I am very excited about this week’s participant in ‘My Favorite BBQ Joints’. It is Albert Nurick, writer of the incredibly popular (and very well done) Houston food blog H Town Chow Down which is described as “written by a small group foodies who live in the Houston area, and enjoy sharing their experiences, both good and bad. We feature a mix of news, rumors, opinion, and reviews, and hope that our work is something that you enjoy.” I check it out at least every other day and it takes all my energy not to get on a plane and fly out to to Houston after reading to try the insane food represented. He is also a partner in the Binetix web development firm.
Picking my favorite BBQ joints is a tough task. I’ve lived in Texas almost all my life, and I’ve been sampling BBQ ever since my dad first took me to Massey’s on Bissonnet in Houston and showed me what BBQ was all about. Sadly, Massey’s is long gone, but there are some great BBQ places that always deliver.
For the past decade I’ve lived in Houston, but when I’m craving BBQ, I’m drawn back to the holy land, Central Texas. I’ve been to Memphis, Nashville, Kansas City, and all over Texas, but I’ve found no BBQ anywhere that beats the best places in the heart of Texas.
An out-of-the-ordinary favorite of mine is Hinze’s BBQ in Wharton, Texas. Hinze’s is on the road from Houston to Corpus Christi, and it’s a must-stop location for one thing: Sublime chopped beef sandwiches. Eating chopped beef requires you to put your trust in the pitmaster, and this trust is rewarded at Hinze’s. The beef is freshly chopped brisket, mixed with their slightly tart, moderately spicy sauce. Served on an fluffy bun, the result is the most intensely flavorful chopped beef sandwich I’ve run across. Chopped beef is often the poor stepchild of BBQ, but not at Hinze’s.
For me, the atmosphere of the place is an important part of the BBQ experience – I’ve rarely found memorable or even good ‘Q at a slick, upscale place. The exception to the rule is Austin’s County Line on the Lake, serving some very good mass-produced BBQ in an upscale, rustic setting. This has been a go-to place for UT students and their visiting parents for years, and for good reason. The beef ribs are huge and fall-off-the-bone tender, the pork ribs are sauced with a special pork-only sauce that’s sweet but not cloying, and the homemade bread is the only side you’ll need.
Photo of County Line courtesy of Man Up: Tales of Texas BBQ
Another favorite of mine is the Salt Lick, in Driftwood, Texas. A pleasant half-hour drive from downtown Austin, you’ll venture through rough Hill Country scrub over rolling hills to a little bit of heaven. Don’t be in a rush – waits of an hour aren’t uncommon, but you can pass the time with your own adult beverages – bring a cooler. When it’s your turn to enter, follow your nose to the old swinging doors. Much larger than you’d expect, entering the Salt Lick you’ll walk beside the open pits, and the aroma of the smoking meats will ready you for the feast to come. I always order family style here; that lets you sample all of the hits: Excellent pork ribs, spicy sausage, and the highly regarded wet brisket. The Salt Lick is the essence of Central Texas: Very good BBQ, a gorgeous park-like setting, and winding roads that go on forever.
Photo of Salt Lick BBQ courtesy of City-data.com
I’ve left my favorite for last: City Market in Luling, Texas. (Not to be confused with Luling City Market in Houston, which is a pale shadow of the restaurant whose name they’re imitating.) Enter into this five decades old mecca of BBQ, and proceed right to the Holy of Holies: The pit room at the back of the place, dark, stained with smoke, and easily 20 degrees hotter than the main restaurant. Here you’ll come face to face with the true high priests of BBQ – ask them for your favorite indulgence, but never pass on the best pork ribs on the planet. They’re tender, rubbed with a mixture that must have been the reward for some deal with the devil. The rub is perfect; tangy without being overpowering, sweet and savory, intertwining with the lush flavor of the smoked pork. There is a thin, tangy sauce available, but try the ribs first without it – like all great ‘Q, the meat stands alone with no need for sauce. I’ve been known to time my trips from Houston to San Antonio around City Market’s hours – they’re closed on Sunday.
Photo of City Market in Luling courtesy of Roadfood.com