets to see how many more samples were yet to come – and softly groaning that the number wasn’t smaller. The people sitting across the table from me – not BBQ Posse goobers – were doing the same.

And even though I was dutifully using my spit cup and drinking water between samples, after 15 or 20 wines I was fooling myself that I could tell how the cabernet from Beckman Vineyards stacked up against the one we’d tried an hour earlier from Becker Vineyards.

6. Barbecue and wine might just be a bad idea

The consensus of our table – oenophiles and mooks alike – was that most of the wines paired poorly with Justin’s brisket.

Many of these vintages were good. A few were really good. They would have gone well with a medium-rare New York strip, or a thick slice of prime rib in au jus, or even a baguette and a wedge of aged Gruyère.

But thickly smoked, crusted, peppery brisket has an immense, forceful personality. It just steamrolled most of the wines we tried. Their subtle, supple, silky, luscious, sexy, opulent, complex, layered, textured, fresh, intense, pure, suave, ripe, rich, refined florals and truffles and mocha and herbs and spices and chocolate-coated dark cherries and velvet plums and black raspberry perfumes and hints of boysenberry liqueur didn’t stand a chance.

The wines were like Nanci Griffith trying to sing a duet with Janis Joplin. After Janis had drained about six bottles of wine. After swishing and spitting our way through 26 bottles, we did find a few that more or less held their own alongside the brisket. (I believe that I may have described one of them as having “balls.”)

But all things considered, a robust amber ale – or a big plastic glass of sweet tea – would have been better.

Members of the Texas BBQ Posse & the Dallas Morning News wine panel at Pecan Lodge. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves)

Monday, July 14, 2014

High on smoke and creamed corn, BBQ eureka at Killen's BBQ

Pork ribs, brisket, potato salad & creamed corn at Killen's BBQ in Pearland. (Photo by Daniel Goncalves/

Just a week after the Posse's barbecue tour of Houston-area joints, Posse member Daniel Goncalves and his wife, Magda, made a return visit, including a trip to Killen's Barbecue in Pearland, which might just be the best barbecue joint in the state. Daniel says he had a couple of new barbecue revelations while high on smoke and creamed corn. Here is his report:

My wife and I decided at the last minute to spend the 4th of July weekend in Houston. The previous week's trip to Killen's may have influenced that decision.

When the Posse visited Killen's, Posse member Jim Rossman showed up a couple of hours before opening and had the #1 spot in line.

My wife and I stopped Saturday, July 5th, just before 3 p.m. We spotted pit master, Ronnie Killen, on the side lawn. I was curious to see if the joint had sold out any of the meats and how the food would measure up to the "first in line" offerings we had the week before.

Only 6 people were in line ahead of us when we arrived. The board up front said sausage had sold out. We decided to get a 6-meat plate ($28), but divided between only two meats: two portions of pork ribs and 4 portions of moist brisket. It's a lot of food, enough for us have a nice lunch and leftovers for dinner.

We were disappointed we couldn't sample the sausage, which was very good the previous week, but I was pleasantly surprised that sausage was the only meat that had sold out.

A worker said meat capacity was increased for the holiday weekend by temporarily bringing in an additional smoker. On Friday, 85 briskets were smoked and they had sold them out by 3:30 p.m. They had 12 out of 65 left at just after 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

The plate came with a choice of two sides. I've never been excited about sides at a BBQ joint. We ordered the potato salad and the creamed corn.

I assumed we would both take a bite of each and the rest would end up in the trash bin. After last week's visit I didn't believe anything could possibly stand up to the meat. I couldn't have been more wrong.

This led to the second great revelation of my BBQ touring experience: Don't put sides to the side (sorry).

The sides stood up just fine and were not out of place with the meat. They were not an afterthought or a simple filler as with many barbecue joints.

Pitmaster/owner Ronnie Killen. (Photo by Daniel Goncalves)
The creamed corn was sublime. It was creamy and luscious while being light and almost frothy with a small spicy after kick. We were told that the creamed corn is the exact same corn served at Killen's Steakhouse which is considered one of the top steakhouses in the country.

If I could create a new BBQ category called "most luscious side," the creamed corn would be king. I challenge any other side from any other joint to go toe to toe with the creamed corn in my fictitious category. Bring it on.

The brisket was perfectly cooked and unbelievably moist, but I personally would have liked a little more rub, especially salt. The ribs were perfect. I felt the same way on the previous visit. The beef flavor seems to be the star while the seasoning does back up duty and that's not a bad thing.

I felt compelled to try the sauces after sampling some naked bits and pieces. Since my Florida days I haven't touched sauce. My personal feeling is that if it needs sauce I don't want to eat it.

This led to my third ever BBQ revelation. The sauces were delicious and complemented the brisket beautifully. I'm wondering if this is part of some genius plan to get you to reach for the sauce so you can experience another layer of culinary goodness. Killen definitely has "it" when it comes to creating perfectly balanced flavor. Escoffier would not be disappointed. sweet and acidity balanced beautifully. No one flavor stands above the other.

We decided to take a brisket back home to Dallas after making sure they had enough left over for the people in line behind us. Our brisket was just short of 8 pounds of jiggly, glistening and gorgeous meat. Memories of Baywatch's intro sequence came to mind.

We decided to further indulge by getting a slice of the buttermilk pie to share. Magda said she noticed lemon rind while exclaiming how wonderful it was. No bottled lemon juice here.

I haven't been this excited about smoked meat since my first BBQ revelation while sampling Snow's marvelous brisket on a beautiful Saturday morning. That was when I finally understood how great brisket could be.

After its Houston tour, the Posse debated on the way back to Dallas whether Killen's was the best BBQ joint in the state. I was reluctant to agree on the spot.

But if you take into account comfort level (A/C, nice decor, friendly staff, personable pit master, beer in line, etc.), all the different meats and their quality, and if you throw sides into the discussion, then I personally would have to say that this is the best BBQ joint in Texas and possibly this side of the sun.

Please pass more of that creamed corn.

Killen's BBQ, 3613 E. Broadway, Pearland, 281-485-2272. Open Tues-Sun 11am-until they run out of meat. Website:

Dining room at Killen's BBQ. (Photo by Daniel Goncalves/

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Robust flavors make Brooks' Place in Cypress a BBQ winner

Our meal of Brisket, deer sausage & pork ribs at Brook's Place in Cypress. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

In the Spring of 2013, Trent Brooks said, he was struggling to sell 3 or 4 briskets a day from his barbecue trailer located in an Ace Hardware parking lot in Cypress, outside Houston.

"Then one Wednesday," he recalled, "I opened and all of a sudden my Twitter account exploded. In an hour, I was done." Sold out.

The next day, he said, there were about 50 people in line when he opened.

What happened?

Brooks' Place made Texas Monthly's list of the Top 50 BBQ joints in the state. Instant celebrity and business boost.

Pitmaster/owner Trent Brooks. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves)
"For a month, I sold out in 2 hours a day," Brooks said.

A half-dozen strong, the Posse arrived at Brooks' joint about 2:30 on a Friday afternoon during its recent Houston-area tour. The first stop of the day was CorkScrew BBQ in Spring; the second, Virgie's in Houston.

We sampled brisket, pork ribs and a very spicy deer sausage and liked them all. Four members said Brooks' barbecue was the best of the day. Two gave the nod to CorkScrew.

""There's a lot more going on here flavor wise," Posse member Jim Rossman said of Brooks'.

"CorkScrew is a little more delicate," said Phil Lamb. "This is more robust."

Brooks said he cooks with a mix of oak and pecan wood and uses mainly salt and pepper in his brisket rub, though he was protective of the exact recipe.

"I'll give you one ingredient that you wouldn't normally think of," he said. "Cinnamon."

Brooks started his joint part time in 2009 and went full time in 2011 after the company he worked for let him go.

"After I lost my job, I didn't look back," he said.

Open 5 days a week from 11 a.m., Brooks said he normally sells out by 2-3 p.m. on weekends and 4:30 to 5 on week days. He said he sells 50-60 briskets a week now.

The ordering and eating areas of the place are sheltered by a metal canopy attached to the parking lot.

When it rains -- and it rains a lot, Brooks said -- he turns the space into a drive thru. Customers can order and get served without getting wet.

Brooks' Place, 18020 FM 529, Cypress, 832-893-1682. Open Wed-Sun 11am-til the meat runs out. Website: Website: (Texas Monthly Top 50)

Brooks Place's trailer is located next to an Ace Hardware in a Cypress parking lot. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)