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
Website: http://thebriskethouse.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BrisketHouse
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheBrisketHouse

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: Other

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 205 Moore St, San Marcos, TX 78666
Phone: (512) 667-6212
Website: http://ajs-ranchroadgrill.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ajsranchroadgrill/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ajsranchrdgrill

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...