Thursday, January 31, 2013

Balderas Grocery & Bar-B-Que

WAELDER: Balderas Grocery & Bar-B-Que
419 W Us Highway 90
Waelder, TX 78959
Open M-Sat 6:30am - 9pm

Update: This joint is CLOSED. It will open on 04/15/13 as Crossvine Market & Bar-B-Que.

2012: I read about this joint on another blog and it really got my hopes up. Even if the old Eureste's had changed hands, we were hoping for some well smoked meats at the new version called Waelder Grocery. When we pulled up to the parking space along the street we noticed that it had changed hands again, and the new name was Baldera's Grocery. A guy working the register motioned towards the back of the store when we asked about the barbecue. Through a couple of doors and past a make-shift dining area we found the pit room. The old brick pit looked well worn which kept hopes high, but it took a few minutes before someone showed up to get our order.

The brisket was so over cooked that it came apart in chunks. A bit of mashed potatoes and gravy would have been more appropriate accompaniments than barbecue sauce. It was just sad roast beef. Pork ribs were so dry that edges were frayed as they were cut from the rack. They had been wrapped up tight for some time, so what once was bark was now wet and gummy. The only saving grace was a well spiced sausage with some kick from garlic and spices along with some unexpected herbal notes. It had good smoke, but like everything else had dried out considerably. It might be the same building and the same pit, but it didn't seem like this joint was up to the level of the other joints that have called this building home.

Rating ** 

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

C&J Barbeque

4304 Harvey Rd.
College Station, TX 77845
Open M-Thur 10:30-8:30, F-Sat 10:30-9, Sun 11-3

C&J is a mini-chain around the Bryan/College Station area that gets plenty of love from the locals. I'd been told the best brisket in town could be found here, so I had to check it out. Service was in the classic cafeteria style with meats being cut on a back counter that was still in view. That allowed me to get some good lean slices and a few fatty chunks as well.

The lean brisket had plenty going for it. The slices looked great with a good crust and thick smokering. They were moist, nicely tender, and somehow they were almost flavorless. It just tasted like a mass of wet, unseasoned beef. The fatty chunks had at least a hint of smoke, but the fat was poorly rendered and still chewy. At least the sides of loaded mashed potatoes and a vinegar-heavy slaw were interesting.

The ribs were a step up. They also looked great, and this time the seasoning came through. A nice bark and tender meat beneath made for a great texture, but the smoke was just too hard to discern. I guess they must rely too much on the gas assist in that gas smoker. A few more sticks of wood could have made this some above average barbecue.

Rating **

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Blue Moon BBQ

EDGE: Blue Moon BBQ
18746 E. OSR
Hearne, TX 77859
Open W 11-4, Thur-Sun 11-7

To call this an out-of-the-way joint would be an understatement. It's address is in Hearne which isn't exactly close, and the closest town is the unincorporated Edge, Texas whose cemetery has a higher population than the town. Blue Moon's owner Rick Moon said his family immigrated to this area a few generations back, so he couldn't think of a better place to open this joint when he moved back from Houston five years ago.

I started with a bacon wrapped jalapeno stuffed with cream cheese and brisket. The bacon was crisp, the pepper tender, and the filling adequately meaty. I should have ordered more than one.

Slices from the brisket flat were very dry, and the pitmaster explained that he was trying to catch up and get his briskets done by cranking up the heat. He let them go a little long, then admitted he didn't have time to let it rest before slicing it. I guess the lunch service around here is more brisk than I assumed. The brisket had good smoke, as did the pork loin which remained a lot more moist. The well seasoned cut had a nice ring of rendered fat around the edges and an exemplary smokering. Baby back ribs had a good bark along with a heavy rub. The subtle sweetness didn't overpower the smoke, and the meat came cleanly from the bone. These were some great ribs.

One of the oddest sides I've seen is on this menu. Onions, tomatoes and chopped brisket are sauteed together in a skillet then cornbread batter is poured in for a kicked up skillet cornbread. To serve it they cut a wedge, cover it in cheese and give it a quick zap to melt the cheese. It wasn't as bad as it looked, but it was also more unique than good.

Back in the pitroom I got to check out the huge steel barrel smoker that was still putting off some post oak smoke. A fresh brisket was on the cutting board and Rick cut off a couple slices from the fatty end. It was far superior to the lean stuff I got with my meal and showed just what their high end was. I know the profit margins are low, but Blue Moon would do themselves a favor to turn some of those bad briskets into chopped beef and serve the good ones that I know they have in the back.

Rating ***  

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Suds and Smoke from Foodways Texas

You should really join Foodways Texas and a line-up of stellar local chefs for plenty of smoked meats and beer. Deep Ellum Brewery is hosting, Central Market is providing the sides and the smoked meat will be prepared by some familiar names. Check out the flyer and get your tickets here.

I'll see you there!

- BBQ Snob

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Chuy’s BBQ

EDEN: Chuy's BBQ
606 W. Broadway
Eden, TX 76837
Open W-M 8-8

I'll spare you all the details here. Chuy owns the joint and he's a past champion at the goat cook off in Brady. He doesn't normally do goat for the restaurant because of its high cost, but if he can truly do a mean smoked goat then he should stick with it.

Dry brisket was bad and the mushy ribs were worse. If I'd just stuck with the sausage and sides it would've been a good meal. A scoop of potato salad was so rich with egg it tasted deviled in a good way. The beans had some good spice and a piece of freshly baked bread was a cross between a butter biscuit and a dinner roll. Chuy gets the sausage raw from a meat market in San Angelo and smokes it well. The meat has great spice and it gets plenty of good smoke with a stout casing. So, when you stop at Chuy's get some sausage and hope for some cabrito on the pit because the brisket and ribs were pretty hopeless.

Rating **

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Packsaddle Bar-B-Q

SAN ANGELO: Packsaddle Bar-B-Q
6007 Knickerbocker Rd.
San Angelo, TX 76904
Open W-M 11-9

With just the menu in hand, I was impressed. A surf-and-turf platter featured sliced brisket and fried catfish, there were meats aplenty and fresh cut fries. It was all sounding like the day in San Angelo might end on a high note, then the food arrived.

The catfish looked great and had a good crisp batter, but the fish needed a good rinse to get rid of the overly earthy flavor. The fries were fine once a generous sprinkling of salt was added. The thick slices of dry brisket were beyond help. A dark crust was plenty smoky, but there wasn't much else to like about it. All of the fat was trimmed off, the meat was cut thick making the tough texture even harder to chew, and it lacked seasoning.

Pulled pork was truly 'pulled' into large chunks, but the flavors were just of roast pork rather than smoked meat. A few slices of deli turkey came on the recommendation of the server. It's hard to fathom what folks find appealing with warmed over lunch meat, but I wasn't won over. The sausage at least had some good flavor and a pleasant snap.

I'm usually a fan of homemade onions rings, but so much flour had been dredged onto this hovel of onions that every bite came with a puff of raw flour.

The spare ribs weren't about to save this meal. A good bark, rosy meat and a a generous amount of meat made them look promising, but it took just a bite to know that they needed a few more hours on the smoker to render out the thick fat and tenderize the tough meat. The meat selection may have been generous, but I'd have rather had one item that was done really well.

Rating **

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bubba’s Smokehouse

SAN ANGELO: Bubba's Smokehouse
1801 Ben Ficklin Rd.
San Angelo, TX 76903
Open M-Sat 10:30-8

There wasn't much that stood out here at Bubba's. Rarely do I have a meal that is so thoroughly mediocre. There's usually a high point and/or a very low one with one of the items, but these were all equally inoffensive and forgettable.

The ribs were well cooked, but the cumin-heavy glaze overpowered any of the smoke that may have existed. The jalapeno sausage had only a superficial cayenne heat and nothing more. Brisket wasn't so much slices as pulled into chunks. The meat was overly salty with little smoke. It would have been good with some gravy and mashed potatoes. Green beans from a can, grocery store potato salad and an overly sweet commercial sauce did little to bring it home.

Rating **

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Smokehouse Bar-B-Que

SAN ANGELO: Smokehouse Bar-B-Que
2302 West Beauregard Ave.
San Angelo, TX 76901
Open M-Sat 11-7

The signage and building made it obvious that this place had been around a while. The interior is divided into a lower portion for the dining and you've got to take a few steps up to the cafeteria-style ordering line. An older man started to trim the fat from the whole brisket for my order and I quickly asked him to leave it. It took a few more reminders before I got some good crusty slices, but the fat was long gone in the trash.

The menu featured "German" sausage which turned out to be a warmed-over commercial kielbasa. The pork ribs were well cooked, but needed more smoke. This was surprising given that they smoke with mesquite which usually provides a good punch, but the meat tasted more like a well seasoned roast pork. The rack of ribs got a bath in the thin sauce before slicing which didn't help with saving the bark which was missing. The brisket got all the smoke that was missing from the ribs. The crust was well formed, but the meat had dried out a bit and I didn't get any of that good looking fat.

Out back they had a smoker of their own design. I've seen plenty of commercially made rotisserie smokers in my travels, but there aren't many homemade ones. This one was definitely homemade, and didn't use a bit of gas to keep the mesquite fire going. If they'd only let the mesquite work its magic instead of over-trimming the beef and letting the pork braise in sauce, they'd have some great barbecue.

Rating **

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Highland Grocery

SAN ANGELO: Highland Grocery
1001 South Chadbourne St.
San Angelo, TX 76903

We noticed Highland Grocery across the street from a donut shop while we were eating breakfast. The letters B.B.Q. on the side of the building secured its place in the day's itinerary. We came back for an early lunch and the interior was that of a convenience store with a barbecue counter in the corner. Brisket and hot links sat under a warmer, and the hot links were most definitely of the commercial variety, so we skipped them.

Out at the car I unwrapped the sliced brisket sandwich to find some slices that looked pretty good. There was a black crust and a deep smokering, but the smoky flavor was missing. A little seasoning would have helped bring out some barbecue flavor, but they just ended up tasting like a decent slice of roast beef. With a good sauce and a warm buttered bun, it would have been a good sandwich, but alas they served it on a cold bun with a boring sauce. I left hoping I would have tasted more than solid potential.

Rating **

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Sam’s Bar-B-Que (Odessa)

ODESSA: Sam's Bar-B-Que
500 S Dixie Blvd
Odessa, TX 79761
Open M-Sat 11-9

This joint is hard to find if you don't know what you're looking for. Inside a convenience store, toward the back and past the empty produce display case that now serves as a make-shift TV stand, there is a barbecue counter. I ordered a combo of the Texas trinity with a few sides, but as I was waiting at the counter for the order I noticed the dutch oven full of hot grease on the stove top back in the kitchen where a lady was frying chicken. It had a been a few days of straight smoked meat, so I needed a few pieces of that chicken.

The sausage had great flavor. The salt was heavy along with some herbs, and there was just enough fat to keep it plenty moist. The ribs and brisket both tasted like yesterday's meat. The ribs were tough and undercooked, but with great mesquite flavor from the coals they were cooked over. The brisket had the same great wood flavor, but really needed some seasoning. The meat had a beautiful crust and smokering, but the meat was just tough. A side of beans was fine, but the smooth, homemade potato salad was great.

I was in serious need of some vegetables so I snagged some steamed okra and cabbage along with the dark meat chicken. I appreciated the simplicity of each item that really allowed the flavor of the base ingredient to shine, but they all benefited greatly from a sprinkle of the salt shaker on the table. The chicken was crisp and juicy - fried perfectly. It too needed a bit of the salt, but that was an easy fix.

This is the Odessa location of the previously reviewed Sam's in Midland. I've recently gotten some negative comments from folks who visited the Midland location based on my positive review. My feeling when I was there was that I may have gotten them on a very good day, and maybe what I got at the Odessa location was more on par with the norm at Sam's. Either way it was still good for West Texas, if not great overall.

Rating ***

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Pappy’s Bar-B-Q

MONAHANS: Pappy's Bar-B-Q
1901 South Stockton Ave.
Monahans, TX 79756
Open M-Sat 11-8

If it's been a long day of poor quality smoked meat, then I start ordering dessert. If the meat is bad, then the sweet stuff is usually pretty good. I watched the knife man cut the brisket and it looked tough and springy, so I added a slice of chocolate cake to the order.

Beans were unseasoned and the slaw was a wet mess. A hot link was little more than a spicy hot dog. Brisket had a nice looking crust, but the meat had no flavor outside of the crust, and it was dry to boot. The ribs also had a nice bark, but the only flavor was salt. They had not smoke and were also tough. At least we had the chocolate cake, but one bite into the dry cake and I knew it came from a nearby grocery store. They couldn't even redeem themselves with the dessert.

Rating *

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The Rose Bar-B-Que

ODESSA: The Rose Bar-B-Que
4740 West University Blvd.
Odessa, TX 79764
M-Sat 11-8

Out on the edge of West Odessa is this humble building clad in particle board. Once inside there's an ordering window and a few tables. When the order came out to the three of us, the server was confused why three guys were getting just one plate. We assured her that we were fine, but she came back out with some fried catfish, and extra basket of fries and 'German' potato salad on the house. I guess she thought we needed the food.

What they called 'German' potato salad was whipped potatoes with bacon, cheese, cream and green onion. It wasn't German at all, but by any name it was good. Potatoes seemed to be their forte with the hot and crisp fresh-cut fries. The catfish was also nice, but the rest of the meats weren't great.

They were all wrong on the provenance of their 'German' sausage as well. It was likely a cheap Hillshire Farm link and tasted of nothing but grease and salt. The rib was oversmoked and overcooked. The meat that disintegrated off the bone tasted of creosote from the mesquite smoke. The sliced brisket was bland and tough, and not even the sauce helped. A dessert of banana pudding was 1/3 pudding and 2/3 cool whip with a few banana chunks thrown in. It was okay on its own, but served much better as a dipping sauce for the hot salted fries. The sweet and salty worked great together and led to an empty basket of fries by the time we left. Meanwhile, the plate of ribs, brisket and sausage remained mostly full.

Rating **

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Jack Jordan’s Bar-B-Q

ODESSA: Jack Jordan's Bar-B-Q
2631 North County Road W.
Odessa, TX 79763
Open M-Sat 11-9

It was cold and raining, so we opted for the drive-thru here. It didn't look like we'd miss much of the character of this strip center barbecue joint either way.

It took only a few bites to realize that this was sub-standard barbecue. The smokeless brisket was poorly seasoned. The slices were little more than chewy pot roast. Thankfully the big spare ribs had some sauce, because the meat was so dry that it was fraying and the crust was visibly cracked. This wasn't even good barbecue for a drive-thru window.

Rating *

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Rockin’ Q Smokehouse

ODESSA: Rockin' Q Smokehouse
3812 Penbrook St
Odessa, TX 79762
Open M-Sat 10:30-9, Sun 10:30-3

With it's cheery teenagers running the registers, the overtly spotless dining room and the order numbers being called out loudly, this seemed more like a fast-casual concept than a barbecue joint. The menu was also all about crowd-pleasing flavors.

Instead of allowing the smoke of the ribs to shine through, a sweet rub provided the most forward flavor. The meat itself was well cooked, but would have really shined with just salt and pepper. Lean slices of brisket were over-trimmed, a bit dry with barely a hint of smokiness despite its good looking black crust.

The pulled chicken would have been great if they'd stopped sort of drenching it in the sweet sauce. The skin-free meat had great smokiness and was moister than expected for white meat. The commercial sausage was decent, but nothing special. This was certainly a popular place, and would do in a pinch, but it's not barbecue worth traveling for.

Rating **

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Johnny’s Bar-B-Q

MIDLAND: Johnny's Bar-B-Q
316 North Big Spring St.
Midland, TX 79701
Open M-Thur 11-7, F-Sat 11-7:30

The smoke was thick coming out of the Oyler smoker in the back of this joint, and the neon was bright over the door as we entered. Toward the back of the room was a long cafeteria style counter with the meats on display, but the bright red heat lamps did little to make it look appetizing. Watching the knife man cut the brisket reminded me of the carving station at a hotel banquet. Until I got my tray and headed over to a booth in the dining room, I had no idea what the meat really looked like.

The stringy dryness of the ribs was startling. These long thin spare ribs had dry meat and a drier crust covered in salt. There wasn't much to like. A fatty commercial sausage had been split open and warmed on the flat top. Chewy brisket with large white orbs of unrendered fat didn't make for a pleasant meat finale. Not even the sauce could help this stuff.

Rating *

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KD’s Bar-B-Q

3109 Garden City Hwy
Midland, TX 79701
Open Tue-Thur 11-8, F-Sat 11-9

Walking up the ramp into the main entrance at KD's you're greeted by a large black pit with a huge metal lid. Meats and some of the hot sides are on display under that lid much like the way the menu is displayed at Cooper's and Hard 8. Overall, the meat looked great despite the time of day a few hours after noon and a pleasant surprise of smoked corn and simple smoked jalapenos made for a good looking tray of food.

The corn that looked so promising hadn't a whiff of smoke. The jalapenos were much better, but with all the seeds intact they packed a wallop on the palate. The commercial jalapeno sausage at least had good snap and decent smoke from the mesquite. Jet black brisket looked like it might be some exemplary stuff, but the meat had suffered considerably from being wrapped and stored all day. All the smoke was there, but the spongy meat had gotten overcooked and soggy. The well rendered fat and nice smokering makes me think this might have been great about five hours earlier. The ribs had the opposite problem in that they were a bit undercooked. I guess it's understandable with these giant spare ribs, but at least the meat had good smoke and the generous seasoning of salt and pepper make for some pretty good pork. If I go back again, I'll make sure it's just before the lunch rush.

Rating ***

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Hog Heaven B-B-Q

BIG SPRING: Hog Heaven B-B-Q
4009 Old State Highway 80 
Big Spring, TX 79720
Open M-Sat 11-8

The guy behind the counter here didn't know much about what wood they used or how they smoked the meats, and the girl behind the cash register wasn't much help either. At least he knew what I meant when I asked for both fatty and lean brisket. His preference for sauce was the jalapeno cheese, and he confirmed that it came from a Sysco truck.

That brisket wasn't half bad. A fatty slice had well rendered fat, a nice crust with good smokiness. A little more salt and pepper would have helped tremendously. The lean slice was a bit tough, but above average. Pork ribs were ridiculously sweet, but at least well cooked. That jalapeno sausage was way to salty with loads of precessed cheese. A complimentary mini-loaf of corn bread was a nice touch, but the watery beans were bland. One item they need to eliminate altogether are the 'armadillo eggs'. These bacon wrapped smoked jalapenos were smoked over a smoldering fire with poor quality smoke and loads of it. The flavor was as if they'd been marinated in a used ashtray. It's odd that brisket would shine through on an otherwise mediocre menu. Maybe I just got lucky.

Rating **

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Big John’s Feedlot B-B-Que

BIG SPRING: Big John's Feedlot B-B-Que
802 West 3rd St.
Big Spring, TX 79720
Open M-F 11-8

"Welcome to BS!" was the loud greeting from a lone diner in the corner after we had told the owners that this was our first visit to Big Spring. We had just placed our order at the counter then found a table next to the window where a mural depicted Big John with a cleaver in one hand and dragging a cow with other. The meal that arrived looked good on the blue plate with the checkered table cloth as a background, but some of it looked better than it tasted.

The brisket was smoky with a good seasoning, but it was also very tough. We learned from the pit man that he pulls the briskets form the smoker once they hit 180 degrees on a thermometer. This is about 10 degrees cooler than the target for most pitmasters because the collagen inside the meat hasn't yet had time to render out and help tenderize the beef. Knowing this made it easy to figure out why the slices were so tough. The ribs were about the same. The meat had great flavor, but it took some real effort to get some meat torn from the bone. Dry slices of pork loin were a disappointment, but the sausage made up for it.

At Big John's they order their sausage from Jackson Brothers Meat in Post just and hour and a half away. After the sausage gets up to temp in the smoker they dunk the links into a hot vat of the captured brisket drippings for a final marination. This creates not only and excellent additional layer of flavor, but also provides a great snap to the casings. The sausages don't really have the chance to dry out, so it was no surprise that they were good and juicy. On the next visit I'd be happy to forget about the rest of the menu and just order a few links of sausage and keep it all to myself.

Rating **

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mesquite Bean Bar-B-Q

MERKEL: Mesquite Bean Bar-B-Q
610 Kent St. 
Merkel, TX 79536
Open M-F 8-7, Sat 8-2

I noticed this tiny joint from the Interstate a while back and added it to the list in hopes that the mesquite bean, rather than just the wood, was somehow featured on the menu. Owner Urban Bright says the name came from one of his first jobs where he would get paid a few dollars for every hundred pound bag of mesquite beans that he could collect from a nearby ranch. Those beans weigh almost nothing, so it took a long time to earn those few dollars. Urban does smoke with mesquite, but there's no mesquite beans on the menu, not even mesquite bean jelly. He isn't afraid to warn you from ordering a few things on his menu. He actually steered me away from the barbecue and towards a pork guisado taco, and flat out told me I didn't really want the store-bought peach cobbler. I heeded his advice on dessert, but ordering the barbecue was inevitable.

That pork taco wasn't bad at all, but the meat had only been stewed rather than smoked. I guess there's only so much room in the smoker.

No ribs were available on this day, so we opted for the brisket, ham and sausage. The slices of sausage were just re-warmed links of cheap commercial sausage, and the ham was little more than deli ham with just a whiff of additional smoke. The brisket was most certainly from the day before, since we learned back in the pit room that part of the brisket preparation process is a generous layer of plastic wrap and an overnight stay in the cooler. Not surprisingly the meat was dry, but it at least had some well rendered fat and smokiness to it. It's not often that day old brisket is the best meat on the menu, but it's a little easier when it's up against precooked grocery store meats.

Rating *

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Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.