Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Killen's Barbecue Revisited

It has been almost a year since I have been to Killen's Barbecue in Pearland. I have had them since at the TMBBQ Fest, the pop-up in Austin, and the HouBBQ Festival. Still not enough times for me though. Amber and I were going to Houston for a wedding so a stop at Killen's was in order. I met some of the Houston BBQ folks (Michael, Bryan, Scott, and Andrew) there.

The Food Network recently announced Killen's as the number 2 spot for BBQ in America. That Saturday on social media, there were pictures of hordes of people waiting. The line wrapped around the parking lot. I got there a little bit before 9 AM on Sunday and was second line. That is not bad at all. Taking a number and hanging out is a plus here. Standing around in a line is no fun. Killen's did not have free beer today because they were so busy the day before.

One reason I wanted to go on Sunday was for the fried chicken special. It is only available on Sundays. I have been craving fried chicken of late, and every time I see Ronnie Killen put up a picture, my mouth waters. Fried chicken with an added bonus of superb barbecue? Count me in. We ordered a fried chicken plate, beef rib plate, and quarter pound of bone-in pork belly, moist brisket, and the jalapeño sausage. We got sides of beans, macaroni and cheese, creamed corn, and mashed potatoes and gravy. Amber added some banana pudding to the order.

I am not a fried chicken expert, but it was pretty damn good. It was crispy and had a ton of flavor. You get four pieces of chicken which is a lot of food. I want to see a place out there that smokes their chicken first and then fries it. That would be awesome. The mashed potatoes were creamy and delicious. The creamed corn is gold here. It is rich and wonderful. I could probably eat a gallon of it. No joke. The beef rib plate is one of the better deals out there. For sixteen bucks, you get a good-sized rib with two sides. The beef rib was on-point today. Crusty, tender, and smoky. We basically tried all of the meats at table, and they were all great. I tried the jalapeño sausage for the first time. It was good, but I prefer the new regular blend of brisket, pork belly, and bacon better. Smoked chicken was also a special on this Sunday, but none of us ordered it. Next time for sure.

Killen's Barbecue has not disappointed me. From the smoked meats, to the sides, and to the desserts, they deserve their high regards. Ronnie and his crew are firing on all cylinders and delivers on their motto, "The Best Barbecue, Period!" I think the trip here just for the fried chicken is worth it. The excellent BBQ is gravy at that point. This is one of my all-time favorite places from top to bottom. Houston barbecue keeps getting better and better, and Killen's is leading the way.

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 3613 E Broadway St, Pearland, TX 77581
Phone: (281) 485-2272

Monday, June 22, 2015

Southside Market & Barbeque (Bastrop)

My favorite BBQ joint in Elgin is Southside Market & Barbeque. Their brisket, baby back ribs, and sausage are worth the stop. They opened a second location in Bastrop last fall. I have not had a chance to stop in. We normally go to Houston on 183 instead of 71 through Bastrop so we never pass by. The Bastrop location is only 25 miles from my office so it is not that far. I have to work some Saturdays and wanted some good barbecue for lunch this day. Southside Market it was.

The menu at the Bastrop location resembled the one in Elgin. I ordered moist brisket, pork spareribs, and the original sausage. I wish there was a Texas trinity combo plate though. It would have been a better value than ordering by the weight. I also added some baby back ribs and sausage slammers. When I order moist brisket, I expect slices from the point or slices where the point is attached to the flat. Sometimes I end up getting slices from the flat under the point. That is not really fatty/moist brisket. That is what I got here. The brisket had a nice smoke to it and was tender. The flavor was good, but the fat was overly rendered so the slices were on the drier side. The spareribs were fine. The smoke was on-point, but the meat was a little chewy and dry for my taste. Southside Market makes their all-beef sausage in Elgin but smoke them in Bastrop. The sausage was great. It had a nice grit and snappy casing with a good amount of fat. The baby back ribs were juicy and had an excellent smokiness to it. They were quite tasty. The star of the meal was the sausage slammer. It is composed of jalapeño and cheese inside of breakfast pan sausage with bacon wrapped around the outside and then smoked. Wow. The bites were delectable, but I had to stop myself from eating all three of them.

I think the sausage slammers might be worth the trip alone to Southside Market. Everything else is gravy. It is unless than 30 minutes away from me for lunch so I can swing by every once in a while when I have time to take a long lunch. I want to explore the other parts of the menu like the baked potato, jalapeño cheese sausage, beef ribs, chicken and pork steak. I will be back. Grade: B-

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 534 Hwy 71 W, Bastrop, TX 78602
Phone: (512) 575-9037

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Ironwood Barbecue

National Brisket Day is celebrated on May 28th. I technically celebrate it every day, but I am not going to pass on a chance to eat brisket (like I need a reason). Blue OX BBQ occupied space with The Buzz Mill for a few years. They have now moved (location pending), and Ironwood Barbecue has taken its place. The climate has been wet in Austin so eating at food trailers has not been easy. Because Ironwood shares common space with The Buzz Mill, there is a covered patio to avoid the elements. It was pouring rain when I got there, but the weather cleared up after I finished my meal.

I ordered the sampler plate with moist brisket and spareribs with sides of creamy coleslaw and roasted green chili mac and cheese. I also added a little bit of the Dublin country ribs. Beer can chicken was the only other meat on the menu. The brisket was tender and smoky and not bad at all. They could have done a better job trimming and cutting the meat. A well-trimmed brisket results in a better product. The slice I received varied between a half inch thick and an inch thick. The flavor was underwhelming and could have used a little bit more rub. The pork ribs were falling off the bone but had an off-putting sour taste. It only had a trace of smoke, and without the pink in meat, I would have guessed it was cooked in an oven. The Dublin country ribs were unique and different. It is not a true rib with a bone, but sliced pork shoulder that is rubbed and covered in a Dr. Pepper sauce. It was dry and chewy but was also tasty, saucy, and sweet. I did not finish the bland coleslaw. The macaroni and cheese disappeared rather quickly though.

Blue OX BBQ was a solid stop for barbecue. I feel like The Buzz Mill downgraded when they switched to Ironwood Barbecue. Maybe Ironwood is early in its existence and has not hit its groove. Or it could just be another forgettable joint among the many heavy hitters in Austin. Grade: C

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 1505 Town Creek Dr, Austin, TX 78741 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Brisket House

I wanted to do something nice for my wife's birthday so I planned a trip to New Orleans. Amber had never been, and I went when I was in high school. Not the same experience if you went with your parents. I try to include at least one visit to a BBQ joint when I am out of town, but I did not plan very well though. I found out that The Joint was closed on Sundays on that Sunday. Oops. I guess we will have to return back to NOLA. To salvage the trip for missing out on BBQ, I wanted to make a barbecue stop while driving through Houston. The Brisket House was one of the closest places off of IH-10. I had their samples at the Houston Barbecue Festival a few weeks back and wanted the full experience. They are located in a nice part of H-Town and within a strip mall.

When I walked in saw a Southern Pride smoker, I immediately questioned my choice. I then remembered reading that the gas was used only to regulate the temperature of the wood fire in a TMBBQ review. There was a stack of pecan and oak logs by the door. I ordered the three meat plate that came with moist brisket, pork ribs, and jalapeño sausage. I also got sides of coleslaw and macaroni and cheese. You would think a place that is named The Brisket House would have good brisket, right? Well it did. Under the jet black soft exterior, the meat was tender and flavorful. The fat was rendered a bit much so it was a little dry. But by no means was it a brisket that I was going to kick out of bed. The pork ribs were moist and smoky. The bone was struggling to hold on to the meat. The sausage was solid and had a nice kick from the jalapeño. The mixture was tasty, and the casing was snappy. My wife tasted the macaroni and cheese first and said it was bad. She was trying to trick me and have all of it to herself. Shame on her. The coleslaw was fresh and crisp and a good complement. I ate everything off the plate. Well everything but the bones.

Do not judge a book by its cover. When you pull into the parking lot, you wonder how could there be good barbecue here. There is so put your car in park and go inside. You see a gas smoker? Just go ahead and order. The Brisket House is open into the evening so the hours are convenient. I met owner Wayne Kammerl while I was there. Nice guy. He and his staff are doing good stuff. The Houston BBQ scene has a lot of quality restaurants now. Driving back to Austin in a meat coma was the only bad decision I made that day. Grade: B

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 5775 Woodway Dr, Houston, TX 77057
Phone: (281) 888-0331

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

AJ's Ranch Road Grill

I know my wife Amber gets tired of us eating so much barbecue. I try my best to accommodate her when I can. Happy wife, happy life, right? AJ's Ranch Road Grill is a restaurant located in San Marcos that serves mostly BBQ items but also has a few other non-BBQ items. When we pulled up to the joint on a Sunday, I could not detect a whiff of smoke. I know we were in trouble.

Amber ordered the burger, and I got the Hungry Man's Combo. It came with 1/4 lb. brisket, 1/4 lb. sausage, and 1/4 lb. pork ribs. The plate came with two sides so I chose fries and macaroni and cheese. While we were waiting for our food, I had a bad feeling. When I got my plate, my fears were confirmed. The smoked meats were reheated. AJ's must smoke their meats some other day. The marbled brisket was dry and chewy. It was like eating a flavorless well-done steak. The pork rib was okay. The meat required some effort to come off the bone. It was smoky, but other than that it was boring. The sausage was decent. It tasted fine but was super greasy. The highlight of the meal was the sides. That is not positive sign if you are a BBQ restaurant. Amber was also not a fan of her burger.

AJ's Ranch Road Grill is open till 3 AM in the morning. If you are drunk and hungry, bad food can still taste fine. That is coming from my experiences. Outside, the sign said that they had Tex-Mex as well. The Tex-Mex items were BBQ tacos and quesadillas. I am no expert, but I am pretty sure that is not Tex-Mex. Hays County BBQ is still the place to go to in San Marcos. Grade: D

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 205 Moore St, San Marcos, TX 78666
Phone: (512) 667-6212

Monday, May 4, 2015

Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto

I am by no means a book critic. I have only written one book review/summary before. I did one for Daniel Vaughn's The Prophets of Smoked Meat which came out almost two years ago. That book inspired this blog. My BBQ quest/obsession has been fueled by Franklin Barbecue. When that first piece of moist brisket hit my tongue, I knew I wanted more. It has been a struggle ever since. Owner/Pitmaster Aaron Franklin just recently came out with his own book with a little help from Jordan Mackay. If you pack a history guide, a science book, and a cookbook together, you have Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto.

Everywhere Aaron Franklin goes, he is recognized. You will see people asking him to take pictures with them. Aaron=Rockstar. The guy has been on TV, in a commercial, and even in a movie so a book seemed like the natural progression. If you ever have been to Franklin Barbecue, you know why he is so popular. His restaurant smokes some of the best BBQ on the planet. People start lining up at the door hours before it even opens. The wait is definitely worth it. Aaron Franklin just won a James Beard Award (an Oscars equivalent in the culinary world). Congrats! He is the first ptimaster to win this award.

The contents of the book are broken into seven chapters so I will just break this post into seven sections:

Beginnings: The first chapter is a short history lesson. Aaron goes over his typical day at the restaurant. It is a busy one you can imagine. His parents ran a BBQ joint when he was growing up which later fueled his passion for barbecue. He and his wife, Stacy, started doing cookouts in their backyard, and it eventually led to the food trailer Franklin Barbecue started out in. I actually stood in line at that trailer. The wait was only 20 minutes back then. After reading this chapter, my respect for Aaron and Stacy grew even more. They struggled to make everything work, but with their effort and dedication, it all paid off. My hats off to them.

The Smoker: This is where the science part starts. Aaron describes the various types of smoker. Franklin Barbecue is currently using five offset smokers and a rotisserie smoker. He even goes into how to build one from scratch. Do not like the one you currently have? He talks about a few modifications that could improve it. After finishing this chapter, I want to take welding classes now and build my own smoker.

Wood: This is a vital step of barbecuing. Without it, there would be no smoke. Franklin uses post oak at the restaurant. It is abundant in Central Texas and burns cleaner. There are different varieties of wood. He stays away from green wood (wood that comes from a recently live tree) because the moisture content is higher which in turn is harder to burn and gives off a heavier and dirtier smoke. You want the wood to be "seasoned" for about a year.

Fire + Smoke: The magic takes place here. It is not as easy as setting a match to a pile of logs. Aaron goes over the elements of the ideal fire and smoke composition. You want the fire to burn efficiently, and it takes a little bit of tender loving care to do so.

Meat: Brisket is king in Texas. This cut comes from the chest region of a steer, and there are two of them. Aaron Franklin uses all natural prime grade briskets. Sure it is more expensive, but the quality and marbling of the meat results in a better product. He explains what he is looking for in the other meats they use like beef ribs, pork ribs, pork butt, sausage, and turkey.

The Cook: This is the cookbook section of the book. If you have ever watched Aaron's YouTube videos, he discusses the same topics. He keeps it simple with most of his rub. Salt and pepper. Trimming the meats also helps get better results. The briskets are wrapped in butcher paper and the ribs and pork butts in foil sometime during the cooking process. You have to be patient with your brisket. The temperature of the brisket will stall at some point, but you just have to have to give it time. Do not crank up the heat. I used to make that mistake. It will eventually climb and eventually be ready to be pulled off when it is around 200 degrees internally.

Serving + Eating: The final chapter talks about the best part. Eating. Knowing how to slice a brisket is vital. Franklin goes over the steps on cutting a brisket. An inexperienced person could screw up a perfectly smoked meat. If barbecue sauce and sides are your thing, Aaron shares the recipes he uses at the restaurant. I like his transparency. He has nothing to hide.

All in all, it was hard for me to put down Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto. I read the majority of the book in one sitting. I was intrigued by it. I am a BBQ nerd, and you can tell Aaron is one too, and I love it. It is not a challenging read, and you can easily pick it back up wherever you left off. The photos from Wyatt McSpadden bring the pages to life. I am always in awe over his pictures. He captures so much detail and color in his work. Jordan Mackay did a great job in putting Aaron's words on to paper. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. You would too. Go buy a copy because there is a lot of details I left out. The book is also very inspirational. With a little bit of money, hard work, time, and commitment, you can turn a hobby into a life's dream.

Until next time, happy smoking...

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Hou BBQ Festival 2015

The Third Annual Houston BBQ Festival took place just this weekend. I have always wanted to go. I have eaten at a few places in Houston, but this festival was perfect for me. It was a great way to sample some of the best joints in the Houston area without driving all over town. We drove in just for the event and went back after. I am going to go in chronological order, and the ones with a link are places I have reviewed in the past.

Killen's Barbecue - Our first stop of the day. We wanted to avoid lines and assumed this would be the longest for the day. Ronnie brought sausage and burnt end short ribs. The burnt ends were meaty and tasty. The sausage recipe has changed for the better, and I like it. It is now comprised of brisket, pork belly, and bacon. He was handing out whole beef ribs at one point, but I did not have stomach space to mess with it as divine as it sounds.

Spring Creek Barbeque - Brisket, pork ribs, beef ribs, and jalapeño poppers. The jalapeño poppers were a good change of pace even for the second stop.

Blake's BBQ and Burgers - Brisket, pork ribs, and sausage. Three stops in and I was already overwhelmed. I forgot to take a picture.

Pizzitola's Bar-B-Cue - Brisket and pork ribs.

Pinkerton's BBQ - The new kids on the block. They brought beef ribs, brisket, sausage, and jalapeño rice. The brisket and beef rib were money. The sausage was rich, but it is a work in progress. The jalapeño rice was one of the better sides I have ever tasted.

CorkScrew BBQ - Pork belly and boudin stuffed pork tenderloin. Yes please. I can eat both of these all day. I love pork belly. I love boudin. Awesome stuff from these guys.

Fainmous BBQ - Pulled pork, pork ribs, and sausage

Gerardo's - Carnitas and barbacoa tacos. I need to go here. The tacos had a ton of flavor.

Gatlin's BBQ - Brisket, ribs, pulled pork, and fish. I swore we ate here. Not sure how I forgot to take a picture. They are temporarily closed as they are moving to a bigger location.

The Brisket House - Brisket, sausage, and pork ribs. Solid bites all around.

Louie Mueller Barbecue (Taylor) - Wayne Mueller is trying to open a location in Houston so this festival was the ideal way to show off his product. He served beef ribs, brisket, and lamb chops. They were all superb. I ate maybe four lamb chops. The crowd loved what was being dished from his booth. Billy Durney from Hometown Bar-B-Que (Brooklyn, New York) provided some extra assistance.

Ray's BBQ Shack - Pork ribs, brisket, sausage, and fried corn. The deep fried corn was awesome. It had a nice crunch and texture to it.

Pappa Charlies Barbeque - Brisket, turkey, and sausage. The brisket was solid. I am not really a turkey person, but it was outstanding. Juicy and flavorful.

Feges BBQ - Patrick Feges stepped outside of the box and smoked a whole hog. It was well executed. The chunks of crackling were also wonderful. Crispy and delish.

Roegels Barbecue Co. - Brisket and sausage. The brisket was on point. I guess I just visited them at a bad time when I did my review. I will be back.

El Burro & the Bull - Brisket, check. Tortilla, check. Who does not love tacos? Amber and I really liked this dish.

Blood Bros. BBQ - This was the place I was looking forward to most, and they did not disappoint. The brisket and beef rib were supplied by 44 Farms and were quite excellent. Great taste, smoke, and texture. I hope to see a permanent location soon.

Tin Roof BBQ - Chopped beef slider, sausage, and a jalapeño cream cheese concoction. Everything that came from this booth was good. Not sure what the jalapeño cream cheese thing was, but I was eating it with my fingers. It was that delicious.

Brooks' Place BBQ - Pork ribs, chicken, and brisket.

Lenox Bar-B-Que - Brisket and two types of sausage.

The Wooden Spoke - Pulled pork sandwich, sausage, and boudin. When you get close to the end, everything taste the same or does not taste that good. Not true here. I enjoyed the samples.

Oak Leaf Smokehouse - Fried macaroni and cheese brisket ball, corn pudding, broccoli salad, brisket, and chicken. What is going on here? Whatever it is, it is working. The bite of the fried macaroni and cheese brisket ball was different, but I kept wanting more of it. That corn pudding too.

Southside Market & Barbeque (Elgin/Bastrop) - The final stop included both the jalapeño cheddar and original sausage, and brisket. Also bacon wrapped stuffed jalapeño and cheddar pan sausage. How could you forget this? It was out of this world. There was so much going on, but it was worth it.

Amber and I had a fantastic time. We somehow managed to hit up all 23 tents. I would like to thank her for being a trooper in going with me and also being a hand model. It was nice to see familiar faces and "meating" new ones. Even the owner of The Beast, a Texas-style BBQ joint in Paris, France, was in town for it. JC Reid and Michael Fulmer did a phenomenal job in putting this event together. Thanks for having us. It did not feel crowded, and there was a lot of seating. You cannot truly judge barbecue at festivals like this, but you can appreciate when the men and ladies of barbecue do. It was a celebration of Houston BBQ. A scene that is on the rise and a force to be reckon with.

Until next time, happy smoking...