Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tour de Q Ratings

When I wrote a blog post for the Houston Press chronicling a day trip to Texas Monthly's top five Texas BBQ joints, my main goal was to convey the fun and camaraderie of such a seemingly audacious culinary adventure. As it turns out, a lot of people had no interest in the trip itself — all they wanted to know was, "Who's got the best 'Q?"

View Texas BBQ Tour 8.22.09 in a larger map

Fair enough. Although I do consider myself above the whole "Which BBQ is best" argument because such debates usually devolve into Texas-sized pissing contests. I personally subscribe to former Texas Monthly editor Greg Curtis' opinion about other people's opinions about BBQ: "All barbecue experts are self-proclaimed." True.

Still, there is that competitive streak in all of us that demands some accounting of relative greatness, or in this case, tangy and smoky goodness. I mentally arranged rankings for the best dishes and BBQ joints into their appropriate slots, but never took time out from stuffing my pie hole with BBQ to actually write them down. Fortunately there was someone on the trip who was surreptitiously jotting the ratings down on the back of BBQ sauce-stained napkins. So, by popular demand, the official Tour de Q ratings.


The surreptitious BBQ ranker was in fact Fulmer, who along with Collier, joined me for the day trip to BBQ nirvana. You have no idea how happy I am to have at least two buddies willing to spend a whole day driving around central Texas looking for transcendent Texas BBQ.

Now on to the ratings as compiled and documented by Fulmer. I believe that both Collier and I agree with these ratings, except where noted. We stuck to the big three BBQ dishes: Brisket, Ribs, and Sausage. We visited Snow's BBQ in Lexington, Louie Mueller BBQ in Taylor, Kreuz Market and Smitty's Market in Lockhart, and City Market (no website) in Luling. We made a couple of impromptu stops at Burton Sausage in Brenham, and Taylor Cafe in Taylor.

Note: What follows is a guest blog post by fellow BBQ enthusiast, foodie, bon vivant, raconteur, noted wordsmith, and all around super guy, Fulmer.

Tour de Q Ratings

The goal: Visit the top 5 Texas Monthly barbecue joints. Mission accomplished and we visited two more for good measure. So here’s how our esteemed panel of three ranked them.

Brisket: The true litmus test of any barbecue establishment.

  1. Snow’s — Texas Monthly got it right as this place lives up to the hype. The lean and fatty cuts all had a consistent, but not overpowering smokiness. A beautiful layer of fat that was crisp on the exterior and just moist enough on the interior so that the leaner, drier cuts were always delicious. Collier chose Mueller’s as a top pick owing to his preference for pepper and spice over smokiness on the flavor component.
  2. Smitty’s — The second to last stop on the tour and just about when we were all ready to scream, “Uncle!” from BBQ overload. Incredibly moist and a smoke ring that wowed us back into a state of reverence.
  3. Louie Mueller — Generous with the pepper and spice and virtually no portions were even remotely dry. Light smokiness.
  4. City Market — Delicious and mostly lean cuts that had a trace smokiness.
  5. Kreuz Market — A good smoke ring, but rather dry. Some pieces needed a little more time in the oven as there was some connective tissue that was difficult to pull apart (remember, served sans cutlery).

Ribs: Texture and taste rankings.

  1. City Market — The meat fell right off the bone and had a wonderful smoky flavor. Despite being the last stop on the tour we wanted more, but it was physically impossible.
  2. Taylor CafĂ© — A wild card entry that we made a seal team strike (in and out in a flash) to on the advice of a fellow traveler at Louie Mueller. Incredible flavor despite the leanness of the rib. Peppered generously, but not over done. A great find.
  3. Snow’s — Just a prod from our light plastic fork and the meat dropped to the plate. Not much flavor beyond the rib meat itself and that’s just fine.
  4. Smitty’s — A little tough, but good flavor. Not bad, but not very memorable either.
  5. Kreuz Market — Unimpressive, but still palatable.

Sausage: A bit problematic to compare head to head as they were all a little bit different in ingredients, but were for the most part prepared the same way.

  1. Kreuz Market — Talk about redemption. After a decidedly subpar brisket and a mediocre rib, the jalapeno-cheese sausages were amazing. Easy to bite through the casing and a perfect texture of moist firmness that had the up front heat wonderfully mellowed by the blanket of cheesiness on the back end. We took two packs of ten back home to our friend’s so they could share in our gastronomic joy.
  2. City Market — It’s the end of the tour and we are almost catatonic from the experience. We traverse the long late afternoon line and forget (or did we?) to procure some sausage. After finishing the brisket and rib we somehow are coveting the sausage at the table next to us. A rather demure elderly lady is going at her food with a concerted earnestness and after some good natured chatting, offers up a link for us to try. Good enough to win any competition that omits Kreuz’s. Smoky, great firm texture that still has a well balanced fat to meat ratio.
  3. Snow’s — If not for the somewhat chewy casing they could vault to silver medal status.
  4. Smitty’s — A very light smokiness and a somewhat mealy texture.
  5. Louie Mueller — The casing was inedible and the sausage filling had not enough fat to bind it and thus spilled out over the plate.

Sauce: Why bother. Sauce is for dry and/or bland brisket.