Texas BBQ House, Phoenix
Is it possible to have true Texas Style BBQ outside of the Lone Star State? I pondered this question while onboard a plane inflight to Phoenix, Arizona recently. The trip was unplanned; I had received a call from my boss less than 10 hours prior instructing me to book the next possible flight to Phoenix in order to support a customer.
With the short preparation time I was still able to contact my buddy Chris who is a natural born Texan but living in Phoenix. He picked out a couple of local BBQ joints we could hit while there. One of those two was his local favorite, Texas BBQ House
While still inflight I also needed to decide what makes “true Texas BBQ”. I had been to a lot of joints so far this year and even in Texas the concept of BBQ varies wildly. Sauce-mopped pork ribs cooked over a gas powered direct-heat oven can be had at plenty of places here in Texas but I don’t consider that Texas style. I began narrowing down my list of attributes.
Beef is king:
- Brisket should be the featured meat
- Beef ribs are a plus but not required
- Real men don’t eat chopped beef (or lean brisket)
- Sausage can have pork filling but should at least include beef in the mix
- Pork ribs are ok
- Pulled pork may be rising in popularity in Texas but it shouldn’t be the primary entrée
Sauce is secondary:
- Sauce can be available but should never be put on the meat first
- Sauce can add to the flavor but should never be a substitute for flavor
- The BBQ joint should make their own sauce
- Shoulder Clod is acceptable, but should not be tri-tip
- Dry rub should be liberally applied to exterior
- My personal preference is a pepper based rub but I won’t discount salt heavy or other spices
Sides, drinks, and Dessert:
- Pinto beans overrule baked beans (but I like baked beans too)
- Potato salad and coleslaw are musts
- Creamed corn is a good option
- Dr. Pepper should be offered while Big Red is a definite plus
- Both unsweet and sweet teas should be available
- Banana pudding can be a great end of meal treat
BBQ pits, fuel, and style:
- A variety of pits can be employed; rectangular brick, large converted propane tank, or custom steel are preferred. Can also be Bewley or Oyler
- Fuel should be wood. There are Texas joints with gas but I do not consider that “Texas Style”. Using wood chips or small logs in a gas or electric oven really isn’t the same
- Indirect smoking (where the smoke drifts across the meat via a firebox) is preferred, but some west Texas joints use a faster direct heat method with wood coals directly underneath so I will allow this as well.
Full disclosure on pictures: I only brought my camera phone on the trip and didn’t get very good photos so after my visit I asked Mike Pitt and Breakout Social Media Marketing to provide a few shots. I’d like to thank them for their assistance. Photo credit is listed for those pictures.
Heading out to lunch
My business work took precedence, but I was done by lunchtime. I met Chris and we headed off to Texas BBQ house with high hopes for some good brisket. We arrived at the unassuming lot that could easily be passed over if you didn’t know the address.
If I had woken up from sleep in the dining room here I would have wondered how I got back to Texas. The smells and sights were familiar, and the menu even offered moist and lean cuts of brisket. Ordering is by weight, served on paper, and while sauce is available at the table it isn’t put on the meat at time of order.
Time for some slow smoked meat
Our hopes remained high after bringing our orders back to the table. The bark looked right, the smoke ring was visible, and one bite confirmed that we had nicely smoked brisket with plenty of smokiness penetrating the meat. The fat was rendered perfectly; it added flavor and moisture. This was true Texas style brisket and could cure homesickness of any Texan living in the Phoenix area.
Next up was the sausage and although it was not house-made and carried a finer grind than my preferred style it was still a solid entrée. In a discussion with owner Mike Pitt I learned that the sausage is Holmes Smokehouse from Houston, and while not from the big Lockhart joints it is still a legitimate Texas export.
The creamed corn was a treat and while I don’t order it at every opportunity I really enjoyed it here. We passed on dessert as there was a second meal lined up but they certainly looked good with traditional banana pudding and pecan pie up for grabs.
A Wood Fired Smoker
As we left the building I looked for the smoker and wood stack. But circling the restaurant I couldn’t find evidence of either. This was puzzling to me because I knew there was real wood smoke in that meat. Back at the hotel I even pulled up Google Earth and checked out some aerial views of the joint but again came up without an answer. I also had come to the realization that obtaining and using wood logs in the desert would be pretty darn difficult.
I contacted Mike Pitt and asked directly how they were able to smoke meat without a big pile of wood and learned of a type of smoker I was not previously familiar with. They use a Cookshack smoker. This smoker uses 100% wood in the form of wood pellets and Texas BBQ House uses Oak pellets to provide that nice smoky flavor. The pellets themselves according to the website contain no fillers or binders. I have been won over by this type of smoker when used in capable hands such as the team at Texas BBQ House. This beats gas fueled cookers by miles and on this trip it produced BBQ better than some of the joints I’ve been to in Texas using the more traditional smoking methods.
Some of the chain joints across the U.S. and in Texas use “smokers” that are primarily gas fired, but use a small stick or two of wood to add a smoke flavor. One of those advertises that two small fireplace size chunks of wood will last an entire day. These smokers just don’t impart the smoke flavor very deep and often BBQ sauce is used to cover up for the lack of flavor.
Mike and I also discussed the motivation and difficulties of running a Texas Style joint in Phoenix. Mike was lured out of his hometown of Corpus Christie with fellow Texan Doug Dieckmann to bring Texas BBQ to the Phoenix area after a visit to the area didn’t provide them with satisfactory BBQ. The location at 5037 S 24th St was originally just a test site but the locals demanded that he open it for business and from that point on they’ve been serving up real Texas BBQ. Mike says that over 2,000 UT alumni live in the Phoenix area but they’ve been able to convert locals to Texas style as well, “It took a while for me to convert some of the local people, but now they are sold and hooked on the Brisket. We get a few different request but we will remain Texas proud and Texas style.”
I’m glad Chris turned me onto this joint. He eats here when he gets the chance and said, “I really dig the moist brisket but have been missing the jalapeno sausage which hasn’t been available lately. I still like to stop by whenever I can.” Even if you’re not a homesick Texan make the drive and check out real Texas style BBQ at Texas BBQ House.
The other BBQ joint we visited? We were served some type of shredded beef and I won’t say anything more.