Barbeque is not a verb. Barbeque is not an event. Barbeque is not a cooking instrument.
Barbeque is a food group!
And if you ask me, or any Texan, the only real Barbeque is Texas Barbeque. In fact, Texans don’t think Barbeque exists outside our state’s broad borders. Texas Barbeque is brisket. Texas Barbeque is ribs. Texas Barbeque is sausage. This is Texas Barbeque at its finest!
At From Texas to Beyond, we ask the hard, life changing question: What makes Texas Barbeque great? What is the perfect experience? How do you combine tasty meat, robust sauce and complimentary sides in an authentic, fun and memorable atmosphere?
While Texans agree that Texas Barbeque is the best (or only) barbeque, all consensus goes out the window after that. There are many differences of opinions and hotly-debated topics when it comes to Barbeque. We will add our opinions to the mix.
To assist in this epic journey, may we introduce, How to Find a Good Pit, our visual representation of the grading scale we created.
As you can see, we’ve committed to trying a variety of different items at each Barbeque joint we visit. The items listed represent our “go-to” choices when we visit a new Barbeque pit. We hope to give a snapshot of each place visited using this rubric as a way to say, “Hey, check this place out if you enjoy a great pit Barbeque ambiance,” or “Avoid this place if you want a decent rib.” Each category is rated on a scale of one to five, five being the highest score. The number of shaded states indicate the score assigned.
The categories are shown above, but let’s dive into them a little deeper so you can know exactly what we look for in a great Texas Barbeque pit.
Atmosphere: Atmosphere is key. How does the place feel and smell? A great Barbeque restaurant should look like it is 100 years old, with smoke from the pits staining every surface in sight. Just to make sure we are on the same page, by pits, I do not mean ovens. I do not mean microwaves. I mean a hole dug in the ground, or an enclosure built of bricks, allowing the meats, seasonings, and smoke to have a private party! This style of cooking multiplies the flavors over long periods of time. Bonus points awarded to places that require you, the customer, to pass in front of or even order from these smoking sources of yummy goodness. Needless to say, a pit atmosphere is hard to mass-produce. The true Texas pit Barbeque atmosphere lends itself to independent, mom and pop restaurants and hole-in-the-walls. In addition to the pits, our ideal Barbeque restaurants are FUN. Texas beers, preferably on tap, should flow. Even more bonus points for dirt floors!
Brisket: In Texas, brisket is king. This hunk of beef, seasoned correctly and smoked for hours in a pit, should be tender to the fork. Eat it straight up, or between two slices of bread with onions and pickles. And Barbeque sauce! Not mustard, darn it! If you order brisket, and you are asked, “Lean or moist?” rest assured, you have found a great Barbeque pit! Moist means the opposite of lean, with fat. Fat equals tenderness and taste. If in doubt, try both!
Sausage: Delicious, juicy sausage. If the sausage looks processed, it probably is. I look for that home-ground consistency in great sausage. You should be able to take the link in your hands, snap it in two pieces, and release a flood of juices and flavor. Different varieties of sausage are acceptable, such as original or hot. No fake cheese! Great Texas Barbeque is 100% real.
Ribs: Ribs must fall off the bone to be considered great. I prefer a bit of a seasoned rub before smoking them for hours on end. Some restaurants serve both beef and pork ribs. We found only a small number of places have equally good beef and pork ribs. If you ask, “Should I order beef ribs or pork ribs,” you are on your way to a delicious meal. We normally ask the employees which ribs are the best. You know, what ribs do they eat? They won’t lead you astray. When in doubt, ask. And then listen. And then enjoy!
Sauce: What constitutes a great Barbeque sauce? This is the most controversial question in pit Barbeque. Some joints, with years of experience and stellar reputations, go crazy here. They insist that sauce is NOT required, and therefore do not provide any glorious sauce! Crazy, I know! They claim that sauce hides the true flavor of the meat underneath. Well, maybe this is not entirely crazy. However, I LOVE a good sauce.
I grade Barbeque sauces on four criteria: Color, Consistency, Smell and Taste. First, stare at the sauce. Texas Barbeque sauce MUST be red! The darker, the better. Don’t give me a darn mustard sauce…I asked for Barbeque sauce. Next, check out the consistency of the sauce. Great Barbeque sauce should NOT BE RUNNY! If I want to dip my rib, sausage link or French fry in your sauce, it should not run off my food and onto my pants! Next, waft the aroma of the sauce like your Chemistry teacher taught you. You should get a slight sting of the nostrils, picking up notes of pepper and spice. Smelling a great sauce will involuntarily make your mouth water! Finally, if it passes the previous criteria, taste a bit of the sauce by itself. Dab your finger in it, before you commit. It should be DELICIOUS! Unlink some purists, I think a delicious sauce can even be slightly sweet, and still pass the delicious test.
Sides: Sides are served on the side. They should not take away from the main reason people eat at these places, the meat. Serving to enhance the dining experience, the sides should not be found lacking. Potato salad, coleslaw, and beans are the staple sides. Potato salad is the only place for mustard around a Barbeque pit. There are countless other side options at many restaurants. This is the best place for creativity and originality. Try the bacon mac and cheese or the cheese stuffed jalapenos, wrapped in bacon. Or anything else with cheese and bacon. My suggestion, try one standard side with one non-traditional side. But remember, there is always meat!
Service: Barbeque should invoke memories of family. Therefore, the services should be good, but also allow you to make yourself at home and fend for yourself a bit. Overall, you should feel welcomed, not pampered. Stay awhile. Pull up a chair. Let’s chat. Oh yeah, and eat some delicious meat we prepared for you out back!
Required condiments for any meal: dill pickles, chopped onions and cheap white bread.
While we focused on the majors above, there are other acceptable items that may be offered at some restaurants. These things are not the highlights, but can include pork chops, chopped baked potatoes, and even flour or corn tortillas. This is the home of Tex-Mex food after all. Oh yeah, and cobbler. Any type of fruit cobbler is always welcome! Preferably topped with Blue Bell ice cream.
One final disclaimer: From Texas to Beyond realizes that there is a good chance that other states, besides Texas, may have good barbeque. We will give your state’s barbeque a fair shake. Give us your best! However, when we try these foods, we will review non-Texas Barbeque as a separate genre, because it is!
So, there you have it. Our take on Texas Barbeque and how we’ll report it all back to you. What do you consider when you go to a Barbeque restaurant?