Monday, August 25, 2014

TMBBQ Road Trip - Hill Country

Texas Monthly puts on a barbecue bus tour that take you to a few BBQ joints in a day. I recently had the opportunity to go on one. On this trip, the stops were Opie's Barbecue in Spicewood, Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in Llano, and La Barbecue in Austin. Our tour guide for this adventure is none other than Texas Monthly's BBQ editor, Daniel Vaughn. I sometimes envy his job.

We left Austin for Opie's at 10 am. It is about an hour drive to Spicewood. I am a big fan of Opie's. Fellow blogger Lisa Rawlinson of Full and Content was also on the trip so we shared some of the food. It was all about pacing ourselves. We got the baby back ribs, moist brisket, jalapeño sausage, pork chop, butter beans, tatertot casserole, and spicy corn. The baby back ribs are money here. They are sweet, spicy, juicy, tender, and smoky. I could live off these. The tatertot casserole was other highlight of the meal. It was unique and nothing like I had before. Here is a profile of Pitmaster Seth Glaser posted by a fellow BBQ blogger not long ago.

What is this? It is a wood contraption that feeds the mesquite wood into the Oyler smoker. What an innovative idea! It limits the need to wake up in the middle of the night to load logs into the smoker.

Cooper's was 45 minutes from Spicewood. It gave our digestive system some time to do its thing. When we got there, brisket, sausage, ribs, chicken, and pork chop with sides of beans and potato salad were waiting for us. The pork chop is all I can think about. It is nicely seasoned and tasted wonderful. They cook it high and fast so the cut of pork stays super juicy.

On the way back to Austin, I noticed there were a lot of dead trees. The drought is a lot worse than I imagined. Sad. I was definitely getting full, and a quick pit stop at It's All Good Bar-B-Q did not help. We picked up a to-go order of brisket, pork ribs, and turkey. They used to have a trailer in Austin but moved before I got a chance to try them. The rub on brisket was very different. It tasted like a sweet soy sauce?

An hour and a half later, we finally made it to La Barbecue. I have never eaten here this late. It is always sold-out by this time on a Saturday. There were trays of meat for us. The heaping piles of brisket, pork ribs, and hot guts covered the trays. Everything on it was excellent. All of it. I even enjoyed the lean slices of brisket. I actually tried their sides for the first time. The coleslaw and potato were fresh and delicious. Pitmaster John Lewis is one of my favorite people in barbecue. He is down to earth and friendly.

I had a great time on the trip. I was stuffed with barbecue and beer. My wife and I went to see OneRepublic that evening as well. Probably not the best idea. Texas Monthly puts on a lot of great barbecue events. This is one of them. It was well organized and had a lot of value. Their golden child is the TMBBQ Festival which will be held in the middle of next month. They also have done a 'Cue Court. I have missed on getting tickets to previous Behind the Pit Dinners where they will hold an intimate dinner with the pitmaster at that respective BBQ joint. TMBBQ have done other bus tours in the past. They have gone to Snow's BBQ in Lexington, Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, and Franklin Barbecue in Austin on one trip. The Houston trip included Corkscrew BBQ (on my list to try), Gatlin's BBQ, Virgie's Bar-B-Que, and Killen's Barbecue. Is The Metroplex next?

Until next time, happy smoking...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Hays County BBQ (Update)

It was early in my blog's existence that I visited Hays County BBQ. I did not give them a fair shakedown. Here was the review. I was not doing it right back then because I did not try the pork ribs. It was time to go back and fix that.

Hays County BBQ had moved since my last visit. They are now on the access road of IH-35 across another BBQ joint, Fuschak's Pit Bar-B-Q. This should help them get more traffic. Pay attention because you might miss it though. Their new location could be confused as a trailer on a used car lot. That is because a car dealership used to be at this location. Hays CO BBQ also now have a back patio where they will have live music. Amber and I had a busy Saturday planned, but we still had time to get some good barbecue.

The owners' son, Aaron Hernandez, is one of the pitmasters now. He is only 20! When I was his age, I was stupid and partying it up in college. On this visit, we ordered a quarter pound of moist brisket and pork ribs, ring of the regular sausage and of the jalapeño and cheese, and a half chicken. Once we got to the table I realized we had gotten lean brisket. I was so excited and hungry that I did not really think about it when I saw them cutting the slices. It looked like the brisket had been out for a while. The lean pieces were looking dry and tasted dry. They were cutting a fresh brisket when we were sitting down. Doh! The slices of brisket were still good though. The smoke kissed meat had a nice bark. The ribs were tasty. They were tender and meaty. The rub and smoke gave it a good flavor.

Getting served homemade sausage is always the right thing. It shows that specific BBQ joint cares about the quality of their product. The regular sausage was solid. It was meaty and beefier but also a little drier. I wish it had a little bit more fat. The casing did have a good snap. If you get sausage here, go with the jalapeño and cheese. It is the star here. It was rich and had a nice spicy aftertaste. Amber wanted some chicken so I was able to taste some of hers. They balanced the smokiness and moisture of the chicken nicely. The rub and the skin was a delight to eat.

This visit did not change my opinion of Hays County BBQ. They are still a quality barbecue joint. My only beef with them is they charge for pickles and onion. I think 99% of the places I visit give this away for free. I was given a tour of the pits and was intrigued by a new smoker they are working on. I stared at it for a while grasping the idea. They are going to modify it and add two fireboxes and another smoke stack. I am excited to see what happens with it. Grade: B

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 1612 S Interstate 35, San Marcos, TX 78666
Phone: (512) 392-6000

Monday, August 11, 2014

Zimmerhanzel's BBQ (closed)

I am slowly starting to run out of "good" barbecue joints to check out in Austin. That means I need to start taking more road trips. I keep finding myself referencing the Texas Monthly's Top 50 list to find some BBQ restaurants to try. It is a pretty good guide to follow. This time we were going to meet up with a friend at Zimmerhanzel's BBQ in Smithville who was on the way to Houston. My wife and I used to drive through here when we would visit my parents in Katy. When we pass through the area, all we ever saw was the hospital along the highway. As we were looking for Zimmerhanzel's, we realize there was more to the city. It has the feel of a small Texas town where everyone knows one another. The movie Hope Floats was actually shot here in Smithville.

The first I think I noticed was the affordable prices. I ordered a two-meat plate with moist brisket and sliced pork roast. They were out of pork ribs. Someone had come in and ordered all of them up. Bummer. Amber got a slice of moist brisket and sausage. I also ordered a half chicken in case we did not get full. The plate came with sides of beans, coleslaw, and macaroni salad. The brisket was solid. It was tender and nicely smoked with a good bark. It had flavor, but the fat was overly rendered so it was a touch dry. The sliced pork tasted good along the edges because of the fat, but it was dry in the middle. I needed sauce to eat the inner pieces. The all-beef homemade sausage was the star here. It is possibly one of my favorites. The snap from the casing and the coarse grit hit the spot. The peppery blend was heavy on fat. We ordered two extra sausages to-go because they were just that good. However the chicken was not. It was really dry, and my wife refused to eat it. I did enjoy the skin because of the tasty rub. There was nothing of note about the beans and coleslaw. I did like the macaroni salad. It was like eating a mustardy potato salad, but instead of potatoes, there were macaroni elbows. Our meal was under 20 bucks including the two extra links of sausage. That is pretty cheap.

Did you know that the owners tried to close Zimmerhanzel's BBQ once? The public outcry kept it from happening. The next time we are going through Smithville, we are going to stop back in. Just remember to bring cash because they do not take credit cards. We just walked across the street to the grocery store to get some. I have to try some of the pork ribs when we come back. Of course we would also load up on their sausage. It travels pretty well.

Until next time, happy smoking...

Monday, August 4, 2014

Killen's Barbecue

Revisited in 2015

My radar has been locked on Killen's Barbecue for a long time now. I keep wanting to go, but I could not justify a three-hour drive. My wife wanted to go check out the Soto exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts so we had a reason now to make the drive to Houston. At first, Ronnie Killen did only barbecue pop-ups on the weekends. He also owns a highly regarded steakhouse (Killen's Steakhouse) that he was busy with. The lines at his pop-ups were long, and he would run out of food. So Ronnie took it to the next level and opened a brick and mortar earlier this year in February.

I had trouble sleeping the night before. I was so excited. We left the house at 6:30 in the morning. It took us under three hours to get to Pearland. When we got there, the parking lot was empty. It looked like we were going to be first in line. They use a ticket system at Killen's. You draw a number and that is your spot in line. You do not have to stand in a line for hours in the heat before opening. There were some picnic tables in front that we hung out at before the restaurant in the shade. It was the perfect summer morning to grab barbecue. The temperatures were cool, and the skies were filled with clouds. We drank some of the free beer and had to only wait an hour and a half. Someone had pulled a ticket before us and had left for a little bit. We ended up being second in line when the line formed right before opening. Inside the restaurant, there was an ample amount of seating.

I walked around the building before opening and took a picture of their new Klose smoker. Ronnie told me that they were still getting used to it. They are using it primarily for pork ribs. Killen's also has a reverse flow pit. Instead of having air flow from the firebox through the cooking chamber and out the chimney, the air flows under the cooking chamber, reverses back over the cooking surface and comes out of a chimney on the same side of the firebox. The temperatures are better regulated plus the smoke is cleaner. An Oyler rotisserie smoker is also on premise.

We kept everything simple and ordered all of the meats on the menu. Some of our friends were meeting us so I ordered for them as well. They got a beef rib so I did not have to order one. I was going to steal some bites though. I have had Ronnie's beef rib at an event called Live Fire. He gave me a WHOLE beef rib. It was delicious. We got the six-meat plate with an extra link of sausage! I have never seen a five let alone six-meat plate being offered. Our plate also came with side of macaroni and cheese and cream corn. I will breakdown the meat in order:

1. The moist prime brisket was superb. It is a top five brisket in my book, and one of the best I have had in a while. The tenderness and the smokiness were downright excellent. It had a nice bark and was plain ol' tasty.
2. I wished I had gotten my own beef rib. It was phenomenal. The peppery crust played well with the smoke forming a magical bond. It was like eating meat candy. It was decadent and great.
3. The turkey was easily the best I have ever had. It was perfect. Most of the turkeys out there are boring and lifeless. This one packed some flavor with the rub. The turkey was juicy and had me thinking about ordering some from here for Thanksgiving.
4. Do not get me wrong. The bone in-pork belly was fantastic, but it had too much going on. It was essentially a sparerib with bacon attached it. It was meaty, fatty, sloppy, and rich all at the same time. I think smoking the pork belly separately would have been better. I would still order it next time.
5. The pulled pork was outstanding. There was a sweet sauce in it already, but the flavors of the meat were not washed out. It had just the right amount of smoke. I could eat it all day.
6. I almost forgot about the pork spareribs in the pile of meat. They were tender, and the meat was coming off the bone. Good rub and smoke.
7. The weakest link of the group was the sausage. Pun intended. It did have a good coarse grit and nice pop from the casing. I thought it was too fatty and kind of boring. It felt it could have use more beef in it.

The macaroni and cheese and cream corn were wonderful. Macaroni and cheese was cheesy and was good at breaking up the meat monotony. I think the cream corn was better than Rudy's. Three barbecue sauces were available to bring more spice to the table. A coffee based, Texas style, and mustard based. I liked all of them.

I have tried Gatlin's BBQ and Virgie's Bar-B-Que on a previous trip to the Houston area. There is a new sheriff in town. It is called Killen's Barbecue. Actually they could be the new sheriff in the state. The barbecue is awesome, and the line is not five hours long. You can hang out drinking a brew without getting pounded by the Texas sun. Although the focus is on meats, the sides were not forgotten. Everything is on point even though Killen's is fairly new. They also have chicken, but it was not available this day. Next time. The drive was totally worth it. The drive home was not because I wanted more. Grade: A

Until next time, happy smoking...

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