Barbecue Year in Review 2015

Another year has come and gone and looking back, it was another great year in barbecue. I went to 50 more joints in 2015 than I did in 2014, but spent nearly the same due to some changes in how I visit which are described later. 162 barbecue meals were had at 77 different joints which lightened my wallet by $3,471. While I didn’t venture east of Texas in search of barbecue I did hit Albuquerque, Las Vegas, and even Seattle in my travels.  Spending close to $300 a month on barbecue is a bit shocking, especially if you consider that I do not count gas, hotel, or other expenses like this website into the mix. I also don’t count purchases of meat for myself to cook, or the costs related to the two barbecue cook-offs I entered with friends this year. But I am blessed in that I have the opportunity to do this and I enjoy the thrill of the hunt as much as discovering new joints out there.

While Austin continues to be the darling of the barbecue nation, Houston made huge strides in 2015. Unlike Austin where food trucks and trailers are more common, several Houston joints made the leap and some of the best smoked meats are now comfortably served in Houston regardless of the weather. Notable moves to brick and mortar in Houston included Corkscrew and Pappa Charlies. The Pit Room didn’t make a 2015 open but will be open in the Montrose soon.Also put Southern Goods on your short list. Patrick Feges brought his smoked meat expertise into the launch of the new business in 2015 and they have received rave reviews in only a few months.

Corkscrew BBQ in Old town Spring

Corkscrew BBQ in Old town Spring

Wes Jurena

Wes Jurena

Moving to a large new location, Gatlin’s Barbecue is also worthy of mention, as is Jackson Street BBQ which opened in downtown Houston. Southern Q launched and became one of my most visited due to its proximity to my work.Russel and Misty Roegels transformed their Baker’s Ribs franchise into Roegels Barbecue Co. Late in the year Tejas Chocolates threw me for a loop with quality smoked meats just down the road from me in Tomball.

Large counter area at the new Gatlin's BBQ

Large counter area at the new Gatlin’s BBQ

Misty, Tori, and russel Roegels

Misty, Tori, and russel Roegels

Pop ups are also popular in Houston and one of the more innovative locations is actually spice shop Savory Spice which hosted a variety of businesses at the front of their location through 2015 including Harlem Road and Pinkerton’s. Blood Bros also continued their series of successful pop ups serving traditional and some inspired dishes such as their tasty burnt ends in gojuchang sauce.

In and out of Houston, the barbecue festival scene continue to prosper with one exception. The TMBBQ fest is the only one to bring Franklin Barbecue to a fest, but it doesn’t stop with one headliner. Red Dirt is a great downtown block party in Tyler Texas and a must-visit for me. The HouBBQ fest continues to grow and showcase primarily Houston based barbecue. The one I was sore that wasn’t held this year was Gettin Sauced. I had a great time at my previous visits and look forward to one in 2016. I missed out this year on Smoked Dallas and Meat Fight due to scheduling issues but will also try and work them in in the future. Q for a Cause was a great barbecue charity event I attended again this year and even volunteered to assist. I missed HouBBQ’s Super Beef event because I normally go to Vegas on Super Bowl Sunday but I’d be remiss not to mention this great event pairing barbecue joints with Saint Arnolds beers. The most exciting event for many was the HouBBQ Throwdown. Barbecue joints were challenged with creating a “taste of Houston” in a single delicious bite, and the results were spectacular.  In addition to all you can eat barbecue the entry fee also included Saint Arnolds brew and root beer. Tickets were limited enough so that the lines were very reasonable and it was a truly great.

A great day in Austin at TMBBQ 2015

A great day in Austin at TMBBQ 2015

Chowing down at Red Dirt BBQ Fest

Chowing down at Red Dirt BBQ Fest

Patrick Feges

Patrick Feges at HouBBQ Fest

John Mueller pulling fresh brisket off the pit

John Mueller pulling fresh brisket off the pit at Q for a cause

Brooks' Place won Grand Champion at HOUBBQ Throwdown 2015

Brooks’ Place won Grand Champion at HOUBBQ Throwdown 2015

Beef prices began to fall from their highs in 2015 and combined with low gas prices it was a perfect year to take a barbecue road trip. I met kindred spirits Andrew (@HoustonFed) and Scott (Texas Pit Quest @txpitquest) and we burned up thousands of miles of Texas roads. Together we visited over 50 joints across all of Texas including Houston but it was our longer road trips that were the most fun. Splitting the costs between us and ordering small samples helped push my average barbecue meal cost down significantly in 2015. Our first trip, two part two day trip part 1, part 2.

Myself, Andrew, and Scott in the woodpile at Smitty's

Myself, Andrew, and Scott in the woodpile at Smitty’s

Sausage in the smoker at Southside Market in Bastrop

Sausage in the smoker at Southside Market in Bastrop

One of several pits running on a Sunday at Smitty's Market in Lockhar

One of several pits running on a Sunday at Smitty’s Market in Lockhar

While we did a couple of in-houston BBQ runs, the long distance ones covered 43 different joints where I spent $437, for an average of just over $10. This was actually weighted by one of our earlier runs where I paid more than normal and also brought home some leftovers. On our most recent run, my average was only $5.23 and our portions were much more reasonable.

Our runs included 24 different cities outside of Houston, and our most visited city was an obvious Austin. The 43 visits also comprised 37 unique BBQ joints.

Most visited cities on BBQ runs:

Austin 8
San Antonio 5
Gonzales 3
Lockhart 3

 

With the help of Scott and Andrew, we also competed in two small non-sanctioned cook-off events (one and two), learning about the variations on barbecue that have become common in competition cooking. I also bought a new to me smoker and am working to compete more in 2016.

In august, Rudy’s Barbecue opened on highway 249 which was on the way to work. I stopped at this same location a total of 11 times from August 21 through the end of the year, but almost all were for their great deal on breakfast tacos; brisket egg and cheese for $1.95. This affected my count in a multiple ways. I included the trips for breakfast tacos, 9 trips and $36.49 – I would sometimes bring tacos for my coworkers because I’m all nice and stuff. At the average of $4 for those trips this lowered my total average cost of a barbecue meal to $21.42, which was a whipping 42% lower than 2014. If I exclude those trips my total was 153 visits, $3,435, and an average of $22.45

My propensity to hit up Rudy’s in the morning caused it to rise in the ranks to become my most visited joint in 2015. Even more surprising was noting again that they didn’t open until late August of the year!

My next most visited join, Southern Q was new for 2015, but I hit it with a vengeance. It is just close enough that I can eke out a long lunch at work so it became a favorite for those days where my coworkers and I just had to have some quality lunchtime barbecue. Ten trips and $373 later it was also the most I contributed financially to a barbecue joint’s bottom line.

Also a factor in my average cost was my habit of grabbing a quick sausage wrap as I drove through Bryan, Texas and Elgin, Texas on the way through to other cities. Both Kreuz and Southside market have phenomenal beef sausage and they both showed up in my top 10 most visited while contributing to a lower average meal cost. I also don’t want to disparage Kreuz for their other meats, the entire menu there is worthy and that is the reason it was my third most visited joint of the year. Kreuz Market’s Bryan, Texas location was my third most visited but I racked up only $126 in meal expenses.

Moist meat at Kreuz Market Bryan, Texas

Moist meat at Kreuz Market Bryan, Texas

Wes Jurena and crew opened the brick and mortar location of Pappa Charlies in 2015 to a great reception. In 2014 I visited the trailer at Lucky’s and at Jackson’s Watering Hole 7 times, but in 2015 the number rose to 9 visits total and $349, for a slightly higher average cost per visit than Southern Q. Each visit I was rewarded with top quality barbecue and the new location is a great dining experience with beer on tap and a giant screen.

I also found that it was easier and faster to get to the new east downtown location than some of the technically closer joints as I could cruise down Hwy 249 from near Tomball, enter Beltway 8, take that to IH 45, and make it all the way to the Hardy Street exit off of IH 10 all without a SINGLE STOPLIGHT. If I was to start from my doorstep, there are a handful of lights through Tomball itself, but other than those it is usually a quick trip.

Great brisket, ribs, and turkey at Corkscrew BBQ

Great brisket, ribs, and turkey at Corkscrew BBQ

Corkscrew BBQ also made the transition to a brick and mortar. Their fantastic barbecue can now be had in old town Spring, Texas in an awesome building with lots of eating space. They are a little more cumbersome for me to get to though, and while closer in mileage than Pappa Charlies, the numerous stoplights tack on additional travel time and frustration. I still made it there 6 times and enjoyed $148 of great barbecue.

Snow’s BBQ is neither close nor really on the way to a major city. In addition they are only open one day a week, but that didn’t stop me from making 5 trips in 2015 to see Tootsie and the Bexley crew. The barbecue was great, but the prices also make it worth the detour; with brisket starting the year at $13.95 a pound and ending at $14.95. What I like about Snow’s is that it is around a 20 minute drive to Taylor Texas, and the 4 visits I made to Louie Mueller made a nice stop on my meandering to Austin.

Although Austin has plenty of quality barbecue around town, there are only a handful of great brick and mortar joints within the city limits. Tucked away near the frat houses of the University of Texas and with limited parking, Evan LeRoy and pit crew work out of a gravel lot in the back of Freedmen’s Bar to produce some of the absolute best barbecue in Texas. Served at the bar and restaurant located in a historic building, the bark here is my favorite but everything I’ve had has been great. The location and parking aren’t convenient for most, but go out of your way to visit.

Great brisket from Evan LeRoy and Freedmen's

Great brisket and ribs from Evan LeRoy and Freedmen’s

There is little that hasn’t been said of Louie Mueller Barbecue. Wayne Mueller, Jason Tedford and the crew still kick out quality barbecue at this “cathedral of smoke” and visits here are always enjoyable. Prices here are on the high end but I recommend hitting Snow’s first (they open early), and the lower prices there will balance out the two. As an added bonus, show the Q card here and get free cobbler! I do it every visit. Four trips and $94 went to Louie Mueller Barbecue this year.

It’s a bit of a drive out to Opie’s BBQ in Spicewood and you drive past numerous TMBBQ top 50 joints to get there, but it’s worth every bit of that drive. Opie’s is my favorite total barbecue experience and I wish I could visit more often. It’s a blend of West Texas style with Central Texas; Mesquite is used for fuel and meats are displayed in a warming pit similar to Cooper’s and Hard 8, but meats are cooked indirectly slow and low rather than the direct method popular out west. I’m not normally a fan of mesquite smoke, but there is some magic in the rub here that accepts the smoke perfectly. The butter beans are incredible, available only on weekends, and free. Keep an eye out for sweet little old ladies who might try to smuggle some home. The food is so good I tend to overeat, and 4 visits rang up $269 in 2015.

Rounding out my top 10 most visited is Southside Market in Elgin. I’ve made it a habit to stop through on the way to Austin or points farther west, and four visits here pushed the joint into the final spot on my ten most visited this year. I usually opt for an inexpensive piece of their original beef sausage and occasionally the fantastic sausage slammer, a jalapeno stuffed with cheese, wrapped in breakfast sausage, and then surrounded in bacon. With Kreuz Market I counted the Lockhart location separate from the Bryan location because the cooking methods, pits, and pitmasters produce a differentiated product. Both the sausage and slammers from Southside are made at a central location so whether you visit the original location in Elgin or the new location in Bastrop you can get the same top quality product.

Sausage from Southside Market in Bastrop

Sausage from Southside Market in Bastrop

I also missed visiting some joints as often as I had in 2014. Killen’s Barbecue had raised their price early in the year and with so many other options nearby I dropped from 9 visits in 2014 to only a measly 2 in 2015. I did enjoy their food at other events such as HouBBQ Fest and TMBBQ but they deserve more visits in 2016. Their prices were also lowered in tune with the drop in beef prices so I do expect to get down to Pearland more often.

I missed the great people and venue at Hays County as well, dropping from 6 visits in 2014 to only 2 in 2015. I vow to also visit more often. Not only is there quality barbecue, but it’s a great place to catch live music on weekend evenings.

I didn’t wait in the long line at Franklin once in 2015 which surprised me, but it really is a big commitment to spend nearly half a day waiting. I’ve been to the restaurant three times total and had samples at TMBBQ, but I’d like to visit again in 2016.

See y’all out on the barbecue trail!

 

Top 10 visited joints:

Rudys (Tomball location) 11         $94.61

Southern Q                         10           $373.31

Kreuz Bryan, Tx                 9              $125.94

Pappa Charlies                  9              $348.82

Corkscrew                           6              $147.91

Snow’s BBQ                        5              $135

Freedmen’s Bar                    4              $128.31

Louie Mueller Barbecue          4             $94.37

Opies BBQ                           4              $268.74

Southside Market            4              $48.42

 

 

Here’s my total list of joints and number of visits for 2015:

Rudy’s country Store 14
Southern Q 10
Kreuz Bryan 9
Pappa Charlie’s 9
Corkscrew 6
Snow’s BBQ 5
Freedmen’s Bar 4
Louie Mueller BBQ 4
Opie’s BBQ 4
Southside Market 4
Blue Moon BBQ 3
Brooks’ Place BBQ 3
Hwy 29 BBQ 3
Tejas Chocolate 3
BBQ Godfather 2
Blood Brothers BBQ 2
Gonzales Food Market 2
Hays Co BBQ 2
Jackson Street BBQ 2
Killen’s BBQ 2
Meyer’s BBQ 2
Micklethwait 2
Pioneer BBQ 2
Roegels Barbecue Co 2
Rollin Smoke BBQ 2
Schulenberg City Market 2
Smokey Denmark 2
Spring Creek BBQ 2
Stiles Switch 2
Taylor Café 2
the brisket House 2
The Wooden Spoke 2
Austin’s Barbeque 1
Back Porch BBQ 1
Baker Boys 1
Black’s barbecue 1
Bone Daddys 1
Brotherton Barbecue 1
Brown’s BBQ 1
Buzzie’s 1
City Market Luling 1
Cooper’s barbq Mason 1
Country Bumpkin’s 1
Gatlin’s BBQ 1
Giddings City Meat Market 1
Harlem Rd BBQ 1
Hickory Hollow 1
Houbbq throwdown 1
Houston BBQ Fest 1
Jack’s BBQ 1
John Beere BBQ 1
John Mueller 1
Kings Hwy 1
Kreuz Market 1
la barbecue 1
Lewie Smoked Meats 1
Mann’s BBQ 1
Miller’s BBQ 1
Novasads BBQ 1
Old Smokehouse 1
Pieous 1
Pinkerton’s BBQ 1
Prause Meat Market 1
Prause’s Meat Market 1
Q for a cause 1
Red Dirt BBQ Fest 1
Schmidt Family BBQ 1
Smitty’s Market 1
Smoke Shack 1
Terry Black’s 1
Texas Pride Barbecue 1
The Granary 1
tmbbq fest 1
Truth BBQ 1
Two Bros 1
Vincek’s Smokehouse 1
Zimmerhanzel’s 1