Saturday, August 29, 2015

Review of Riders BBQ (Jarrell, TX)
Riders BBQ Website, Facebook, & Yelp 

Decided to swing up to Riders today while waiting for the opening of Rentsch brewery in Georgetown. Riders is located just south of Jarrell off of I-35. They’ve been there about 3 years, and are moving across the freeway in October.

Riders is typical counter service and has pits out front. They don’t really do plates as such (not on menu anyway), but offer several sandwiches and meat by the pound in as small a portion as you want. I get a few slices of brisket, a slice of turkey (they slice it big), a piece of sausage, and a St. Louis rib.
St. Louis Rib: The rib doesn’t have much crust. It has a good flavor, but there’s not much smoke flavor in it. It is tender. 7.0/10. 
Brisket: The brisket has a decent bark and is tender. There’s some smoke flavor, but not much other flavor (I’m not really tasting much in the way of salt/pepper or other rub). The smoke has worked in nicely, but it needs something to accent it. 7.0/10.
Sausage: Decent snap and tender. They apparently have someone else make it but it is their own recipe. There’s a sweet undertone that I can’t quite place. I don’t taste much smoke. 7.5/10.

Turkey: Nice subtle smoke flavor, and it is tender and has the right amount of saltiness. It’s the best of the items I tried. 8.0/10. 
Riders has turned out a solid offering in the BBQ market. 
Is it worth a visit? Yep. It would be a good choice for lunch if you are in the area. 
Is it worth a trip?  Not quite. They are on the high end of good with everything, but only the turkey made it into the excellent range, and I usually want 3 or more in that range for a “yes” here. A little work on the brisket rub and adding a little smoke to the sausage and I could reconsider. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Review of Jimmy  P's Butcher Shop & Deli (Naples, FL) 

Jimmy P's Website & Facebook & Twitter(@Jpsbutchershop)

In the search for more BBQ, a friend from work suggested I check out Jimmy P's. Now to be clear, Jimmy P's is a butcher shop first, but also is a lunch deli and a restaurant (which they opened this summer as Jimmy's Charred - it is more of formal plated meals of steaks and chops prepared there.) It isn't your typical BBQ place in terms of appearance or style, but these guys love their meats and the cooking! When I mentioned Texas BBQ, immediately they asked about my experience with Franklin in Austin without prompting. They prepare everything on site and have two smokers (the one I saw was the "inside" smoker) to do the work. They also experiment with different woods - on this day they had prepared beef and pork with Green Oak and White Hickory for the poultry. But they also explained they often use Applewood as well.  
They cook and serve the traditional meats of pork, sausage, ribs, turkey, chicken, and beef (they specialize in Kobe/Wagyu) in their deli. But you can get all the meats cold to take home and prepare (as you would expect from a butcher shop), plus they prepare and cook to take home the more gamey and exotic meats including buffalo, goat, kangaroo, ostrich, rabbit, and venison. These guys never met a meat they didn't like. 
(Tom's comment: Where's MY Kobe beef?!?)
For lunch today, I sample the pulled roast pork; wagyu beef brisket (sliced and chopped); and the turkey. I would have tried the pork ribs and sausage, but there was just too much for me to eat.  

Roast Pork: Initially, the pork looks a light on color and greasy. But its tender with good flavor in the meat and the smoke is mild. It's good, but not overwhelming. 7.0/10.
Beef Brisket: The brisket kind of varies depending on whether it is sliced or chopped. The sliced is tender, but no bark - still there is a nice smoke ring. There's a good mix of fat that melts well and makes it very tender and juicy. The smoke is mild, but more consistent - it stays with you in every bite without overwhelming. With the chopped, it remains tender, but the bark is mixed in more and it gives the flavor even more of a meaty and seasoned taste. The smoke is as with the sliced - mild but always present. It's probably the best brisket I have tried recently. 8.5/10.

Turkey: As they tell me, the turkey is sliced more like a sandwich lunch meat and less like a meal cut. So it comes off lighter than I expect. The meat is easy to eat, but the flavor is very mild - a little spicy on the aftertaste and you can taste a little charcoal and ash - my guess is that the effect of the hickory (which surprisingly, doesn't overwhelm the meat). Overall, not bad but not outstanding. 6.0/10 
Is it worth a visit? Yes. It's a great place to try some good meats and maybe do some shopping for your next dish. You'll get some great help from the butchers too if you have questions.

Is it worth a trip? Not really. I can't say it’s a BBQ place  - I just found they did some good brisket. You'll probably go there more for some specialized meats to take home than as a BBQ haven.   

I found the place to be pretty nice, and maybe I'll check it out again to see how the restaurant side works out.     


Review of Big Cat BBQ (Cedar Park, TX)

Big Cat BBQ Facebook & Yelp & Twitter (@BigCatBBQ1)  

I’d heard this place had opened about a week ago, so thought I’d give it a try and stopped to pick up lunch today. They’re located just west of 183 in Cedar Park. It looks like brisket, sausage (German and jalapeno), pork ribs, and pulled pork are the normal items, with other items as specials depending on the day (Facebook indicates they had beef ribs this weekend).
I ordered a three-meat plate (ribs, German sausage, and brisket. The person preparing my food comments that they order their briskets from the same place Franklin BBQ gets theirs. 
Sausage: The sausage has a decent flavor in the meat itself and is juicy. The casing is a little chewy and doesn’t snap quite the way I want. There’s also not a lot of smoke flavor. It has a food flavor, but not a smoky flavor. Call it 5.0/10.
Brisket: The brisket looked fabulous. Nice and moist, a good looking bark, and not over-cooked. But the flavor again seemed to lack much in the way of smoke. I can taste the rub (and it’s a good rub), but not much smoke. I’m wondering if they need to check their venting (maybe venting a little too much)? Call it 5.5/10.
Ribs: With two down I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this is where Big Cat really impressed me, Their ribs have a nice crust, are tender and juicy (without being overcooked), and have a good meat to bone ratio. There’s a lovely spicy undertone in the rub. And most importantly, the smoke flavor that was missing in the other two is present here. This is a damn good rib. 9.0/10.

Is it worth a visit? I’d certainly be willing to stop there for lunch and get some ribs. And I’ll have to stop back and try some of their other items. I can also see the potential in their other items if they can just get the smoke added to the meat.

Is it worth a trip? Not at this time. 60+ miles just for their ribs isn’t a good time investment at this point. Let’s reevaluate once they’ve had some time to get their feet more firmly grounded.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Big Bib BBQ Review (San Antonio, TX)

The Big Bib Website & Facebook & Yelp  

Day two in San Antonio and Scott suggested this place for lunch. It’s located on Lanark Drive in San Antonio.
(Scott's comment: It's not in a touristy section of North East San Antonio, so you're here because you're 1) A local who's in the know. 2) a BBQ connoisseur who's curious to check out some place they haven't been before. 3) Lost on Austin Highway. )

You order at the counter and pick up a few minutes later. It’s apparently extremely popular in San Antonio, having won “Best of San Antonio” for BBQ the last two years in a row, as well as quite a few other local awards.

(Scott's comments: Today, there was a group of several Navy sailors who are working out of (most likely) Ft. Sam Houston who were in front of us in line.   There were a few military recognition plaques on the wall, including one of a flag flown over a Forward Operating Base in Kandahar Afghanistan a few years ago.  They also took a moment to recognize a young Air Force officer who had very recently completed his certifications for flying a C5 plane.  Round of applause for this fine young man.) 

(Scott's comments: I came across this place per a feature by the San Antonio Spurs about Aron Baynes and his journeys to check out various BBQ places in San Antonio and Central Texas (including this one).  As Aron Baynes (@AronBaynes on Twitter) has since departed the Spurs in Free Agency  for the less BBQ-y Detroit Pistons, The feature was removed.  There's a link to a link with a Google Map of the places mentioned in his visit. How serious is Baynes about his BBQ?   Spur and fellow Aussie Patty Mills  tweeted this to Aron about BBQ.  How many links can I insert in a paragraph? More than the number of licks it takes to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop. But I digress. ) 

Scott and I order a sampler platter, which officially comes with ¼ pound each of brisket, pulled pork, turkey, chicken, sausage (mild), and rib tips. However, they are out of rib tips so we double-down on brisket (½ moist and ½ lean).

Brisket: The most disappointing of the lot, even the moist is on the dry side. It does have a good smoky flavor and decent bark, which saves it from a score in the poor range. I call it a 5.5/10.

Turkey: The turkey is juicy and tender, but mine doesn’t have a lot of smoke flavor. I call it 6.0/10.

Chicken: Mine has a good smoke flavor, is tender and juicy. Flavor goes to the bone. 8.0/10.
(Scott's comments: I liked the turkey more than Tom,  the hint of smoke flavor was fine for me and had a nice moist taste throughout. I also preferred the turkey to the chicken thigh I had. Nothing wrong with the chicken, just a personal preference.)

Pulled Pork: This is tender, has a decent smoke flavor, and isn’t too greasy. 7.5/10.

Sausage: Wow! They use a beef pork blend, and they’ve nailed it with this one. The casing has a good snap, it’s tender and juicy on the inside, and the flavor is excellent. This is one of the best sausages I’ve had. 10/10.
(Scott's comments: We normally don't do a lot with sauces, but I will say we sampled their 4 sauces, and they were all actually pretty good.  Used in moderation (a few drops here  and there), and it could be a nice augmentation. I tried their Tangy Gold with the pulled pork, and got a little extra flavor enhancement.)

Is it worth a visit? Absolutely. The Big Bib is an excellent place to get a good lunch. They have a lot of things they do well, and are very reasonably priced. While we don’t rate sides, their Baked Potato Casserole is also excellent. 

Is it worth a trip? They’re close, but not quite there yet. Only two items made it into that 8 or higher range, and personally I want three or more if I’m traveling 60+ miles. The sausage was great, but the brisket was fair. A hair more flavor in the pulled pork would tip that one over in my opinion.


(Scott's comment:  I would also like to say the staff's service was excellent. Very friendly, helpful, and willing to take an extra moment or two to answer questions during the lunch rush. Kudos.  I was quite satisfied with my meal.)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Smoke Shack BBQ Review

Smoke Shack Website & Facebook & Twitter (@SmokeShackSA)

 (Alex's comment: Hey! We're back after a short break. Hopefully, you've stuck around to check us out again.)

Scott and I are in San Antonio for a long weekend helping his family with some things. We stopped at the Smoke Stack food trailer (they also have a restaurant) for lunch.  It’s a trailer located in an old gas station lot off of Nacogdoches.  They have at least one smoker connected directly to the trailer (man, that must get hot this time of year!) .  

Scott and I each order three meat plates, allowing us to get some of every meat they serve: brisket, sausage, chicken, pork ribs, turkey, and pulled pork.

I’m so used to most places in Austin putting sauce on the side that I forget to ask. The food comes out pre-sauced. I’ll have to remember to ask for sauce on the side at any other places I stop at in SA.
Sausage: The sausage is a fairly run-of-the mill sausage you find at most places that don’t appear to make their own. It doesn’t stand out much. The one big bite I had didn’t have much snap in the casing. Flavor was decent, but not great. I give it 5.0/10.
Brisket: The brisket has some smoke flavor (as best I can tell through the sauce), but not much bark. Even through the sauce it’s a little dry. It definitely is helped by the sauce. I’m giving it 6.0/10, but suspect it might be a little lower without the sauce.

Turkey: Turkey has some smoke flavor, and is juicy but a little tough. Call it 6.5/10. 
Chicken: Like the turkey, there’s some smoke flavor but it’s a little  dry in the bite I get. The sauce helps. Again, call it 6.5/10.

Pork rib: The rib has a decent flavor and decent crust. It’s a solid entry. 7.0/10. 
Pulled pork: This has a good smoke flavor, and isn’t too greasy (a common failing in pulled pork). If there was another flavor other than the smoke, this could be excellent. Call if 7.5/10. 

Is it worth a visit? Absolutely. Smoke Shack has turned out a solid entry in the BBQ crowd. Nothing is bad, and some items are on the high end of the good scale. If you’re looking for a good place to grab a quick BBQ lunch, it’s a good choice (and isn’t that far from Bill Miller’s).  

Is it worth a trip? Nope. They are good, but not great. Hopefully while I’m down here I’ll have time to find a place that is worth a 60+ mile trip. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Black-Eyed Pig BBQ Review (Naples, FL) 

Black-Eyed Pig's Website & Facebook & Yelp

For today's lunch, I stopped by the Black-Eyed Pig, a small BBQ place tucked away in a warehouse area. Looking about the size of mobile home, it's comes off as a mix of an Austin BBQ trailer and a local diner - complete with lots of piggy's that decorate the place. (Mildly amused by the hog's head mounted on one end, especially.) The strong smell of wood smoke is present in the whole place and their box smoker is visible out back.

The staff here was very friendly here, and were helpful in answering questions. Unlike other places I have tried so far, they use hickory for their cooking.* Hickory, I'm told, is strong and ideal for smoking pork, and the Black-Eyed Pig takes pride in their pulled pork and secondly the pork ribs (large and baby-back) . They also serve turkey, sausage, beef brisket, smoked chicken wings, and sandwiches (the smoked bacon sandwich looks particularly good).  I went with the black-eyed sampler to try the pulled pork, large pork ribs, sausage, and beef brisket. 
Sausage: The casing looked like it was over done and there was no snap; it was hard. Despite this, the meat crumbles well and there's a spicy, smoky taste, but the problem is it was too dry and sauce didn't help much.
(When I mentioned this to my waitress , she did apologize and mentioned that they had trouble with cooking it that day. It was a slow day, so my guess is they thought it wouldn't get much demand.) In any case, it just wasn't that great. 3.0/10.

Beef Brisket: The brisket comes out a little tough and dry, but it is helped by having a good smoke flavor once it is in your mouth. Black-Eyed Pig also makes it own home-made sauce (it and all their recipes are from an Oklahoma tradition), and the brisket is definitely helped by it, as it mixes well with the smoke to be more peppery.  Without sauce: 5.0/10; with sauce: 6.5 out of 10. 
Pork Ribs: The ribs can be served either dry or wet-rubbed, so I try some of both. The pork ribs have a nice, crisp bark and that hickory flavor is strongest here. There's a mixture of smoke and charcoal flavors that comes off a little bitter; the wet works better here - it gives it a more tangy flavor. Beyond the bark, the meat remains tender and melts well; the smoke flavor  carries well from outside  to the inside despite the how strong it is. 7.0/10.
Pulled Pork: It's easy to see why the folks at Black-Eyed Pig take pride in it; it is their best! The meat is light and moist; it almost melts as you chew and the smoke comes as a strong aftertaste that doesn't overwhelm. I tried some of it with their sauce and found it to be slightly sweeter. I can't say it was better or worse; just a different taste that I liked: With or without sauce,  I would give it  a 9.5/10.

*(Tom's comment: A mistake many make is thinking that more is better. Too much smoke (especially a strong smoke) can leave a bitter aftertaste. It's easy to overdo the smoke with hickory.)*
Is it worth a visit? Yes. It's a cozy place to sit at the counter for some good BBQ  or a sandwich. I didn't even get into the sides, which were good too. 
Is it worth a trip? Probably not. If you really like pulled pork, you might find it great. That's about it.

Overall, pork is their strong point and there's a certain charm to the place (as the picture above says:  "It's all about the pork, baby!") . Stick to that meat and be aware that there's a strong flavor in the smoke you may find aggressive and bitter.   

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Green Mesquite BBQ (Round Rock, TX) 

Green Mesquite Website & Facebook & Twitter (@greenmesquite)
I decided to swing by there today and pick up some lunch. I've had them once before (a year or two ago at a friend's birthday party), but wanted to give them the more formal treatment. They have three locations, so they are a local chain. Are you a chain if you have 3 locations? How many locations make a chain anyway?
Green Mesquite is located in a strip center in the Northeast corner of I-35 and 45 in Round Rock. They do have a pit out back, but it is bricked off so I was unable to get a picture. Inside you can either do table seating, counter seating, or To Go. They offer daily specials and All You Can Eat BBQ (AYCE) on Mon and Tue.

They do have an interesting T-Shirt, and one of the coolest paintings I've seen in a while.


I decide to go all-out and order a 4 meat plate and a 3 meat plate (so this will take care of lunch and dinner). I'll try everything up front and eat leftovers tonight. The meats are pulled pork, ham, pork ribs, turkey, chicken, sausage, and brisket.

 Brisket: The brisket has some bark, but not much smoke flavor. It's also a little on the dry side. 4.0/10.

Sausage: The sausage is a typical example for places like this. It has a decent snap and the flavor is OK, but not great. Not much smoke flavor in it. 5.0/10.

Pulled pork: Moist and not greasy, but again, not much smoke flavor. 5.0/10.

Turkey: The turkey has some smoke flavor, but not much else. There's a metallic flavor to it that almost makes me wonder if there's an artificial smoke at work here. It's reasonably moist. 5.5/10.

Ham: Has a nice smoke flavor (and not the metallic after taste of the turkey). Juicy and not tough. 6.0/10.

Pork Ribs: A little on the tough side, But they have a very interesting flavor, both very spicy and sweet. The smoke underlies it nicely. 7.0/10.

Chicken: Juicy, tender, and a good smoke flavor. This is far and away the best thing I had. 8.0/10.  

Green Mesquite is a good example of the local chains that have risen in the area (Rudy's, Pok-e-Jo's, etc.). They have a reasonable product at a reasonable price. 
Are they worth a visit? I'd stay away from the brisket, but the other items are worth checking out. It's not a bad place for lunch and the value for dollar makes them an attractive alternative to the more pricy places. 
Are they worth a trip? Nope. If you are traveling 60+ miles just for BBQ, you're probably willing to spend the money to go to one of the better places. 


Sunday, August 2, 2015

This week in BBQ Philosophy (cue talk-show music) 

Line Perception (or "How Long am I Really Waiting for this BBQ?")  

Let me start by saying that I owe Franklin BBQ an apology. While I’ve always agreed that their BBQ is excellent, I’ve always wondered if it was worth the wait when there’s so much other great BBQ in the area. Even if they are the best BBQ in town*, are they so much better that they are worth waiting 2 hours for once they open (not counting any time before then)?

 However, my experience at La BBQ, combined with looking back at my experience at Micklethwait and what I saw at Franklin has led me to re-evaluate lines. Part of that is because I realized that the perception of the line at Franklins may be worse than the line itself (or rather, other lines may be just as bad). 
Let me start with what happened at La BBQ today (8/1/15). They open at 11:00 and I arrived at 10:45. I didn’t feel like I was in that long a line. It was maybe 1/3rd the length of the line I saw at Franklin’s when I went on 7/11/15.  

La Barbecue
But by 11:30 I haven’t moved all that far. I’m talking with Adrian and Roy (two people immediately behind me), and they have noticed the same thing. I hop out of line and do a quick count. At this point I am at position 50 in the line, and there’s about 42 people in line behind me. This is obviously rough because some groups have people standing in line while some are sitting down, esp. groups with children. 

But still, this surprised me. Why? Because a line that seemed three to four times as long at Franklin's only had maybe 60% more people (150 or so). And from what Franklin’s staff said, it takes them about two hours to work their way through a line the length of what was there that day.  

So what’s the difference? Why was I willing to get in one line but not the other? The simple answer is perception. My perception of Franklin’s lines are long. My perception of La BBQ’s lines weren’t. And several things led to this perception. 

Spacing: One thing I had noticed and commented on when I was at Franklin was that the line was very spread out. In some places you might have 4-5 feet between people. This wasn’t true at La BBQ, where you had people lined up one after the other. It was a much tighter line. At Franklin’s, I had commented on Greg and his friends who were 57 people back. They were much further from the door as measured by the length of the line than the length of the entire line at La BBQ (92 people). 
Line discipline: Franklin received some notice on Twitter and other social media when they clarified that one line holder equaled one order. You could not have a person hold a place in line for you and your five friends if you and your friends were then going to place 6 separate orders. I don’t know how other places handle this, but at La BBQ people were always coming in and out of the line. Some of it was common sense (parents with children taking turns entertaining the children elsewhere). Some of it involved people showing up, coming through the gate, and joining people at the front of the line. I’m not going to judge, but it does affect the wait.

Groups: It may take longer for them to put together a big order, but it’s almost always faster than putting together multiple smaller orders. A good place to watch this in practice is the grocery store and express lines. Assuming the two cashiers have approximately the same speed, one person with 30 items will get handled quicker than two people with 10 items each. Simply put, payment is a big slowdown, and the more times people are paying, the more things slow down. Try it yourself sometime, The next time you and four friends go somewhere, instead of making 5 separate orders, have one person make the order for all 5 and pay that person back (unless they are rich). You’ll notice it’s a little quicker.

Venue: For whatever reason, the less formal the venue the slower it seems to go. Trailers almost always seem to be slower than places in actual buildings. This may be because limited space means fewer people can help with preparing orders.

Bottom line: A lot of things can make a line go fast or slow, and the actual length of the line is only a small part of the process. I had seen this at Micklethwait back in May, but didn’t put it together until just now.

But I had been judging Franklin’s in part because of the length of their line, and that’s obviously a more complex issue that I realized. So I apologize.

* For the record, I’m not saying Franklin’s is or isn’t the best BBQ in the area. They certainly have that reputation. If I ever weigh in publically, I’ll let you know. *