Review of Miller's Smokehouse (Belton, TX)
Scott and I headed out to Belton today to check out Miller’s Smokehouse. We’d gotten a sample of them at the TMBBQ Festival back in September and remembered them as pretty good (and the Pumpkin Spice sausage was definitely interesting!), so we wanted to give them a more complete tasting.
Miller’s is in downtown Belton on Penelope. It’s a small location with a “hole in the wall” feel (the place looks smaller than it actually is). Scott noted that they play real country music (Scott's Comment: None of this faux-country Florida Georgia Line sounding stuff), and it’s definitely a rustic country interior. He also notes that it has the advantage of being opposite the normal flow of Austin traffic. My comment as we hit our third slowdown in five minutes on the way back home: “It’s 35. There is no such thing as normal traffic flow!”.
(Scott: Why do I let you drive?)
They offer quite a variety of options, and have pricing by the ¼, ½, and full pound. Even better, unlike most places that show you pricing options like that, their prices are consistent (so the price for ¼ pound of ribs IS ¼ the price of a full pound of ribs). A lot of places that break down prices for smaller portions charge proportionally more for the smaller servings. It’s style is order at the register and they will bring to your table. I get ¼ pound each moist brisket, pulled pork, turkey, chicken (dark meat), pork ribs, hot link sausage, and original sausage. Scott gets ¼ pound each pulled pork, jalapeno cheddar sausage, lean brisket, and pork ribs. (We’ll share turkey, chicken, and brisket). They also brought a small sampling of burnt ends for us to nibble on while we waited.
Turkey: The turkey is tender and has a nice cut (not too thick or thin). It is nice and moist, has a good flavor, and there’s a light pepper flavor in the rub. Scott and I both give it an 8.0/10.
Chicken: The chicken is tender and juicy. There’s a nice smoke flavor, as well as a stronger pepper flavor than the turkey. Scott gives it 8.0/10, and I give it 8.5/10.
Pulled Pork: A common problem with pulled pork is being too greasy. This isn’t. It’s nice and moist, and has a solid smoky flavor with a touch of sweetness. Scott gives it 8.0/10, and I give it 8.5/10.
Original Sausage: The original sausage has a crisp snap in the casing, and is tender and juicy. There’s a nice pepper flavor and some very mild notes of garlic. I give it 8.5/10.
Hot Link Sausage: I found this interesting, in that the flavor was remarkably similar to the original except for the heat kick at the end. I picked up the same basic flavor notes on the first bite, then a few seconds later picked up a nice touch of heat as well. I give it 8.5/10.
Jalapeno Cheddar Sausage: Scott: Getting a sliced sausage link does give you the opportunity to check out how the sausage is constructed, and see how the jalapeno and cheese are distributed. As with Tom's original sausage, good snap to the casing, it's nicely packed so it doesn't look crumbly. I didn't notice the heat until the second bite and then it elevated and wafted wonderfully. Not overpowering, but a nice heat, and the cheese balances well to keep the jalapeno from taking over. 8.5.
Brisket: The brisket had a nice bark and a wonderful smoky flavor. Although we had moist and lean, both were nice and moist (even the lean) and both were tender (the moist more than the lean, but even that was pretty tender). There were some excellent pepper notes in the rub. And the burnt ends were fantastic. Scott and I both give the brisket (both moist AND lean) 8.5/10.
Pork Ribs: The pork ribs have a nice crust and are tender without being overdone. There’s some nice pepper and smoke flavor, but also a sweetness and a hint of fruit that makes us think they use molasses as part of their rub? (See below). The flavor is all the way to the bone. Scott and I both give them 8.5/10.
So what do we think of Miller’s? Well, staff there were knowledgeable and friendly, and willing to answer our questions. *When we asked about the ribs we learned that they give them a baste in their in-house BBQ sauce, which explains both the molasses and the hint of fruit (tomato). We also noticed them spending time talking with other customers, so it wasn’t just us.
I was trying to come up with a good analogy for Miller’s, and I think I have (Scott will appreciate this). They’re like the San Antonio Spurs. Most basketball teams try and get 1-2 players seen as “the best”, and then the rest of the team is just OK. The Spurs may not have the absolute best player in any given position (yes, I know about Kawhi Leonard, Scott. It’s a metaphor. Work with me). But they have “damn excellent players” for all positions (and indeed, all 15 players). That allows them to put together consistently high performing team.
Scott: He has seen the light A quality Spurs basketball reference!
(Al's comment: Thanks, Scott - I just spent the last hour nerd-reading through Memory Alpha's wiki pages.)
Miller’s is kind of like that. They may not be the absolute best at any one item (and remember once you start getting into exceptional range you are really talking as much about taste preference as anything else), but they’ve put together an entire menu (8 different items that we tried) that is exceptional across the board. And not many places actually do this to that level. Either they don’t have that many items, or 2-3 are exceptional and the rest are good, but not great. So kudos to them for such a well-rounded excellent menu.
Is it worth a visit? Absolutely.
Is it worth a trip? Again, absolutely!
-Tom & Scott