Saturday, April 11, 2015

So there was some thinking while we were passing the brisket around the table...

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What started out as a casual tour of central Texas barbecue places has turned over the years into a semi-scientific look at what makes for a great barbecue meal and what you should avoid. It's really as much for reference for ourselves as anything else, but thought it might be fun to share. So here we go…

Scott, Mike (friend of mine from work) and I made the trip to Giddings, TX to check out City Meat Market (CMM).
It’s apparently a regular on Texas Monthly’s top 50 BBQ, coming in 22nd on (what appears to be) the most recent list.
The trip out 290 was pleasant (we left from my worksite, so intersection of 290 and 183). There’s some construction, but the drive was nice. Took about 45-50 minutes. No traffic to speak of.
CMM is on 290 (not sure if that’s what it is called there), on the north side of the road. It’s an older building in what is probably considered downtown “historic” Giddings. After parking in back, we entered through a side entrance.
To our left are a bunch of old meat cases, and to our right are several tables and a counter. Behind the counter we can see staff. We can smell smoke.
Staff are all very friendly and polite.
We decide we’re going to get some BBQ to eat there, and Mike and I are bringing back some for respective others.
First warning sign: I order ¼ pound brisket, 2 sausage links, and 2 ribs. The brisket comes out of a pot of liquid on a counter behind the serving counter. I’ve never seen this before, and can’t think of any reason for this that is good. Asked if we want lean brisket or a little bit of fat. I get the fatty. Sausage is very long and dark. Ribs look decent. 
Payment appears to be by weight for the lot (so price is the same for everything). Comes to $16 and change.
Scott gets about the same.  Take a look at the sampler:
Brisket: Even for what is supposed to be fatty brisket, this is pretty dry. Not much flavor at all. No real smoke ring, no real color changes inside (so once you get past the bark it is all the same universal gray/brown). Honestly, I’ve regularly had better at Poke-Jo’s and Rudy’s. 3 on a scale of 1-10.
Sausage: I don’t mind coarse ground sausage, and this is the coarsest I can ever recall seeing. It looks like someone took some hamburger meat (it is apparently an 80/20 beef/pork blend), cooked it, then stuffed it in a sausage casing. That wouldn’t bother me, except it tastes about the same. I can taste a little pepper and a little salt, but not much. And it is more like someone cooked the meat and then added the seasoning. It is very uneven. It is moist (unlike the brisket), but poor and uneven flavor is a deal breaker for sausage. Again, I’ve been getting better at the local Austin area “chains”. 3 on a scale of 1-10.
Ribs: These have a decent flavor. Good salt and pepper mix, and a decent crust. But a little chewy. I do agree that a rib that is “fall off the bone” is actually overcooked, but these are a little tough. Still, of what I ordered they are the best things by far. Say a 6 on a scale of 1-10.
While paying for my to-go order, I see more sausage going on the fire, and hear a comment about “3 hours”. And I look at where they are putting it. There’s no way it is getting any smoke at that location (it’s inside with no hood above it and in plain view). It’s hanging high enough that it seems to be getting direct heat at low temperature. So “slowish cooking”, but not smoke. Honestly, I think they’d do better cooking them faster.
Pork Butt: Mom asked me to bring some pork butt back and I tried a bite when I dropped it off. Tasted about the same as the ribs. Decent, but nothing spectacular. Not quite as chewy. Say a 7 on a scale of 1-10.
Chicken: Left some chicken with Bill and Kelly since they have a sick kid. I hope they will comment.

Final thoughts: Scott suggested that we should get t-shirts made that say “BBQ Recon”. It’s a good thought. One job of a recon patrol is to go out and make sure the way is safe, or if you need to detour and find another route. In this case, detour and find another route. The BBQ trifecta is made up of ribs, brisket, and sausage. CMM only does one of those that I would consider eating again (the ribs), and theirs aren’t so great that they are worth a trip. Since 100% of the time if I’m passing through Giddings I’m going to be passing through Elgin as well, there are better options closer to home.
I’m not sure when that last Texas Monthly review was written. Either CMM has gone way downhill lately, or this reviewer has radically different standards than I do.
Some may say it was just a bad day for them. While I suppose that is possible, the way they handle their brisket makes me doubt it. I can’t think of any reason a well-done BBQ brisket would then be kept in a container of liquid that would improve the flavor. And if it is improving the flavor, then they have even bigger problems than I thought.
My impression from comments on the car ride back is that Scott and Mike felt about the same about the trifecta, but I hope they’ll respond if they feel different.



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