Sunday, January 31, 2016

Kent Black's BBQ Review (San Marcos, TX)  

Kent Black's BBQ's Website, Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram

Scott and I wanted to make a BBQ trip this weekend. Mom was bacheloring (bacheloretting?) this weekend and decided to join us, so we decided to check out Kent Black’s BBQ in San Marcos, TX.  

KB’s is another offshoot of the Black family. The venue is one of the biggest I’ve seen, with a huge patio, bar, and a large seating area. Mom was really impressed. They have some humorous signs (esp. over the bathroom), and have apparently won best BBQ in San Marcos last year.

Ordering is the usual pay and get at the counter. We debate our purchases. Since we’re going to share, I’ll sum up what we end up trying: brisket (lean and moist), spare ribs, baby-back ribs, a beef rib, turkey, and sausage (original, jalapeno-cheddar, garlic, and beer).
Turkey: The turkey has a light smoke flavor. I find it a touch salty, but Scott likes the rub. Mom seems to find it unremarkable. We all find it a touch chewy/tough depending on our piece.
Scores: Mom – 5.0/10, Scott and Tom – 7.0/10. Avg: 6.33/10

Brisket: Both lean and moist are reasonably tender and moist. In my opinion there’s not much smoke flavor in either type, which is always something I want in brisket. Scott feels his lean has good flavor but the moist less so, which is very interesting as one would expect it to be the other way around. Mom likes the lean and loves the moist.

Lean score: Tom – 6.0/10, Mom – 7.0/10, Scott – 8.0/10. Avg: 7.0/10.

Moist score: Tom – 7.0/10, Scott – 7.5/10, Mom – 9.0/10 (I wasn’t kidding when I said she really liked it). Avg: 7.83/10.


Beef rib: We all agree the flavor of the beef rib is excellent. But this one appears to have been a little overdone. Burnt ends can be good in brisket, but on this rib it results in a tough exterior that’s hard to get through. All of us agree that it is a little on the tough side. Score: All three of us give it 6.0/10. Avg: 6.0/10.

Pork Spare Rib: This was an interesting item. I had asked for two, and at first was wondering if it was overcooked, as it seemed that a large chunk had fallen off the bone (and yes, on BBQ ribs falling off the bone means it is overcooked). However, I realized that they had apparently given me one huge rib with ALL the meat from either side. The bone in the middle was substantially larger than my thumb. Given that, we’re OK. It had a nice crust, and a good flavor. Mom also loved it, but Scott wasn’t quite as big a fan.

 Scores: Scott – 6.75/10, Tom – 8.5/10, Mom – 9.0/10. Avg: 8.08/10.
Baby-Back Ribs: The baby-backs are very tender and have a lot of meat. But unlike the spare ribs we all agree there’s not much going on besides pork in the flavor department. They aren’t bad, but nothing stands out about them. Score: We all agree 6.0/10. Avg: 6.0/10.

Sausage (The following applies to all the sausage we tried): They use a coarse grind for their sausage, with the beer and the jalapeno-cheddar being a little tighter than the other two (but still definitely qualifying as a coarse grind). All the sausage was juicy and tender, and had a good snap to the casing. 
Original Sausage: Has a mild flavor with some nice pepper added. Mom and I like it a lot, Scott not quite as much. Scores: Scott – 6.0/10, Tom – 8.0/10, Mom – 9.0/10. Avg: 7.66/10.  

Garlic Sausage: This one was interesting. Mom and Scott had a bite each of mine. Neither of them really noticed the garlic. Mom still loved the flavor, and Scott was disappointed (although he felt it was well-done). Because I had more of it, I noticed that the garlic creeps up on you. It’s very subtle and slow to develop. I like it, but would want the garlic to be more immediately obvious.

(Scott's comment: This is like having a Blackberry Saison and not tasting blackberry (yes, recent experience). My first reaction was that a vampire could safely have this because I couldn't detect any garlic. )
Scores: Scott – 5, Tom – 8.5/10, Mom – 9.0/10. Avg: 7.5/10.  

Beer Sausage: Unlike the garlic sausage, the beer in this one is noticeable immediately. Scott and I debate what they are using. Scott suggests Shiner and I tend to agree with him. It’s easily the dominant flavor in the sausage, and while it is good, you better like beer if you order this one. Mom doesn’t want to score it as she’s not a beer fan. Scores: Scott – 7.0/10, Tom – 8.0/10. Avg: 7.5/10.

Is it worth a visit? Absolutely. There’s nothing bad here. They have a lot of good BBQ and some good sides (they have smoked cabbage which seems interesting). It seems like a good place to go after a day of tubing.  

Is it worth a trip? This is an interesting question. How do we want to look at this? If you look at average scores, then the answer would have to be no, since only one item scored 8 or higher.  If you break it down by individual scorers, then it also comes down to their quirks. Mom would say it is definitely worth a trip.  

(Mom’s comment: She wants to have her next wedding there. She also said wake, but then realized she wouldn't be able to enjoy it).

Scott appears to be a no based on his scores (he only has one that’s an 8 or higher), and I’m on the fence. Why am I on the fence? Because even though I technically have four 8+ scores, three of them are sausage.

(Scott's Comment: The word that resonated with me is "unspectacular."  It's much like a movie that has a solid cast, good scriptwriter, director, etc., and then the outcome is _____ (Looking at you Prometheus)). 

I think this is a place we’ll need to revisit at some point. I especially want to see if that beef rib was a fluke. Because flavor-wise it was very tasty. 

-Tom & Scott & Mom

Monday, January 18, 2016

Review Of Terry Black's BBQ (Austin, TX)  

Terry Black's BBQ's Website, Facebook,  & Twitter

Since I was running an errand in that part of town anyway, I decided to swing by Terry Black's BBQ and pick up some lunch for Tish and myself. For those not in the know, Terry Black's is descended from Black's BBQ in Lockhart, and is run by two of his sons. I've lost count, but I believe that between the various Black family members they have 5 different locations in the Central Texas area.
Anyway, TB's follows the standard order/pay/pick up at the counter format. I order a pound of brisket, a pound of pork ribs, ½ pound original sausage, ½ pound turkey, and a beef rib (weighs about 1.5 pounds).

(For some reason I had a brain freeze and forgot to take more pictures of the order. Oh well.)

Turkey: The turkey has a light pepper flavor in the rub, and is tender and juicy. There's just the faintest flavor of smoke however. It tastes good, but not necessarily like smoked turkey. 7.0/10.

Brisket: The brisket has a nice bark, is moist and tender, and looks beautiful. There's a slight sweetness to the flavor. However, like the turkey there's not much smoke flavor (even in the bark). It's a perfectly good taste, but it just doesn't put me in mind of BBQ. Again, 7.0/10.

Pork Rib: The rib is juicy, tender, has a nice crust, and is one of the biggest pork ribs I've had (lots of meat). There's a nice pepper bite, and a much sweeter flavor in the rub. Again, the smoke flavor is very mild. However, in this case I'm willing to overlook it. 8.0/10.

Beef Rib: They go with the brontosaur ribs here. Mine has a nice bark, is well prepared, and has a good pepper flavor. The smoke flavor is a little more noticeable than in the brisket, but is still pretty light. It's still a well-done rib. 8.0/10.

Sausage: The sausage is tender, juicy, and has a nice snap. The smoke flavor is a little stronger here than in other items, and there's a nice sweetness as well. This is good stuff. 8.5/10.

All too often, when a restaurant opens up other locations (or offshoots), there's often a concern about quality. In the case of Terry Black's at least, they've managed to maintain a high level of quality. While my personal preference would be for a stronger smoke flavor, the quality of the preparation is definitely up there.

Is it worth a visit? Yes, and they seem to have a wide variety of sides for lunch.

Is it worth a trip? With three scores at 8 or higher, yes.


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Highway 29 BBQ Review (Bertram, TX)  

Highway 29 BBQ's Website, Facebook, Twitter, & Yelp
Craving BBQ before the AFC Wildcard games today (Go Texans and Bengals!), Scott and I made a road trip out to HWY 29 BBQ, located (obviously) on HWY 29 in Bertram. It’s a nice 30 minute drive from Georgetown. The place is in what appears to be an older brick building with some interesting signs (What does “Play 42” mean?).
(Scott's comment: BBQ is a little like playing the lottery (900 Million when we headed out Saturday morning). If you're playing quick pick numbers, or throwing a dart at a map for a BBQ place, you're playing the odds and hoping luck isn't going to laugh in your face. Knowing this, we head out into the January Central Texas wind, and an air full of Mountain Cedar pollen.)
(Al's comment: Sun perfectly back-light's the building. Check! Scott stands very casually below the store sign, but looks off to the side in a contemplative mood. Check! Scott sports black jacket, jeans, black cap combo (ala the Edge from U2 or maybe a drug dealer). Check! Are sure you guys aren't making an album cover here?)
(Al's second comment: Coming soon from Columbia Records: Scott V in "BBQ Stories Revisited - Bootleg Edition.")
(Scott's Comment: Let's name it "Mountain Cedar Saturday.") 
They appear to offer brisket, pork ribs, chicken, and regular or hot sausage as their normal selections, plus had pork loin as a selection today. Scott gets pork loin, a link of spicy sausage, lean brisket, and ribs. I get pork loin, ½ link each of original and hot sausage, brisket, and ribs. (Scott steals a bite of my original sausage and we swap a bite of brisket).

Pork Loin: The pork loin has a nice flavor with some pepper in the crust. There’s a light smoke flavor. It is tender and fairly moist. We both like it. Score: Scott and Tom – 8.0/10.

Original Sausage: There’s some garlic and pepper flavor in this. It’s juicy and tender and the casing has a nice snap. It’s a very nice mellow flavor. Scott and Tom – 8.0/10.


Spicy Sausage: They say that garlic and spices (not jalapeno) make up their hot sausage. The garlic certainly shows. It feels like an extreme version of their original sausage. Lots of garlic and some nice heat at the end. Even cut (Scott’s was cut before we realized it) it has a nice snap. Score: Scott and Tom – 8.5/10. 
(Scott's take on Original Sausage and Spicy Sausage: If you're going to try both, suggestion is try the original first. Both are quite good. As I'd bought the spicy, and tried that first, I am curious to know how much of the garlic and spice were holding over as I tried the original. This may have been an instance of stomach engaged before mind did. We welcome your thoughts on this and see what you think.) 

Brisket: The brisket looks nice with a good bark and nice color. We both get a very nice burnt end piece in ours. The lean is fairly tender and moist even by lean standards, and the moist definitely has some well-rendered fat in it. There’s a nice pepper flavor in it. The smoke flavor is nice in the moist, but I personally would like a little more to carry into the lean.
Score for Lean: Scott – 7.5/10, Tom – 7.0/10 
Score for Moist: Scott and Tom: 8.0/10.

Pork Ribs: There’s a good crust here, and they are tender without being overcooked. However, the flavor is only skin deep. I have three ribs, and the flavor varies inversely with the size of each rib. My smallest one has the best flavor while my largest has very little flavor once I get past the crust. They aren’t bad, but it is uneven. Score: Tom – 6.0/10, Scott – 6.5/10.
(Scott's take on the Pork Ribs: My biggest constructive critique is the consistency in how the flavor penetrates. I got more flavor in other parts of the meat along the rib bone (and there was a good amount of meat on the bone), but flavor and seasoning penetration was a little scattered. Again, BBQ is an art, not a science.)

(There is some luck of the draw here as well. *checking Twitter on phone for Powerball jackpot updates*)
So there you have it. Bertram is a tiny little town (one stop light), but it does have at least one BBQ place with a big BBQ heart. It definitely keeps the small town feel, but puts together a pretty good spread.

Is it worth a visit: Yep. 

Is it worth a trip: Again, yes. Excluding the ribs, everything was in the exceptional range, and even they were good. It’s worth checking out. 

-Tom & Scott

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Big Cat BBQ Update - New Review (Cedar Park, TX)

Big Cat BBQ's Website, Facebook, & Twitter
James of Big Cat BBQ had contacted me on Twitter and asked if I would come give them another shot. It’s been about 5 months since I went, so it seemed like a good time to see what changes they had made. I originally indicated I’d go on 1/6, but my schedule freed up, so I snuck on in. I ordered a three meat plate: brisket, pulled pork, and venison/pork sausage. I also ended up placing a take-home order that included brisket, turkey, pork ribs, and the above mentioned sausage.

Turkey: The turkey has a very light smoke flavor and a peppery bite. It tastes good but is just a touch dry. 7.0/10.

Brisket: The smoke is definitely present in the brisket this time. it still looks beautiful, and has a light smoky flavor. It’s moist and tender, and the fat rendered nicely. I’d prefer a touch more pepper, but that’s a personal choice. 8.0/10.

Pulled Pork: The pulled pork also has a light smoky flavor, and a very nice sweetness that compliments the pork. There’s just a hint of pepper to give it a little bite. This is good stuff. 8.5/10.

Pork Ribs: The ribs are still tender without being overcooked, have a nice crust, and a good meat to bone ratio. The only change from last time is that there seems to be even more of a pepper bite in the rub, which I love. Call it 9.25/10.

Venison/pork Sausage: They’ve dramatically improved their sausage preparation, as this is tender and juicy, with just the right amount of snap in the casing. But even more important is the flavor of this particular sausage. It starts with just the right amount of sweetness, and finishes with a little burn from the spices. This sausage can hold its own with any of the big boys. Or to put it another way, “Bambi died for a noble cause”. 10/10.

When you visit a well-established BBQ place, your first impression may very well be valid. But when you visit a place that just opened, it’s always a good idea to check them out again after a few months to see if things have changed. In the case of Big Cat, those changes have occurred, and definitely for the better. They improved on the three items I tried previously (even on the rib, which was already excellent), and the two new items I tried did well also. They are definitely establishing a place in the local BBQ scene.
Is it worth a visit? Yes.
Is it worth a trip? Yes. They scored in the exceptional range on 4 out of 5 items, and even the 5th (turkey) scored a solid score. They are definitely worth checking out.  


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Review of Field Store BBQ (Located in Irv's in Waller, TX)  

Field's Store BBQ site on Yelp

As I noted in the last review, Field Store BBQ and Waller County Line BBQ are one exit away from each other. Since I grabbed Waller CL BBQ on the way to Pearland, I checked out Field Store BBQ on the way back.
Field Store BBQ is set up a little different. Order your plate, pay at the register (same place you pay for gas) and they bring it to you.
(Scott's comment: "Do you want a fuel injector enhancer with your pork ribs?")
They offer a decent selection. I order a three meat plate (brisket, sausage, pork rib).

Sausage: I ordered original sausage. It’s got an excellent flavor and a good snap. It’s just a hair dry, but the flavor compensates. 8.0/10.

Pork rib: The rib has a very sweet flavor, and there is a very light smoke flavor, It’s not tough but is a touch dry. 5.0/10. 

Brisket: The brisket has a smoky flavor but not much else going for it. Again, it is a touch dry, when you bite into it, but otherwise is OK. 5.0/10.  

Is it worth a visit? I’d say yes. The sausage is definitely excellent, and the other items are adequate if not exceptional. 

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 Field Store BBQ if you want a more “genuine” BBQ experience (translation: some smoke flavor in the meat). Field Store is also less expensive. 

(Scott's comment: Sounds like a quintessential Texas side of the road place where you need gas, realize you're hungry, but want something more than a bag of chips from the gas station, and you've had your yearly dietary quota of Dairy Queen.) 

(Al's comment: I love the Yelp guy who sums up his priorities on the BBQ as: It's now called Irv's...They still have Chevron gas.)
(Al's 2nd comment: You ate gas station BBQ twice in one week?? You're braver than I thought.)