One of the great things about full-day barbecue tours is the time it allows for important, spirited debates about important issues.

Some of the topics we’ve addressed: Is it ever worth making a special stop at a joint that advertises on a highway billboard? (No.) Should you make an impromptu stop at a place that has “Soulman” in its name? (Probably not. They’re trying too hard.) Can “great” sausage ever truly compare to “great” brisket? (No. We need a new grading system for sausage.)

On our East Texas tour last weekend, we got into a new hot topic.

“Someone needs to call out Texas Monthly on its Top 50 BBQ joints” one Posse member said as we were driving back to Dallas after eating at five places. Four of them were Texas Monthly Top 50 picks in 2008, the last rankings. Two cooked with wood (Stanley’s in Tyler and Baby J’s in Palestine) and two with gas (Stacy’s in Jacksonville and Cripple Creek in Athens).

To us, there was no comparison. In taste, the guys with the gas-fired smokers didn’t come close to the guys using all wood.

“They should have separate lists,” someone said of Texas Monthly.

“They shouldn’t include the gas guys,” another said.

“They should at least tell you when the place uses gas,” another said. “What does it take to walk to the back of the joint and check out the pit?”

None of the criticisms were uttered lightly. We consider Texas Monthly’s once-every-five-years ranking the bible of Texas barbecue. And, we love going to Lambert’s in Austin. We just don’t consider it a true BBQ place.

So, Texas Monthly, consider yourself called out.

Photos by Chris Wilkins & Jeff Haynes

Leave a comment



Anonymous

7 years ago

This could not of been said better! Come on Texas Monthly. Most people trust your list of BBQ joints, it seems like your list should definitely separate out the true wood smoked BBQ joints from the joints that use gas-fired (main fuel source)or electric fired (main fuel source) machines they call BBQ pits that do not cook their meats with wood as the main fuel source. Identify the BBQ joints that place a big stack of wood out front but never actually use it to cook with. For the most part these gas fired automatic machines scantly flavor the meat at best, like a lite spray of smoke perfume. These are the places that put the liquid smoke in their BBQ sauce as well. This outrages many knowledgeable BBQ eaters. Every wonder why the BBQ you eat doesn't taste like it was smoked? It seems fraudulent for a BBQ joint to imply their meats are slow smoked over wood when they actually cook them on a gas pit that only actually can handle up to 3 logs of wood during a cooking stint of 12-18 hours. I have been eating BBQ (not to be confused with grilled meats) for at least 35 years. There is nothing worse than trying a BBQ joint and spending $10 +/- and ending up with brisket without a real smoked taste that has been baked in a gas oven with 2-3 logs of wood that's been call a "pit". Do the people a favor and authenticate your BBQ joint list by letting us know which joints use a real wood fired pits to smoke their meats ……..

Jacob

7 years ago

You need to re-check the article, it does correctly point out how the BBQ is cooked for each place. On a similar note, one of my favorites in Texas, TC Ponderosa, uses gas… It is still good, but I understand and agree that wood is just better. I typically just get ham and turkey there, while other BBQ joints I always get brisket.

NCAAFBALLROX

7 years ago

Jacob, it doesn't specify how the meat is done for EVERY entry in the list & even then, it doesn't always state if it's 100% wood or gas with a bit of wood.

Anonymous

7 years ago

First, In the entire state there are far more than 50 places for BBQ, we know that. For arugument sake, any one could be better than the next dependent upon location and traffic flow.
If it isn't cook with wood it isn't BBQ, Texas style. The Czechs and German's who originated it for it's preserving qualityies did not have gas, liquid smoke, little bits of "wood chips". It was wood and wood only, so too think anyone who actually knows what real Texas BBQ is off thier mark who would ever consider "corporate", multi-unit functioning entities with designed Tex-deco a place for BBQ.
It is found outside of cities, along a river or lake or "on the way". It doesn't sit in the middle of a parking lot with windows, it has a squeaky front screen door, with a big pile of wood outback you can see. You order at the counter and sit at a picnic table that has a few old carvings in it. You can hear the Mockingbirds outside as well as the occaisional dog barking around….
Find those places and you will have what you were looking for….

Anonymous

7 years ago

Let's not lose focus here. The Texas Monthly top 50 BBQ list holds itself out to name great Texas BBQ, right? So even if the Texas Monthly Top 50 Bbq list notes the type of pit being used (wood or gas) for each top 50 restaurant, big deal! Why on earth does Texas Monthly even include crappy BBQ places on it's top 50 list that serve terrible smokeless, flavorless "protein"!!!!

Anonymous

7 years ago

Jacob, you are missing the main point of The Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ List. Real Texas BBQ are meat products that are slow smoked at low temperatures over wood. This process historically never involved gas ovens, only wood fires. Jacob, go to Central Texas for a lesson to witness the process. Typically protein products that have been cooked using gas and electric as the primary heat sources are called roast, roast beef, pork roast, baked ham – NOT BBQ! Jacob, you should also read the definition in the Glossary on Daniel Vaughn's (Full Custom Gospel BBQ) web site, it says "Roast-Beefy – Brisket that hasn't been bathed in smoke, but rather tastes as if it was thrown in an oven like any hunk of roast beef. It might be good food, but it's not BBQ."

My suggestion Jacob to you if you want to your roast beef as you described above is to just purchase some lunch meats at the grocery store and smother them in your favorite BBQ sauce! But do the people a favor and just don't put Texas BBQ joints that serve gas baked proteins on a list that claims to be Texas's Top 50 BBQ. Sounds like paid for advertising. I've been regularly eating Texas BBQ for at least 45 years …

Anonymous

7 years ago

Jacob, here is YOUR review dated November 2009 on Yelp of the TC Ponderosa that you said uses gas, "….they do it for 18 hours….. with propane! Now I love King of the Hill as much as the next guy, but PROPANE, seriously? Propane is for lazy people and yankees. She mentioned they also use their own spice rub and that their grill is used so much it gets a good smoke going and the propane helps keep it consistent from brisket to brisket …".

Jason, come on propane smoked BBQ. Visit a Pulmonologist before your next visit …

Jacob

7 years ago

Anonymous- 5:13. Did you even read my posting? I was not trying to argue at all that gas is the best. I clearly stated that wood is better. I just made the comment that I like one place that uses gas (I will relent, I also enjoy Lambert's and Cripple Creek. although neither would be considered my favorite… which is City Meat Market in Giddings). I even said I do not get brisket there, just turkey and ham.

Just eat roast beef? And I sound like a paid advertisement? That is just offensive. I did not put gas joints on the list, my name is not Paul Burka or Jake Silverstein (although I guess we share a same first name, I assure you I am not either of those men who actually did put together the list).

I simply pointed out the fact that the actual article in the magazine points out if a place is gas or not. That was my whole point!

And you are mixing up another thing up. Gas bbq at all those places still use smoke (which makes it different then a roast). Daniel Vaughn was referring to places that don't use enough smoke for his definition of roast beefy. Texas BBQ is cooked by smoke, which while not near as good can be created by gas and charcoal in addition to wood.

I live in Austin. I have hung out and eaten BBQ with Daniel Vaughn (actually I won his Texas BBQ review contest back in Sept., plus I have another review posted on his site). I also write for another bbq blog. I have gotten up early and I have driven hours simply to eat BBQ and turn around.

I agree with you on smoke, how you jumped on me is beyond me. Maybe we should go get bbq in Austin (or giddings, or la grange, or anywhere else in central texas) some time. I'm sure I have been to a few places you haven't made it to yet, and it seems you have been to many I have not, so I would love to hear about more. Just don't jump on someone who was simply pointing out something that was in an article. Since my posting is not anonymous you are welcome to email me at my account if you want to meet up for brisket one day, I'll even pay.

Pat Sharpe

7 years ago

Hello, all. Since I am the person who heads up Texas Monthly's top-fifty list every five years, let me respond to a couple of questions. We do, in fact (as Jacob said, above), indicate whether each place uses wood or gas/electric, but it's in the form of a symbol (of flames or a commercial smoker) so a reader might not notice it immediately. This thread suggests we should put the description in words next time. Forty-one places on the list use wood and nine use gas or electric (one of those has a combo). Like all of you, I prefer wood-smoked barbecue (who in their right mind doesn't?). But if we had not considered 'cue done in a commercial smoker when we did the tasting in 2008, we would have left out these cities altogether: Austin, Crockett, Dickens, Harlingen, Jacksonville, Los Fresnos, Paris, Peadenville, and San Benito. No matter how much we might regret it, the barbecue world is moving rapidly in the direction of commercial smokers. When I participated in my first Texas Monthly barbecue round-up in 1997, there was probably not a commercial smoker in use except at the big chains. Now they are all over the place. We made the decision to judge the meat solely on the basis of taste, on the theory that there is more to smoking than fuel source (like keeping the temperature constant and quality of meat, to name just two). Was that a good or a bad decision? I'm curious to know what readers of Texas BBQ Posse think. We'll be doing the story again in two years, so there is time to mull it over. Pat Sharpe, executive editor and food writer, Texas Monthly

Marshall Cooper

5 years ago

Pat I agree with you. I have been cooking bbq on wood smokers in the backyard and at comps for 30+ years. I now realize there are many bbq joints that use commercial smokers that do & don't know how to properly use them to create good bbq. The same holds true for wood fired pits. There are many that understand the smoking process and running fires, but unfortunately there are many that are newbies and are clueless. Knowing how to run a proper fire is as important as reading the meats. Just because bbq is cooked on a wood pit doesn't authenticate it to the elite. There are many bbq joints using wood that blow dirty creosote laden smoke on meats with sweet rubs to mask the bitterness and call it bbq. That bbq is for smoke hungry eaters that probably use catsup on a prime cut of meat. Also, bbq bloggers should be blogged as to their cook skills and culinary skills to disclose their expertise level to avoid misleading eaters. Marshall Cooper

Anonymous

7 years ago

Ok Jacob, however Texas BBQ has been a passion of mine for 45+ years. BBQ cooked with gas as it's chief fuel source is not the same quality product when cooked with 100% hard wood. The flavor of protein off of a gas fueled pit does not come close to penetrating the meat as well. It just puts a kiss of smoke on the meat depending on how well it's executed by the employee on duty (not pit-master). And just because a gas fueled pit uses between 1-3 logs over a 12-20 hour period, it just doesn't qualify the product to be called out as slow wood smoked pit BBQ. The gassers can produce terrible smells that layer onto the product, save the resturant money on the pit installation, save on the cost of cooking wood, reduce shrinkage and boosts the production, all scarifycing the true definition of legendary BBQ as you are familiar with in Central Texas my friend …

Michael Lindenberger

7 years ago

My two cents' worth: Texas Monthly's list of top 50 BBQ joints in Texas should be populated by nothing other than the top 50 joints. If using wood only makes the BBQ better, than it would stand to reason that the vast majority of the top 50 would be wood-fired joints.

But if 9 (or two or six or 40) out of the top 50, judging on taste alone, are cooked using gas or commercial smokers, then they should be on the list, too.

Great wood-smoked barbecue needn't be bailed out by some kind of protectionist racket — it should win out because it makes the best meat. Period.

Anonymous

7 years ago

Wow. What does this guy mean "protectionistic racket"?

Marshall Cooper

7 years ago

Michael, it's the smoke that makes authentic Texas BBQ, not gas with a couple of wood logs. Everyone here agrees 100% wood burning pits win on making the best Texas BBQ. Period. Explain "protectionistic racket"? Gas pits that use 1-3 logs do not make authentic Texas BBQ. Why do you think the products of the establishments that use gas with a couple of wood logs should be included to compared to BBQ joints that use wood 100% fired pits. Not an honest comparison. Should the less knowledgeable people be mislead? How long have you been eating Texas BBQ and what are your favorite BBQ joints?

Guy

6 years ago

Michael and Patricia are right. If it tastes good it doesn't matter how it's cooked. If you want your meat smoked with wood only, good for you. Don't patronize anyone who mixes gas with wood.
It's readily apparent that wood-only produces the majority of the best, right? But don't say there's no other way to make good meat since there obviously is.




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