Monday, October 27, 2014

Bird Dog BBQ

I have only tried barbecue outside of the state of Texas once at this point. We had some pulled pork while we were in South Carolina. I remember it being pretty good. Colorado Springs, Colorado was the destination for a work trip. After I landed, I head straight for Bird Dog BBQ. They had good reviews on Yelp and Google. I went to the original location in Stetson Hills. The owner had worked at a County Line and wanted to open a restaurant that served Oklahoma style barbecue. I did not even know that was a style. The guy there said Oklahoma style is where you order from a counter, have the oak smoked meat cut in front of you, and barbecue sauce is served on the side. That sounds like most places I go to in Texas...

I ordered the three meat plate that came with moist brisket, ribs, hot links and sides of baked bean and coleslaw. When they were cutting the brisket, I saw that the brisket had no bark. I was confused by the whole thing. I know they were using an Old Hickory smoker, but I cannot explain it. Not enough rub or seasoning? Over-trimmed? The brisket was roast beef like, dry and falling apart. You can see the smoke ring, but it had nothing else going on for it. The pork ribs were tender and juicy. They had smoke, but it was light on the rub. The ribs were not bad but were bland and boring. The sausage was the best meat I had, and of course, it is a commercial sausage out of Denver. That is not a good thing. The baked beans with brisket were really good. The coleslaw tasted crisp and fresh.

I knew I was not in Texas anymore when I went to Bird Dog BBQ. It was not terrible, but it was not good either. They had a wasabi style barbecue sauce on the table. It was good and spicy. I am the type that thinks if you need barbecue sauce on your meat, you are probably doing something wrong. But then again, I am only an "expert" on Texas barbecue. Grade: N/A

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 5984 Stetson Hills Blvd #200 Colorado Springs, CO 80923
Phone: (719) 596-4900

Monday, October 20, 2014

Smokey Denmark's Smoked Meats Co.

Smokey Denmark's Smoked Meats Co. is a sausage making and wild game processing facility on the east side of Austin. They have been around for over 50 years and also sells their sausage to the public on-site. I only found out that they existed a few months ago. Shameful. Now they have a BBQ truck to serve smoked meats from. Pitmaster Bill Dumas is on a mission to stake out a piece of the Austin barbecue pie. I stopped by once on a Friday, but they were out of pork ribs. I was not going be foiled again!

This day I ordered my usual Texas trinity of moist brisket, pork rib, and sausage. I also added a link of boudin sausage. The brisket was respectable. Other than the flat being a little chewy, it was cooked well and had decent smoke and bark. I would have like to see a little more rub especially on the bottom of the brisket. The brisket was better than the first time I tried it. They also cut the brisket "correctly" this time by cutting it against the grain instead of with the grain. The rib was meaty with a good flavor. It was a little chewy and hard to bite the meat from bone. For now, the pork ribs are only available on Fridays. The smoked sausage was good and flavorful. It had a good snap, but the texture was what you would expect from a mass produce sausage. I have been on a boudin kick of late. I am trying every single one I run across. At Smokey Denmark's, they use pork shoulder instead of pork liver in the filling. The casing could barely keep the pork and rice mixture contained. It was dynamite. It had a ton of flavor, and being smoked instead of boiled, added a nice finish to it.

I am going to go ahead and add Smokey Denmark's to my rotation. I had a good meal and did not have any issues. I have tried the pulled pork before and thought it was alright, and the jalapeño creamed corn was not bad either. I did not get a chance to try the jalapeño and cheese sausage this time. I am interested in their Tuesday special which is a taco with a choice of pulled pork or brisket. Go check them out. Grade: B-

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 3505 E 5th St, Austin, TX 78702
Phone: (512) 385-0718

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Granary 'Cue & Brew

Amber and I recently did a San Antonio barbecue swing. We had just left Two Bros. BBQ Market and were headed to The Granary 'Cue & Brew next. I have tried some of their items at a couple of events. I had the smoked beef cheek at Live Fire which was out of bounds and the smoked pork belly at the 2014 TMBBQ Fest. The Granary is located in a historical house at the site where the old Pearl Brewery used to be. I liked how the area has been developed because it is vibrant and contemporary. The Granary is actually the only brewery in the location now. Although The Granary only opened a couple of years ago, it did make the Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ list. That has to mean something, right? The Granary 'Cue & Brew is co-owned by the Rattray brothers. Tim is in charge of the 'cue, and Alex is in charge of the brew.

The lunch menu is very different from the dinner menu. It was lunchtime still so we ordered the three-meat plate with moist brisket, pulled pork, and sausage with sides of burnt end beans and coleslaw. I also added a half pound of the ribs. You cannot get the ribs on a plate. The brisket was stellar. It was smoky, tender, and the fat was rendered perfectly. The sweet glazed pork ribs were solid. The flavors were good, and the meat required no effort to pull away from the rib. They make the beef sausage in house. It had a good flavor and grit with the right amount of fat. The casing could barely hold the meat but was chewy though. The pulled pork was succulent with a ton of flavor. The buttermilk coleslaw was crisp and fresh but lackluster. The burnt end beans were tasty and similar to baked beans. The Granary makes their own bread and pickles which adds a nice touch and value. I enjoyed the soft, moist, dense bread. I could have eaten a whole loaf of it with the BBQ.

I love what the Rattray brothers are doing here. It is great place to grab some barbecue or beer or both. The dinner menu is eclectic and strays away from the traditional barbecue you might find. Quail and pork shank are some of the options. It kind of reminds me of Lambert's in Austin. The Granary 'Cue & Brew also has lunch specials that include their housemade pastrami and pastrami beef rib. That sounds wonderful does it not? I was happy with my barbecue experience in San Antonio. I cannot wait to come back to try the other ones out there and stop by The Granary again. Grade: B+

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 602 Avenue A, San Antonio, TX 78215
Phone: (210) 228-0124

Monday, October 6, 2014

Two Bros. BBQ Market

A San Antonio BBQ tour was due. The only time that I have had barbecue in San Antonio was at the original Rudy's which left a bad taste in my mouth. Amber and I went to the ACL Festival the previous day so we were exhausted from it. Somehow we still managed to head out early Saturday morning because my wife really wanted to try Magnolia Pancake Haus. When we arrived there, I had the biscuits and gravy, and they were awesome. About five minutes down the street was Two Bros. BBQ Market so we made it the next stop on the trip. I actually wanted to go to The Granary 'Cue & Brew first, but this made better sense. I have tried Two Bros. before at a TMBBQ event.

We got there right when it opened and were the only ones there. I love it when you open your car door and the first thing you smell is the smoke in the air. Everything on the menu is ordered by a quarter pound. I ordered some moist brisket, pork spare ribs, pork baby back ribs, and a link of sausage. The brisket was chewy. It needed to stay in the smoker a bit longer to break down the fat and collagen more. It did have a good bark and smokiness to it. The spare rib had a nice smoke to it, but the flavors were bland and boring. It was also a little tough to bite the meat away from the bone. The cherry glazed baby back rib is where it is at. The sweet, succulent meat was righteous. The smoke definitely put the rib over the top. The sausage they served was good. The pork and beef blend had a nice pop and was flavorful. Two Bros also has three different barbecue sauces. One is sweet, one is tangy, and one is made from molasses, coffee, and Shiner beer.

Two Bros. BBQ Market is co-owned by Chef Jason Dady and his brother, hence the name. Their restaurant made it onto the 2013 Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ joints list. The location also has a huge patio with a play area for the kids. Everything on the menu had the right amount of smoke from the oak wood. It is a definitely solid choice considering the brisket could be much better on a good day. I would say we were off to a good start to the San Antonio BBQ tour. Grade: B-

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 12656 West Ave, San Antonio, TX 78216
Phone: (210) 496-0222

Monday, September 29, 2014

Smoking Brisket

So far I have smoked pork ribs and a pork butt. The next installment in my smoking adventures is on brisket.

Smoked brisket is king in the state of Texas. There has been even a debate if it should be the official dish of the state. I have done brisket in the electric smoker before, but it was time to try to do it the more "traditional' way. The first time I smoked a brisket I had no idea what I was doing. My thought was to cook it well-done like most cuts of beef and hit 160 degrees. Nope. It was terrible. It was really chewy and some of it was not edible. I did not give the fat time and heat to render down correctly. I have smoked a few since then so I have it "down."

I was going to smoke a brisket for my coworkers for a potluck. I normally get my brisket at Costco, but they were out of the choice grade. They had prime, but it was $3.78 a pound. I like my coworkers but not that much plus the smallest package was 15 pounds. If I was smoking it for friends, I might have reconsidered. I ended up finding choice for $2.48 a pound at H-E-B. Brisket prices have been increasing as of late. You might start to see BBQ joints charge more for it. This bad boy weighed in at 13.5 pounds. Here is an article on brisket grades and another on increasing brisket prices.

I did not trim the fat in the past. I was lazy and did not know any better. I left the thick fat cap on it. I ended up cutting a lot of it off after I smoked the brisket. There was so much fat. Yes I know I lost a good piece of the bark, and that is why I bought a boning knife to fix this. I trimmed the meat up a little bit and tried to leave a quarter inch of fat. Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue has an excellent series of videos (BBQ with Franklin) on YouTube that offers tips and pointers for us amateurs.

I was going to keep the rub real simple this time. Salt and pepper. I have also added brown sugar and cayenne pepper in the past.

The brisket I got was on the bigger size. I normally like it around 10 pounds. I put the brisket in the smoker at 8pm. This one barely fit in there. I was able to control the heat and fire a lot better than my other attempts with this smoker. The temperature only got up to 300+ degrees a couple of times for a few moments. I checked on the temperature every 30 minutes or so. I loaded more oak into the firebox throughout the night. I am not a fan of my combo grill/smoker. There is a cold spot about two thirds away from the firebox. The grill is boxy and not cylindrical so the flow is not the best. I need to get a new smoker. I had to turn the brisket for a little bit to heat the flat/lean side.

I pulled the brisket off the smoker around 7:30 am when the temperatures were around 190 degrees. I wrapped it in butcher paper first then plastic wrap and then a towel and threw it in a cooler. Lunch was 11:30 am so I hoped the meat would stay relatively warm. The meat was still at a good temperature when I pulled it out of the cooler.

I bought a long knife online just to slice brisket. It cut the meat pretty well.

The brisket was good. It was moist and had the right amount of fat. I wish I used more rub though. I wish I also got a better bark on the top side of the brisket. Yeah I do not like my smoker. It has cast iron grill plates which holds heat well but also cooks the meat faster. The bottom of the meat was a little charred because of it. I need to bring the smoke down to cooking surface as well. Overall I was satisfied with the results.

I have modified my smoker since. I put some aluminum roof flashing in the chimney to draw the smoke lower. I also added a baffle by the firebox to help with temperature control in the cooking chamber. I got a nice bark on the brisket the next time I used the smoker. I want to buy a new smoker, but I am not ready yet. I might take some welding classes so I can build my own. I have no idea what I am smoking next. Beef ribs? Make my own sausage?

Until next time, happy smoking...

Monday, September 22, 2014

House Park Bar-B-Que

House Park Bar-B-Que is one of the hardest places to get barbecue from for me. They are open only for lunch Monday through Friday. I have only been here once just because of that reason. Their sign on the outside reads "No need teef to eat my beef." This slogan is similar to another Austin barbecue institution. House Park is located in a shopping center and is within a stone's throw of an Austin classic, The Tavern. When I got there at 11 AM, there were a few people eating inside.

I ordered a two-meat plate with moist brisket and pork ribs with a half link of sausage. The plate also came with bean, potato salad, and coleslaw. The brisket had two stories. So the long piece on the bottom of a typical brisket is the flat (lean). The top piece that covers half of it is the point (moist). The flat was chewy, and the point was super fatty. They must have cooked it too high and fast. It had a smoke ring, but without, I would have guessed the brisket was done in an oven. There were no flavors, and it was bland. The ribs were slightly better. They were dry, but the rub had a nice spice. You had to work a little to get the meat off of the bone. The sausage is made by the Texas Sausage Company which is the same people who make the sausage for Franklin Barbecue. It is sad if that was the best thing I ate. The sausage was a beef and pork house blend. The peppercorn gave it a good kick. The sides were boring but did look homemade. More seasoning please?

Bland was the story here. I am not sure how House Park House Park Bar-B-Que is in business with the limited hours. Sure, some places in town are only open for lunch, but their line snakes around the building. A lot of the places I eat at, the smoked meats are cut in front of you. Sometimes when you watch them cut the meat, you know it is not going to be a good experience. This was one of them. Grade: D

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 900 W 12th St, Austin, TX 78703
Phone: (512) 472-9621

Monday, September 15, 2014

TMBBQ Fest 2014

This is the second consecutive year and third all-time that I have gone to the Texas Monthly BBQ Fest. There are 25 joints at this year's event, and the two place I have yet to try are The Granary ’Cue and Brew and Cranky Frank’s Barbeque Company. They are both on my radar. I need to make a BBQ trip to San Antonio, and I am sure my wife would not mind a wine trip to Fredericksburg that includes a visit to Cranky Frank's. I have eaten at or tried the rest at last year's event. I am not sure why I even go anymore. It is probably because I am a BBQ fanatic/nut and will jump at a chance to eat some of the best barbecue in the world all at one location.

I volunteered this year to get a complimentary ticket into the festival. The two hours flew by as I was checking in guests. I was meeting up with my wife and some friends after my shift ended. The dynamics of going as a group is completely different than going by yourself. I would have probably wanted to try way more, but today, I was going to relax, enjoy myself, drink a few beers, and eat some great barbecue. We were going to hit a lot of the top spots.

Killen’s Barbecue (Pearland) - This was our first stop, and the line was relatively short. I actually kept an eye on their line all day. This should have been one of the busier tents, but it was not. Ronnie Killen cooked a ton of barbecue. Our trays included a piece of the beef rib, brisket, and pork rib. Everything was excellent. I wish Pearland was a suburb of Austin.

Pecan Lodge (Dallas)- Because we had to wait for a little bit, I was disappointed that all we got was brisket. Sure their brisket is great, but how about some sausage?

Snow’s BBQ (Lexington)- One of the longer lines netted you the Texas trinity. I ate all of the pork rib, sausage, and brisket if that means anything. I was supposed to be pacing myself. It always great to see pitmaster Tootsie doing her thing. She is the gem of barbecue.

The Granary ’Cue and Brew (San Antonio)- Their dinner menu is very eclectic, but they still serve traditional BBQ for lunch. They had some smoked pork belly at their booth. I was a not a fan which is hard because I love pork belly. It was chewy, and the rub did not help it out. I am still going to make a trip to San Antonio soon.

Opie’s Barbecue (Spicewood)- No baby back ribs? Bummed. The brisket and sausage were good. The tater tot casserole was a good change of pace.

Cranky Frank’s Barbeque Company (Fredericksburg)- I thought the brisket and pork butt was all right. It is not fair for me to judge them completely at an event like this.

La Barbecue (Austin)- This was the second longest line, but I got a chance to do a little bit of socializing. I probably should have jumped around and hit up a few other spots in the meantime. I got hooked up when I got to the stand. I basically had a three meat plate (brisket, hot guts, and beef rib) in my hand. Everything was fantastic. A line is always warranted anytime John Lewis is manning the smoker.

Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que (Llano)- The sausage, pork rib, and brisket were all cooked nicely. Remember they do it high and fast. The rubs were really salty though.

Louie Mueller Barbecue (Taylor)- I need to make a trip back to Taylor. The beef rib, sausage, and brisket were on point. Nothing needs barbecue sauce from here, but I love the sweet jalapeño sauce. I need to buy that stuff by the gallon.

Miller’s Smokehouse (Belton)- We were slowing down at this point, but it was not going to stop me to grab some meat from Miller's. The brisket and sausage were tasty. Heed my advice and stop in Belton sometime soon.

Franklin Barbecue (Austin)- No surprise this was the longest line at the event. It was longer than previous years. The line might have been longer than the one to get in. This was going to be our last stop because we were running out of time. We ended up waiting for about 50 minutes for a pile of brisket, pulled pork, and turkey. Everything was juicy and tender. Aaron Franklin was the front greeting and taking pictures. What a genuine guy!

The other BBQ joints that were there, but we did not make it around to sample:

Black’s Barbecue (Lockhart)
Buzzie’s Bar-B-Q (Kerrville)
City Meat Market (Giddings)
Cousin’s Bar-B-Q (Fort Worth)
Hatfield’s BBQ (Rockport)
Hays Co. Bar-B-Que and Catering (San Marcos)
Hutchins BBQ (McKinney)
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue (Austin)
Lockhart Smokehouse (Dallas)
Pody’s BBQ (Pecos)
Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue (Tyler)
Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew (Austin)
Two Bros. BBQ Market (San Antonio)
Tyler’s Barbeque (Amarillo)

It was the Super Bowl of Texas BBQ. It was better than the Super Bowl because it was not all hype. TMBBQ put on an excellent event. It was organized, and the weather worked out. It was overcast and cool which is rare for September in Austin. I was afraid with the festival being moved up a month that it was going to be blazing hot. Not this year. Killen's and La Barbecue were my favorites from the event. VIP tickets might be worth the price because trying to eat all 25 places might not be possible in three hours. The lines and crowd were longer and bigger this year. Barbecue is just a hot commodity right now, and I love it. So many great places to try and eat at. 

Until next time, happy smoking...