Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Review of Waller County Line BBQ (Waller, TX)  

WCL BBQ's Website, Facebook, & Yelp

On my way to Pearland for New Year’s I decided to stop for lunch. I quickly realized I had a choice: Waller County Line or Field Store BBQ. Both of these are located in/attached to gas stations on 290 in Waller County, TX. I decided I would take Waller County first, and grab Field Store on the way back.
Waller County Line BBQ is set up line style. Order your plate, pick it up, and pay at the register (same place you pay for gas). 
(Scott's comment: Do you want your brisket moist, lean, or premium unleaded?)
They offer a decent selection. I order a three meat plate (brisket, sausage, chicken), and get a pork rib in addition.

Sausage: I ordered original sausage. It has a good snap, is nice and juicy, and has a decent smoky flavor. This is good stuff. 8.0/10. I also noted that they sell boudin, and (if I recall correctly), you can buy uncooked sausage to go.
Note: You are now going to see some *. Don’t worry, I’ll explain in a bit.

Chicken: The chicken is tender and moist. There’s an interesting tomato flavor to it, but it doesn’t taste like BBQ sauce. I also don’t taste any smoke. It’s decent, but something is missing and not quite sitting right with me. 6.0/10. *

Pork Rib: The pork rib has the same flavor as the chicken. I’m starting to think they are using a wet rub of some kind early in the process. It’s not a bad flavor. Unfortunately, I’m still not tasting any smoke at all. Even more unfortunately, this rib is so tough I’m having to cut it with my knife. 3.0/10.

Brisket: Waller CL BBQ offers brisket and “Smoked” brisket (which is apparently their version of fatty or moist brisket). I ordered the smoked.  It’s hard to tell how it would taste on it’s own, because it came pre-chopped. And yes, that picture is brisket, not pork. Again, I taste no smoke, and that tomato flavor is back. And if I close my eyes I’m flashing back to elementary school for some reason. Again, it’s not a bad flavor, but something is definitely missing. 5.0/10 *

*About the time I finished the brisket, I figured out what this flavor reminded me of: the Italian flavored Manwich that we used to make sloppy joes out of when I was a kid (do they still make that stuff?). And the more I think about it, that was the issue with the chicken, the brisket, and would have been the case with the rib if it hadn’t been so badly prepared. I feel like I’m eating Italian food, not BBQ.
(Scott's comment:  A severely bastardized version of Italian food. My dead Italian grandmother is probably rolling in her grave as I write this.)  

So how do I rate Waller County Line BBQ? This is always a tricky situation. With the exception of the rib, everything was actually pretty good. However, it didn’t taste like BBQ. The chicken only needed a little pasta to be a perfect Italian dish, and all I needed was some bread and the brisket would have made an excellent sloppy joe. But there was nothing in any of those three items that made me think I was eating smoked meat.  

So the scores above are based on their rating as BBQ. It’s like ordering cheese cake and being brought carrot cake. The carrot cake may be a perfectly acceptable dish, but if you really wanted cheesecake then the carrot cake is going to be lacking. 
(Al's comment: I had the experience recently of getting Heinz BBQ sauce to go with some smoked flank steak at a buffet. It was basically Heinz ketchup with paprika mixed in - terrible!  So maybe it's harsh of me to say somebody is using Heinz BBQ sauce in their cooking.) 

Is it worth a visit? I’d say yes. The sausage is definitely worth trying. And the other items certainly taste fine for what they are.  

Is it worth a trip? Nope.  

Decision time: Since Waller County Line and Field Store BBQ are one exit down from each other, which should you choose? You should choose Waller County Line if you want overall better tasting food and aren’t as worried about a more “genuine” BBQ experience.  

-Tom & Scott

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Opie's BBQ Review (Spicewood, TX)  

Opie's BBQ's Website, Facebook, & Twitter

Mike, Scott and I went to Opie’s today to check it out. It works on the same premise as Cooper’s: select the meat you want from the grill (I want that pork chop and that piece of sausage). It definitely has a small-town feel on the inside. It’s also a nice pleasant drive. Interestingly, one of the staff there mentioned that @tmbbq would be there a little later that day with a tour group.

Quite a few things were tried today, so let’s dive in. I ended up trying turkey, brisket, original sausage, pork loin, pork ribs (and pork chop and baby back ribs at home), and a bite of Scott’s sausage. Scott had pork loin, brisket and jalapeno cheddar sausage (and a bite of my turkey). Mike had brisket and pork ribs, took a pork chop home, and had a bite of my turkey. We all got moist brisket.
Original Sausage: The sausage has a nice snap. It’s tender and juicy. It has a pretty decent amount of heat.  It actually started hotter than the jalapeno (although the jalapeno finished hotter). It’s good stuff. Tom: 8.0/10

Pork Chop: The pork chop was tender and juicy. It had a nice crust. Interestingly the bite of Scott’s I tried onsite had the strongest smoke flavor of anything we tried, and smoke was the strongest flavor in the chop. The one I had at home had a much stronger black pepper flavor (a plus in my book).
Scott: This thing was the size of one of Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard's hands (i.e. insanely huge).
It's also as thick as about 3 decks of playing cards stacked up.  I had a few bites at the restaurant and brought the rest home.  Later this evening, after I emerged from my BBQ Coma (it's a recognized medical condition nowadays, right?), I heated it up and dug in.  Great flavor still abounds. Tender, meaty, juicy. I'd be curious to experiment the next time at Opie's with trying the Pork Chop first.
Tom and Scott: 8.75/10
Brisket: The brisket was extremely moist and tender, with a nice bark. It had a light smoky flavor and pretty much melts in the mouth.
Scott: Beautiful color on the bark, flavor through and through the meat.  Almost falling apart when making contact with fingers or utensil.  It melts in your mouth, not in your hands (if I may borrow the catchphrase).  
Tom and Scott: 9.0/10.

Pork Rib: The pork ribs have a lot of meat on them, and a good crust. They have excellent flavor and taste wise are one of the best I’ve had. It’s just a smidge tough. Tom: 9.0/10.  
Pork Loin: The pork loin is tender, juicy, and has a nice crust. As with most of their items the smoke is light and adds nicely to the flavor.
Scott:  Nice cuts of loin (about 1/3 of an inch thick cut) very well balanced.  Smoky, but it's not overdone. This was a very nice selection.   Tom: 9.0/10 Scott: 9.25/10

Baby Back Ribs: The Baby Back ribs have an excellent smoky flavor and are nice and tender. There’s a surprising amount of meat on them. These are excellent! Tom: 9.5/10 (and that’s a reheated score!)

Jalapeno Sausage:
Scott’s comments (Tom doesn’t like jalapeno): Excellent snap to it.  As I had a full link, ok two,  I got a some variance between the cheese and jalapeno at various intervals. Again, this is an art not a science. It's part of what makes the eating experience fun.  The spiciness of the jalapeno had a wonderful time release effect, but was never overwhelming.  Flavorful, juicy, and excellent throughout. Scott - 9.5/10.

Turkey: The turkey is extremely tender and juicy. The light smoke combines well with the rub. We agree this is one of the best turkeys we’ve had.

Scott: I had one bite, but oh Lord have mercy, what a bite.
Tom and Scott: 10/10.
(Scott: I think even the East German judges would give it at least a 9.7.) 

I found it very interesting that there wasn’t a long line at Opie’s. Cooper’s usually has a line on a Sat. The only reason I can think is location, as Opie’s can definitely hold their own in terms of quality.  Everything we tried rated in the exceptional range.

Scott: We don't grade sides or desserts, but that Blackberry Cobbler was sensational. Worth making room for. 

Mike: The butter beans (sold Fri – Sun) are definitely also excellent and worth trying.

Is it worth a visit? Absolutely.

Is it worth a trip? Again, absolutely. It’s a nice trip out and back, and the BBQ is definitely worthwhile!
(Scott: If you can survive the existential horror that is trying to drive through the Y intersection at Oak Hill.) 


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

(AKA, What the Hell??!)

McDonald's McRib Website

I was very pleasantly surprised with the McRib. There are rich subtle undertones of hickory and oak in the meat. The sauce adds the right amount of tang. The edible bones are a nice touch. It’s juicy and tender without being….(cue needle scratching record noise)

OK, the dogs are growling at me and my wife is checking to make sure the house is properly grounded in case of lightning strike.  

The McRib is a reoccurring item on McDonald’s menu. It first came out in 1981, was removed from the menu in 1985, returned in 1989, and became a seasonal item in 2006. It maintains enough popularity to hold onto that status.

Calling the McRib BBQ is like calling reality TV real, or the current LA Lakers a basketball team. There’s only the faintest nod in that direction. A little explanation if I may: 

Any rib meat in this sandwich is incidental. McRib (like McNuggets) is a restructured meat product. Less desirable pork products are processed in a way to form a shape (in this case, something vaguely similar to ribs). You can read more about the McRib at this website: (Chicago Magazine). There’s also no smoking in the process (obviously). It’s cooked on the same flat metal grill as all of McDonald’s other products.

(Scott's comment: Looks like the High School Cafeteria's Salisbury Steak...with onions.)
(Tom's reply: The Salisbury steak actually had flavor. )
So how does it taste? Well, I ordered 2: one with everything but pickles, and one as plain as I could get it (it comes pre-sauced so light sauce is as plain as you can go).  I’m sure you’re expecting me to say horrible things about it. Actually, when it comes to the rib patty itself, it’s going to get the most damning comment of all: it’s completely unremarkable.  

There’s no real flavor to the patty at all. Once I wiped the sauce off my plain one, I didn’t really taste anything other than hints of residual sauce. I came across no real gristle (points for that), but no real flavor. It literally was almost like eating nothing. I’d have almost rather had a flavor I didn’t like, as at least it would have been memorable. I think I got more flavor from the bun.  

And that confirms what I suspect about McRib. As my wife says, it’s a vehicle for BBQ sauce. The sauce they use appears to be the same they use on McNuggets. While there’s a slight hint of smoke in the sauce, there’s also a strong metallic taste. It’s very heavy and cloying, and overly sweet.
In conclusion, the sandwich isn’t anything without the sauce. I personally don’t like the sauce, but since McDonalds has been using it for their nuggets for years, I suspect some people do. If you are at McDonalds and like their BBQ sauce, you can order this. All you’ll taste is the sauce and you’ll spend $3.50 on just the sandwich, but it’s your money. Although, why not order a hamburger and a side of BBQ sauce? You’d get more flavor.
Is it worth a visit? No.
Is it worth a trip? Do I really need to answer that?

(Al's comment/postscript:  This particular review led to an interesting chain of conversation...)

(Tom: I threw myself on that's not the worst thing I've had.)

(Al: Oh Lordie!)

(Scott: You paid money for this? On purpose? We really want to devote parts if the internet to this?)

(Tom: It's been around off and on for 25 years. Probably worth a mention.)

(Scott: I have t-shirts that old and I don't think they're worth a mention either.)

(Tom: The McRib is the Khardashian of the BBQ world. No redeeming value, but it manages to stay around. )

(Scott: You are officially the Super Dave Osborn of BBQ Blogs!)

(Al: *Between fits of laughter* This is soooo going in the blog!)

(Scott: We'll just consign this to a back closet on the website, shall we...)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review of J&J BBQ and Burgers (Cedar Park, TX)  

J&J BBQ's Website, Facebook, Twitter & Yelp
I stopped by J&J BBQ and Burgers today to pick up some lunch for Tish and myself. At first glance it looks like a hometown version of Bill Miller BBQ. (For those not familiar, Bill Miller is a Central Texas chain with … questionable BBQ). Like Bill Miller, J&J has BBQ, but they also have burgers, chicken, and seafood on the menu. They serve day-long breakfast as well, including pancakes, breakfast tacos, and migas, and have a 7 pound migas challenge. While I'm not sure Cedar Park qualifies as small town anymore, the place definitely has a small-town feel to it.
I ordered two three-meat plates to go. They were out of puled pork, so I got brisket x2, ham, chicken, turkey, and original sausage. I also get ¼ pound of pork ribs.

Ham: The ham is tender and moist. However it doesn’t really have a smoke flavor to it (at least the pieces I try). It's got a good flavor, but not anything that makes me think BBQ. Grading on a BBQ standard: 5.0/10.

Brisket: The brisket has a good bark and a decent smoke flavor. They put lean on my plate, and it is a touch dry. 7.0/10.

Sausage: Their original sausage has a good flavor. There's a nice snap in the casing and it is tender and juicy. 8.0/10.

Pork Ribs: There's a good crust on the ribs, and they have a solid smoke flavor. They are tender without being overdone. Their ribs are very small, as ¼ pound got me three ribs. 8.0/10.

Turkey: The turkey is tender, juicy, and has a nice smoky flavor. It's not too salty. This is good stuff. 8.5/10.

Chicken: The chicken has a nice peppery flavor in the rub. It is also tender and juicy, and has a nice smoky flavor. It's even better than the turkey. 9.0/10.

At the beginning I compared this place to Bill Miller. However, let me be clear: J&J BBQ and Burger has succeeded (at least on the BBQ front) where Bill Miller has failed. They've turned out a solid line of BBQ with at least 4 of the 6 items I tried ranking in the exceptional range.  
Is it worth a visit? Absolutely. And it has the added advantage that you can go there and satisfy your craving for BBQ while meeting the needs of the non-BBQ lovers in your group (although why you are hanging out with non-BBQ lovers…).

Is it worth a trip? Again, yes. Four of the 6 items I tried are scoring 8 or higher and that's always worth traveling and checking out.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Texas Monthly BBQ Festival (Long Center - Austin, TX)  

In doing BBQ reviews, it never hurts to learn a few new things and explore the BBQ landscape. With that in mind, Nov. 1st was chance to visit a delicious meeting of the meats. What is it exactly? Well in their own words:
Every year, we invite the restaurants on our Top 50 BBQ Joints list to the TMBBQ Fest, an event like none other. Sample from the best purveyors of smoked meats the state has to offer , and enjoy a day of great music, cold beer, and fascinating barbecue shop talk.

Our cast of reviewers: 
  • Tom – Regular contributor to this blog and author of this review.
  • Tish – Tom’s wife.
  • Scott – Regularly makes trips with Tom. Provides much needed snark. It was also his birthday present.
(Scott's comment: Texas Monthly threw a BBQ festival for my birthday! How thoughtful!)
  • Sherrie – Tom’s boss. Her area at work got her two tickets for Boss’s Day. Tom also regularly bribes her with BBQ in hopes of a pay raise. It hasn’t worked yet.
(Sherrie’s comment: “And it never will”)
  • Tina – Another person who works with Tom and Sherrie. She doesn’t eat beef, so was there for ribs and poultry. She did not submit a score sheet. 
We arrived at various times, but were all together and inside about 1:15pm. One clever thing they did was put the festival map on the back of fans, making finding places easy and comfortable. Sherrie and Tina had staked out a table and we went on various runs bringing back samples. We ended up trying about 11 places (which ones varies as Sherrie and Tina had made a run before we got in, and they left before we did). 

This was our first festival, and we learned a few lessons:
*Most of the tastings were actually pretty substantial. Two people could get a pretty good taste off of them. Next time we’ll get one from each place for two people, which allows room for more food. By the time we’d reached tasting number 10, we’d started filling up.  

*We may also start learning to eat in line. We spent huge amounts of time waiting in line and carrying samples back to the table (although we’d get two or three on each run). If you taste one while waiting in line for the next, you save a ton of time.  

Places tried: We did try a wide variety of places (between 9-11 per reviewer). For the most part they were all places we hadn’t tried before.  

Tom and Tish: Cousin’s, Cranky Frank’s, Franklin, Freedmen’s, Hutchins, Lamberts, Lockhart Smokehouse, Miller’s, Pody’s, Two Brother’s, Tyler’s.  

Scott: Cousin’s, Cranky Frank’s, Franklin, Freedmen’s, Hutchins, Killen’s, Lockhart Smokehouse, Miller’s, Pody’s, Two Brother’s.  

Sherrie: Cooper’s, Cousins, Franklin, Freedmen’s, Hutchins, Lamberts, Louie Mueller, Miller’s. Two Brother’s.

Disclaimers: Not everything from every place was tried/rated. We also know that this is not necessarily going to be an accurate representation of how the food normally is. We’re not using this as a benchmark for whether a place is worth visiting or not. 

With all that out of the way, let’s get to reviewing:
(As always, scores are 0-10 scale. Scoring for the most art is average of all scores) 
Poultry: There were only two poultry items we tried. Two Brothers had chicken and Miller’s had turkey.

Miller's had a very wide range of scores: A 3 (Sherrie), to an 8 (Scott), with Tish and I in the middle at 5 and 6. I found my piece had a decent flavor but was a little chewy and dry. Avg: 4.5 

Two Brothers had a BBQ chicken that got much higher reviews, ranging from 8 (Tom), 8.5 (Tish and Scott) to 9 (Sherrie). And I will admit that my score was an 8 because while I liked the sauce (it was pre-sauced) I found it a touch overpowering. Still, they did a good job with it. Avg: 8.5
Winner: Two Brothers

Pork Loin and Pulled Pork: We were able to try either pork loin or pulled pork from the following places: Coopers, Cousins, Franklin, and Lamberts.  

Coopers: Sherrie was the only one who tried their pork, and gave it a 6. Avg: 6 

Cousin's: Cousins pulled pork was reasonably tender and had some smoke flavor, but seemed to be a little dry. General consensus is that this is one that needs sauce. Scores were 5 (Tish), 5.5 (Tom), 6 (Scott). Avg: 5.5

Lamberts: Only Tish and I tried their pulled pork, but found it had a good flavor, and was tender and moist without being greasy. Scores were 8 (Tom and Tish). Avg: 8

Franklin: Franklin pulled pork divided the three of us. I find it has a good smoky flavor, is moist and tender without being greasy. Scott, finds it exceptional. Tish found it good but not quite great. Scores: 9.25 (Scott), 8.5 (Tom), 7.5 (Tish). Avg: 8.41

Winner: Franklin

Pork Ribs: The places we ended up trying ribs from were Two Brothers and Killen’s.

Two Brothers had a cherry glazed rib. The flavor was excellent, but is was somewhat tough. Tish really liked hers despite the toughness and gives it an 8.5. Scott and I give it a 6 because of the toughness. Avg: 6.8.

Killen’s rib was nice and tender, with a good crust and good flavor. It was very well prepared. Tom gives it a 9, and Tish gives it an 8. Avg: 8.5 

Winner: Killen’s.

Sausage: There was lots of sausage to try, with most places doing some form of spicy sausage. Read on though, because two of the more interesting things of the festival happened in the sausage category.

Note: I (Tom) don’t like jalapeño. I like heat just fine (Sherrie has seen me eat ghost pepper salsa), but I don’t like the taste of jalapeños. As a rule, assume that my score is probably 2 points lower than it would be for someone who likes jalapeño.  

We had sausage from: Cousin's, Franklin, Freedmen’s x2, Hutchins, Lamberts, Louie Mueller’s, and Miller’s. 

Cousin's: They did a spicy sausage with cheese. It seemed reasonably tender and moist, but they were giving small slices. 5 (Tom and Sherrie), 6 (Tish), 7 (Scott). Note: They were very small slices and my piece was mostly cheese. Avg: 5.75 

Freedmen’s: Freedmen’s had a rather interesting sausage cheese, tortilla chips, jalapeño, spices. I describe it as a chicken tortilla soup sausage. Tish describes it as a Nacho Cheese Dorito. Even I kind of liked this one, although Sherrie apparently didn’t. Scores were 3 (Sherrie), 7.5 (Tom and Scott), 8 (Tish). Avg: 6.5 

Freedmen’s: Freedmen’s also did a hot-gut sausage. This was also prepared well, but got even more varied reviews in our group. Scores were 4 (Sherrie, 5 (Tish), 7 (Tom), 7.5 (Scott). Avg: 5.86 

Hutchins: Hutchins did a basic jalapeño sausage. It had good texture and moistness, and (for those who like the flavor) apparently good flavor as well. Scores: 5.5 (Tom), 8.5 (Scott), 9 (Tish). Avg: 7.5 

Lamberts: Sherrie is the only one who scored Lamberts, giving it a 4. Avg: 4 

Louie Mueller’s: Sherrie is the only person who scored here, giving it a 3.
(Tom: A 3.. Really? Well, if I had any doubt that Sherrie and I often have different tastes, this would put them to rest.)
(Tish: Nice to know she agrees with me.)  

Miller’s: They took a chance and went with something adventurous – a pumpkin spice sausage. Reactions were interesting. I actually kind of liked it (and I don’t normally like pumpkin). They served it with a dusting of powdered sugar. Scores: 3 (Tish), 6 (Sherrie), 7 (Tom), 7.5 (Scott). Tish felt strongly that the sugar got in the way, and this seemed to be generally agreed upon as we would all raise our score without it. Avg: 5.86
(Al's comment: Dear Lord! Enough with pumpkin spice everything!) 

Franklin: I did Franklin out of order because they were the source of probably the biggest surprise of the day. Apparently they started a new sausage recipe 10 days before the festival (I asked). The results are … mixed.  

First the positives. I think we all agreed that the sausage was well smoked. It had good texture, snap, and was nice and juicy. They gave large enough pieces that you could really get the characteristics. However, where it lacked was the flavor department. There was definitely uncertainty as to how much we liked it. Tish thinks they are using whole pickling spice as a seasoning.  

As for me… Well, I had two pieces that seem to have been from the end of different links. On each of these pieces, the very first taste I noted was a strong flavor of cigarette smoke. I honestly had flashbacks to my college when I used to date a smoker. In short, while I noticed a strong smoke flavor, it was not a good flavor, and it colored the rest of the flavors for me.

I think some of the scores are as high as they are only because the smoking/preparation quality itself is so high. Scott might order it again, but Tish and I probably wouldn’t. Scores: 5 (Tom and Tish), 6 (Sherrie), 6.5 (Scott). Avg: 5.63 

Winner: Hutchins

Brisket: And finally, the king of Texas BBQ. When you talk Texas BBQ you are talking brisket first and foremost. In fact, it was a very bold move of Two Brothers to not serve it (and they were the only place we tried that didn’t have brisket).  

Cooper's: Sherrie is the only one who scored Cooper’s. She gave it a 6. Avg: 6 

Cousin's: Cousin's turned out a nice solid product with solid flavor and decent bark. It was moist and tender. Scores: 6 (Tish), 7 (Sherrie, Scott, Tom). Avg: 6.75.
Cranky Frank’s: Cranky Frank’s may be better than scores are going to show because someone messed up. Scott and Tish really liked their pieces, and found them tender with a nice bark and good flavor. Unfortunately, what I got was a large piece of nothing but fat with no meat at all. Since you get rated on what you serve, it was flavorful fat, but fat nevertheless. Scores: 5 (Tom), 8 (Scott and Tish). Avg: 7.  

Franklin: As to be expected Franklin turned out their usual excellent product that was moist, tender, and had a good bark. As with most of the top tier joints, it’s always about flavor and they do an excellent job even with their lean (they were sampling both moist and lean).  Scores: 8 (Tish), 9 (Scott and Tom), 10 (Sherrie). Avg: 9. 

Freedmen’s: Freedmen’s brisket had some variation among us. It was reasonably tender and moist, with decent flavor. It’s always possible Sherrie got a bad piece as she didn’t like it that much. Scores: 3 (Sherrie), 6 (Tom and Tish), 7.5 (Scott). Avg: 5.63 

Hutchins: Hutchins turned out a really nice brisket, with good flavor, nice bark, and nicely moist. We were all pretty consistent on this one. Scores: 8.5 (Scott, Sherrie, Tom), 9 (Tish). Avg: 8.63 

Killen’s: Tish and I were the only ones who tried their brisket. It was reasonably tender and moist, with a decent bark and good flavor. Scores: 7 (Tom and Tish). Avg: 7.  

Lamberts: Sherrie is the only one who scored Lamberts, giving it a 5. Avg: 5 

Lockhart Smokehouse: Showing that flavor is in the eye of the beholder, Lockhart Smokehouse divided me and my wife. I found the flavor of their smoke just a little bit off-putting, while she really loved it. It had good bark and moistness. Scores: 7 (Tom and Scott), 9.5 (Tish). Avg: 7.83

Louie Mueller’s: Sherrie is the only one to score their brisket, giving it a 6. Avg: 6.  

Miller’s: Miller’s turned out a solid entry, with good flavor and bark. It was moist and had a decent amount of smoke. Scores: 6 (Sherrie and Tish), 7 (Tom and Scott). Avg: 6.5 

Pody’s: Pody’s was a solid entry, the bark was a little weak but it had a very nice smokiness. My piece was a touch dry. Scores: 6 (Tish), 6.5 (Tom), 7 (Scott).  

Tyler’s: Tyler’s had a strong smoke flavor. Almost overpowering as there wasn’t a lot of other flavor. Decent bark. Scores: 6 (Tish and Tom). Avg: 6 

Winner: Franklin

With all of that done, what would be our recommendations of the places we’ve tried? Well, Franklin (Austin, TX) is an obvious choice. It won two categories pretty solidly. Also, while you hear about the lines there, it’s a unique social opportunity that is worth experiencing at least once.

Hutchins (McKinney, TX) also gave a very strong performance. If you average our scores for each product they presented, Hutchins (8.06) actually beat Franklin (7.68). That bears close scrutiny. Next time we visit Tish’s folks we may have to make a day trip to McKinney.

Scott is very excited about Two Brothers (San Antonio, TX). It’s not far from his folk’s house, and the cherry glazed rib did taste wonderful.

And finally, Miller’s (Belton, TX) and Freedmen’s (Austin, TX). It’s good to see they are both willing to take chances with some unusual sausage combinations. They seem worth checking out on that basis alone.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Heart of Texas BBQ Review (Hutto, TX)  

Heart of Texas Website, Facebook, & Yelp  

Went looking for a new place today, and decided to check out Heart of Texas in Hutto. It’s a trailer just off of 79 on Farley, with the pit behind the trailer.
They do something interesting here that I haven’t seen recently: different pricing for ½ pound and full pound. Most places charge by either the pound OR the ½ pound. This place charges by both, and it’s proportionally more expensive if you order by the ½ pound. But I order a pound of brisket, a ½ rack of ribs, and a ½ pound each of sausage, pulled pork, and turkey.
Sausage: Spicy sausage. There’s not much snap or smoke flavor. It is tender but dry, and the spice overwhelms the flavor of the meat. Tom: 4.0/10. Tish: 5.0/10

Turkey: The turkey is reasonably tender on the inside. There’s some smoke flavor. The outer edge is tough and chewy though, almost like a strip of plastic that was left on. Tom: 5.5/10.  Tish: 6.0/10.

Brisket: It is reasonably tender. That’s about all that can be said for it. There’s no smoke flavor to speak of. It appears they trim the bark, as there’s very little bark on a lot of it (mostly on the ends). And there’s not much other flavor in it either. Tish found a few pieces with some decent bark and that’s more flavorful. Tom: 3.0/10. Tish: 5.0/10

Pork ribs: Mine is extremely tough, and somewhat dry on top. There is some smoke flavor, but also a hit of burnt taste. Tish likes the flavor of hers, and hers isn’t as tough. Tom: 4.0/10. Tish: 6.0/10.

Pulled pork: The pulled pork is not greasy, but that’s about all that can be said for it. There’s not much smoke flavor or other flavor (besides pork). It reminds me of the prepackaged stuff you can get at Costco. Perfectly good if you are using in a recipe or flavoring to taste, but not that great by itself. Tom and Tish: 4.0/10.

So on first visit, they haven’t impressed me much. Tish thinks with a little work they could become a decent place. I think it’s going to take more than just a little. Start with making sure the bark stays on the brisket.  

I don’t normally comment on customer service, but I did find the wait interesting. When I got there, there was one person there (and they had already ordered). I waited 3-4 minutes for them to give him his food, then they took my order, and my order was placed at 11:36. With no one in line in front of me it took 14 minutes for them to fill my order. That’s the longest I’ve ever waited for BBQ anywhere there wasn’t a line, and longer than some places there was a line. Three people in one group arrived after I did, and then 1 more person by himself. I have to assume they are faster at lunch time during the week or that is going to kill their business.

Is it worth a visit? I’d say no. Only one item came across to me as decent (the turkey). Tish is a little more generous, but at this point there are other places to go. 

Is it worth a trip? Definitely not.

(Al's comment: We appreciate your courage, sir!)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Wendy's Pulled Pork Sandwich Review (aka "Tom Ventures into the Questionable" - cue the Adventure Music) 

Wendy's Pulled Pork Sandwich Webpage

Back in July Starbucks released their BBQ Brisket sandwich. Texas Monthly's Daniel Vaughn bravely rode forward, sampled one of them, and gave us his thoughts. Well, let it not be said that BBQ Recon fears to follow where Daniel leads. Since he took Starbucks, we'll take Wendy's.
(Al's comment: We will?!, sure...You go first.)
I picked one up from Wendy's for dinner tonight. It comes with slaw on it (I got mine without) and your choice of three types of sauce: sweet, spicy, or smoky (I got the smoky).

Unlike Starbucks' brisket sandwich, Wendy's actually claims on their website that this is "hickory-smoked pulled pork". Being brutally honest, I just didn’t taste it. The only smoke I got was from the sauce. The meat had no smoke flavor itself. It was overly salty, and while the meat itself was tender, there was a fair amount of gristle mixed in. In short, it was closer to salted pork than anything else.  

The sauce wasn’t bad and (as noted above) is the only thing that added any flavor besides salt to the sandwich. If they are making their own sauce they haven't done badly. It's a shame they wasted it on such a poor sandwich. 
Is it worth a visit? From a BBQ perspective, nope.

Is it worth a trip? You're kidding, right?
(Scott's comment: It's only worth the trip if it was hand-fed to me by the lovely red-headed woman from the Wendy's commercials.)


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

White Sauce Musings (aka Tom's latest thoughts on White BBQ Sauce) 

Back in July I went to Slab BBQ. Among the things I tried was their white BBQ sauce. My verdict at the time was that it tasted like salad dressing (Caesar, to be precise). It wasn’t a bad taste, and in fact I used what was left on a salad later that day. But it didn’t seem to be a taste that went well with meat. 
My comments started a heated debate (OK, a few comments here and there) that Slab must have a very poor sauce, and wasn’t a “real” white BBQ sauce. A variety of suggestions came through, but one I noticed repeatedly was Big Bob Gibson White BBQ sauce.  

Using the advantage of an Amazon Prime membership I ordered a bottle ($9.99), and then tried some with BBQ I picked up this weekend, as well as some chicken I had. I tried it on brisket, pork ribs, pork shoulder, and chicken. My verdict? 

This is still salad dressing. Big Bob’s tastes a little more like a sharp ranch dressing with some extra vinegar, but it’s not anything I haven’t been putting on green leafy vegetables for years. My web perusal of the ingredient lists of other white BBQ sauce recipes seems to indicate the same thing. The flavor may range from Caesar to Ranch to Buttermilk, but the range all seems to be within the range of the white creamy salad dressings.  

Again, let me stress: The flavors aren’t bad. But to me the two I’ve tried just don’t seem to go with smoky meat. I’ll try my Big Bob on some fish next, as that seems like it might be a more complimentary flavor.

We’ve always stressed on this blog that taste is subjective. It may also be regional. I understand that this is very popular in the S.E. part of the country (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, etc.). Maybe they use different rubs that make the flavors more complimentary. Maybe their tastes are just flat out different. Either way, they like it, I don’t, and that’s cool. It’d be a boring world if we all liked the same thing. 


Monday, September 7, 2015

John Mueller Meat Company Review (Austin, TX)

John Mueller Meat Co. info on Website, Facebook, & Twitter (@JSM_meat)

Does this mean Bevo is a cannibal?!
John Mueller Meat Company is a small trailer just off of 6th street in east Austin. Pits are plainly visible and unlike some trailers you wait while they prepare. I swung by there today to pick up lunch for myself and my wife, getting 1 pound each brisket and pork ribs, and a half pound each sausage, pork shoulder, and beef ribs (they were out of turkey and smoked prime rib). There wasn’t much of a wait, probably because of the holiday. 
Sausage: The sausage has a good snap in the casing, is juicy and tender. It starts with an extremely mild flavor, in fact so mild that I was starting to get disappointed. But then some heat kicked in and the rest of the taste came with it. It’s got a nice flavor once the heat comes. It’s not too hot, but provides a nice low warmth. 8.5/10. 

Brisket: The brisket has a nice bark, is moist and tender. It has a wonderful smoke flavor. On a personal preference note I’d like a little more pepper in the rub, but it is well prepared. 8.5/10.

Pork Shoulder: The pork shoulder has a good smoke flavor and a sweetness to it (and maybe a hint of fruit?). It’s not overly greasy. This is good stuff. 9.5/10.

Beef Rib: These are beef short ribs, so not quite as enormous as some you get, but still have ample meat. The bark is good and there’s a good smoke flavor. They are tender without being overcooked. Again, I wouldn’t mind a little more pepper. 8.5/10.  

Pork Rib: The rib has a good crust, is tender and has a good meat/bone ratio. It is nicely flavored and again, a hint of fruit?. 9.5/10.
For those who follow John on Twitter, you know he takes great pride in his food, and is more than willing to “talk the talk”. Now, having tried his food, I can say he walks the walk as well. 

Is it worth a visit? Absolutely. Definitely swing by if you’re in the neighborhood.  

Is it worth a trip? Again, absolutely. Everything I tried fell into the exceptional range. That’s always worth a trip. This place definitely rates among the top names in the area.