Sunday, February 21, 2016

Review of Big Horn BBQ (Pearland, TX)  

Big Horn BBQ Website, Facebook, & Twitter 
While on my visit the friends I was staying with decided to try this place. Big Horn BBQ is on the feeder of 288 in Pearland and has a Chevron as part of it. It is a little different in that while most gas station BBQ places seem to have been gas stations that added BBQ, Big Horn seems to be a BBQ place that happens to sell gas.

The inside is cafeteria line service. We decide to do takeout, and get ribs, sausage, brisket (moist), and chicken. Note that not all people tried everything (the Pearland group is particular…).

Brisket: I asked for moist brisket but what I got appeared to be lean. The bark appears to have been take off a lot of the brisket. There's not a lot of flavor here. There's a slight smoke flavor to the parts that do still have bark, but it has a metallic flavor. I give it a 4.0/10. David gives it a 3.0/10. Avg: 3.5/10.

 Chicken: The chicken is reasonably tender and juicy. It has a slight smoke flavor, but not much else going on otherwise. I give it 5.0/10.

Pork Ribs: The ribs have some crust, and are reasonably tender. There's not much smoke flavor however. They are slightly sweet. I think they are adequate and will give them 5.5/10. Esti is not a fan and gives them 4.0/10.

Sausage: The sausage has a decent snap, and is tender and juicy. But there is almost nothing happening flavor-wise. It is one of the blandest sausages I have ever tasted. It also has that gummy feel I associate with fillers. Esti actively dislikes the taste and does not finish hers. I call it 3.5/10. Esti gives her 2.0/10.

Gas station BBQ can sometimes be quite good (in short, don’t let the fact that it's coming from a gas station turn you away). However, in this case it isn't a winning combination.
(Scott's comment: Gas stations: stick w/ unleaded, Vitamin Water or Gatorade, and beef jerky... maybe a Willie Nelson CD.) 

Is it worth a visit? I'd honestly have to say no. Only two items scored passing scores. There's better in the area. 
Is it worth a trip? Obviously not.  

If I have to go anyway? Stick to chicken and ribs (depending on your taste). Stay away from sausage and brisket.  


Friday, February 19, 2016

The Wooden Spoke Review (Magnolia, TX)  

The Wooden Spoke Website, Facebook, Twitter, & Yelp
I met my friend Loni Friday evening, and a friend of hers (Hi, Sara) suggested this place. This place is a cross between a large storage shed and a small barn located on the outskirts of Magnolia, TX. It's definitely rustic and very TX BBQ in style. Despite that there's actually seating for some people inside.
They do seem to have the normal run of BBQ items. Loni and I each decide to order two meat places and share. Loni doesn't consider herself an expert so decided not to score. We get chicken, sausage, brisket, and pork ribs.

Pork Ribs: The ribs have a very nice flavor. There's a touch of sweetness and some pepper. However, they are somewhat overdone and are a bit mushy as a result. There's not really any resistance. I'll call it 6.0/10.

Chicken: The chicken has a nice crisp skin. There's a good smoke flavor and it is well-seasoned. It is a touch dry. Call it 6.5/10.

Brisket: I forgot to specify, so I end up with lean (my bad). Again, there's a nice smoky flavor. It's a little chewy, but has a nice bark. I'll call it 7.0/10.

Sausage: They get their sausage from another place. It has a good snap and is tender and juicy. It is very sweet, and there's a flavor that reminds me of maple. It's good stuff. Call it 8.0/10.

Is it worth a visit? Yes. For a tiny place on a small road in Magnolia, The Wooden Spoke is turning out some pretty good BBQ. It is definitely a good place to stop for lunch or dinner.

Is it worth a trip? Not quite. While it is good, it's not quite at a great level.



Giddings City Market Revisited (Giddings, TX)  

Giddings City Meat Market & BBQ Website  & Facebook

City market in Giddings was our first review from April of 2015. We weren't impressed at the time we went. I was passing through and thought it might be worth a revisit. The place doesn't appear to have changed in looks. I ordered pork ribs, sausage, and brisket (moist, of course).

Pork Ribs: The ribs still have a really good flavor. There is some crust, but they are a little overcooked and are falling off the bone. There's very little resistance and they are almost mushy in places. It's too bad, because the flavor really is good. If they could just work on texture. Call it 6.0/10.

Sausage: It's a coarse sausage. However, it is not tightly packed. This means it is pretty chewy and there's no real snap in the casing. The flavor is also unremarkable. Maybe a hint of pepper, but no real flavor otherwise. Call it 3.5/10.

Brisket: We were not impressed with the brisket before, and it hasn't improved. They are still keeping it in liquid. The result is like poorly done pot roast: no real flavor and extremely tough. Even the moist that I ordered requires a lot of work to chew through. I am unable to finish this. 2.0/10.  

It's a shame to see a place that seems to get such high reviews at other times be such a disappointment when we go, but two strikes and you're out. I don't see a return trip anytime in the foreseeable future. There is much better BBQ out there. 

Is it worth a visit? Honestly, no. Only the ribs seem decent. You can do better elsewhere.  

Is it worth a trip? Obviously not.  

If I have to go anyway? This is a new category we're starting. Let's face it, we've all been stuck going to a place we didn’t want to because it was important to someone else (Loni, I'm calling out you and Chucky Cheese!). This will apply for places we decided aren’t worth a visit but you might end up having to visit anyway. If you do end up going here, stick to ribs and stay away from sausage and brisket.  


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Blind Taste Test: Frankin vs. Valentina's 

My boss Ric had scheduled a meeting for the 17th and invited me to attend as an SME (Subject Matter Expert, for those not in the know). While work business was discussed, we also were having BBQ. Namely, he was bringing in some from Franklin BBQ and was inviting me as well (my BBQ bribery Thursdays are paying off!).
(Scott's comment: The real definition here is Somehow Maintains Employment.)  

But I saw an opportunity here. After checking with Ric to make sure I wasn't stepping on his toes, I saw the chance for a little taste test. After consideration, I chose Valentina's BBQ. Since I knew he was getting brisket and pork ribs I picked up the same.
(Scott's comment: *Ahem* No one brought ME BBQ  today while I worked! *Plays Portishead's: Sour Times*.)  

The items were put out on two different colored plates (red and blue). Only I knew what was on each plate (not even Ric did).  

Tasting today were Ric, Janine, Sherrie, Matt, Cindy, Reggie, Erika, Stephen, and Amanda. However, not everyone tried both items.  

Brisket: Pretty much everyone who tried them agreed that both briskets were excellent. There seemed to be a slight preference for the flavor of the blue plate, but for the tenderness/moistness of the red plate. It should be noted that the final deciding factor for everyone seemed to be flavor.

The final score: Blue won 5-3.

Ribs: Again, of those who tried the ribs everyone thought they were all good. However, there was definitely a clear preference here. While both received comments about tender, and both received good comments about flavor, a substantial majority preferred the flavor of the ribs from the red plate.

The final score: Red won 5-1.

Interestingly pretty much everyone thought that the color they picked for brisket was Franklin, which goes to show how much Franklin has imposed itself on the BBQ consciousness. Franklin is supposed to be the best, their choice tasted the best, and therefore that one must be Franklin.

But this appears to confirm some things we've been saying about BBQ since we started this blog:
First, when it comes to the top-tier places (and both of these clearly qualify) it's likely to come down to preferences in taste as opposed to quality. Both places are turning out high quality BBQ, and your individual flavor preference is going to decide which place is best. Arguing about it can be fun, but let's not get too serious about it. Heck, my wife and I do not have the same place as our favorites.  

Second, accept that your favorite place may not be the best at everything. I have my "favorite place", but what I mean by that is "If I could only ever go to one BBQ place again, this is the one I'd pick". It doesn't mean I think they are best at everything, and it doesn't mean that I go there every time I want BBQ. Heck, of all the different items you can smoke I'd only pick them for two items as the best. There are other places I'd pick for other items. And if you are willing to move out of your comfort zone and try a few different places, you can run into some nice surprises.  

Finally, when trying your BBQ, remember that just as perception can color belief, so can belief color perception. For pretty much everyone it was: this brisket tasted the best, Franklin is supposed to be the best, therefore this brisket must be Franklin. It's why the test had to be blind, because otherwise perception would color the results. I tend to have the opposite problem: anything that has gotten a lot of praise can't live up to the hype. Franklin has shown me that they are actually outstanding BBQ. But then, so has Valentina's.  

Let's be clear: Aaron Franklin has earned all the attention he receives. From the trailer beginnings in 2009 to the present, he's become arguably the most recognized name in BBQ (and certainly in Texas BBQ). He's probably brought more attention to Texas BBQ than anyone else, with the possible exception of Texas Monthly's Daniel Vaughn. He's created a business that has become one of the biggest social experiences in Austin (two people got married in the line on 2/8/16). Everyone needs to try his BBQ at least once (and experience the line at least once).  

But then, don’t be afraid to expand out and try some other things. What we've discovered when starting this blog is that there's a lot of excellent BBQ in this area, some of it in places you wouldn't expect. Case in point: Valentina's has shown it can hold its own.  


PS: What's that? I didn't tell you which plate was which? Well, of course not. How else do I make sure you read to the end? If I was really cruel I could argue that it doesn't really matter because you're probably going to put your own spin on it anyway. After all, one place won brisket by a small margin and lost ribs by a large margin. But brisket is considered the poster child for Texas BBQ.  But the brisket vote was close and the rib vote wasn't. But the sample size wasn't large. But not everyone voted on every item. 

The point is, this only means what you choose to take from it. Hopefully it's got you thinking a little more about your BBQ experience. If so, then our work here is done. For my two cents, I'm calling it a push. 

Oh, and since you've stuck with it this long: The blue plate was Franklin. The red plate was Valentina's.
(Scott's comment: It's the BBQ Matrix: Do you want the Red Plate or the Blue Plate?.)

Friday, February 12, 2016

Review of Bert's BBQ (Austin, TX)  

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

After taking care of some business this morning, Tish and I stopped at Bert’s to pick up some lunch to take home. Bert’s appears to be a typical strip mall location, with counter service. We order turkey, brisket, original sausage, pork ribs, and chicken. I will say that their prices seem very reasonable….

Chicken: The chicken is tender and juicy, and it does have a light smoke flavor. However there’s not much else going on here. It’s not bad, but doesn’t really stand out. Tish and I both call it 5.0/10.

Pork Rib: The rib has some crust, and is reasonably tender. But like the chicken it has a light smoke flavor and not much else going on. They are also on the light side when it comes to meat/bone ratio. Again, nothing stands out here. We both give it 5.0/10.

Brisket: The brisket has no real flavor at all other than beef. It’s somewhat chewy, although not too dry. We both agree it has unfortunately earned the “Roast Beef” title (if someone had us close our eyes, put  a piece in our mouth, and asked what we thought of the roast beef, we’d have no reason to assume it wasn’t roast beef). We both agree on a 4.0/10.

Turkey: The turkey is pretty obviously a processed turkey that they’ve smoked. The block they were slicing from was almost literally a block. The turkey is very rubbery. I can actually bounce mine on the plate. It does have some smoke flavor. I score it 3.0/10. Tish scores it 4.0/10 (she’s actually impressed that they managed to get the smoke to penetrate at all).

Sausage: When we asked if the sausage was gluten-free (Tish has celiac), we learned it a) came to them from elsewhere and b) contained barley and corn cereal fillers. So Tish can’t eat it because of the barley. Being brutally honest, she’s the lucky one here. This was one of the greasiest pieces of sausage I’ve tried. There is some snap in the casing, and it was reasonably tender. There was a touch of heat. However, there was no real flavor to speak of. Combine that with the grease, and I couldn’t finish it. My score: 2.0/10.
(Scott's comment: Seems pretty cut and dried... unlike the sausage.)
Bert’s seems t get some praise online for their chopped beef potatoes and their Frito pie dishes. Maybe they do a better job with those items, but given the quality of the brisket that would mean it’s about the sauce.
(Scott's comment: Ernie wasn't there to improve the food?)

Is it worth a visit? Honestly, I have to say no. Three of five items score in the “we wouldn’t order again” or lower range, and the two that didn’t just barely avoided it. There’s just so many better places to get BBQ in Austin. If you do go, stick to ribs or chicken, or try the items we didn’t.
(Al's comment: Looks like a UT hang-out joint; maybe its less about quality then availability? I've known a few of those places over the years. ) 

Is it worth a trip? Not in our book.