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
- 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
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.
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).
our first festival, and we learned a few lessons:
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
Pork Ribs: The places we ended up trying ribs
from were Two Brothers and Killen’s.
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.
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
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.
(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
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 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).
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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:
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
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.
(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.
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.
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.