The eight stops on the Texas BBQ Posse's Gulf Coast BBQ Tour.  (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Houston is a wasteland for good barbecue, but Galveston and Bryan aren’t.

The main mission on the BBQ Posse’s recent 35-hour, 700-mile barbecue tour to the Texas Gulf Coast and back was to find good smoked meat in Houston.

We didn’t.

But an hour south, on Galveston Island, we met Leon O’Neal and learned again about the true power of barbecue.

O’Neal, who runs Leon’s World Finest In & Out Bar-B-Que House at Broadway and 55th, told us about the cleanup after Hurricane Ike in 2008.

He lost everything in his kitchen, he said, speaking from inside his old smokehouse where the storm’s surge had been 7 feet deep.

“The water didn’t do nothing to this pit,” he said, motioning toward a rusted, 18-foot tank-style smoker.

So he cleaned it, fired it up and started cooking barbecue for repair crews working on his joint and other places in the neighborhood. Soon, he said, people smelled the smoke, and he had cars lined up around the block.

“Everybody just wanted something normal again,” said O’Neal, who might be the most stylish barbecue proprietor we’ve encountered on our tours.

Leon O'Neal sits in his old smoker room at Leon's World's Finest In & Out Barbeque.  (Photo ©Chris Wilkins)

Aged 70 plus a couple years, he wore a white T-shirt, beige shorts, red apron and black, shiny shoes, with a white mustache, soul patch and a straw hat.

His homemade Downtown Link was worth the trip by itself. The sausage had a nice initial kick and a lingering, changing aftertaste, like a good wine.

“Every now and then, you come across something special,” Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins said.
We asked Leon what was in the sausage. You could tell that he got that question a lot, and he wasn’t really intent on giving up any secrets.

He said it was a meatloaf mix that he developed with his butcher. Whatever. It was the tastiest meatloaf, stuffed in sausage casing, we’ve ever eaten.

Leon has a new pit now, a gas-fired Ole Hickory. We were happy to see that it has a huge firebox for wood, and O’Neal keeps it loaded with nothing but “pure oak.”

Wilkins, a photo editor at The Dallas Morning News, sets the itineraries for all of our barbecue tours. This was our 11th and first to the Houston area.

Over the past couple years, we’ve traveled about 4,000 miles looking for great barbecue and interesting joints in Texas.

We had high hopes for Houston because some of our planned stops had received very good reviews from respected blogger and self-proclaimed BBQ Snob Daniel Vaughn as well as Houston food writers.

The Posse, however, was underwhelmed. Adapting a phrase from Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington, “That’s how barbecue go.”

Our order of sliced brisket, pork ribs and smoked chicken at Gatlin's BBQ.  (Photo ©Chris Wilkins)

At Gatlin’s BBQ, the top-rated Houston joint just a few miles from downtown, we sampled the brisket, pork ribs and chicken.

“It’s a lot of OK,” Posse member Jim Rossman said.

“If this is the best Houston has to offer,” there’s no doubt that Dallas-area joints have it beat, Wilkins said.

Pulitzer-winning photographer Smiley Pool, who sandwiched a tour of duty at The News between stints working at the Houston Chronicle, joined the Posse on this stop.

In Houston, Pool observed, “everyone says that if you want good barbecue, you pile in a car and take a two-hour drive.” He referred to the great joints in Central Texas.


In Dallas, we have the Pecan Lodge, which the Posse ranks among the top 10 in the state. And there’s Meshack’s in Garland, another excellent place.

Houston wasn’t the only disappointment. Our first stop was New Zion Missionary Baptist Church Barbecue in Huntsville.

The joint has received rave, almost reverential, reviews, but we thought we were served re-warmed meat from the day before.

“It was like a bubble burst,” said Posse member Phil Lamb, an attorney. “Boy, the romance is gone from that place.”

Tom Rossman enters Fargo's Pit BBQ, in their old location in Bryan.  (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

A joint that didn’t disappoint was Fargo’s Pit BBQ in Bryan. The Posse thinks it’s one of the top two or three places in the state, right up there with Franklin BBQ in Austin.

Fargo’s is a takeout place, so, sitting on our own chairs on the sidewalk out front, we sampled brisket, ribs, chicken and sausage. Everything was good, a rare consistency that defines a great joint.

“Mmmmm, that’s good,” Rossman said, licking his fingers again. “It’s a good meal when you can finish like that.”

Yes, it was. We just wish we could say that about any joint in Houston.

Houston BBQ tour itinerary

8:30 a.m.: Leave Dallas
11 a.m.: New Zion Missionary Baptist Church Barbecue, 2601 Montgomery Road, Huntsville; 936-294-0884; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
1 p.m.: Fargo’s Pit BBQ, 720 N. Texas Ave., Bryan; 979-778-3662; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
2:30 p.m.: Mallett Brothers Barbeque, 9339 Texas Highway 6, Navasota; 936-825-9440; 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
7 p.m.: Pizzitola’s Bar-B-Cue, 1703 Shepherd Drive, Houston; 713-227-2283; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday
(Stay overnight in Houston)

10 a.m.: Galveston Beach for fishing and sun
11 a.m.: Leon’s World Finest In & Out Bar-B-Que, 5427 Broadway St., Galveston; 409-744-9363; 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday
1 p.m.: Gatlin’s BBQ, 1221 W. 19th St., Houston; 713-869-4227; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
2:30 p.m.: Virgie’s Real Pit BBQ, 5535 Gessner Drive, Houston; 713-466-6525; 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday
3:45 p.m.: Byron’s Gourmet Bar-B-Q, 2101 W. Little York, Houston; 713-290-0870; 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday-Saturday
4:15 p.m.: Leave for Dallas; arrive home at 8:15 p.m.

BBQ posse
The Texas BBQ Posse began in November 2009 when six friends took their first barbecue road trip to Central Texas.

Keep up with their travels:
Twitter: @texasbbqposse

The Texas BBQ Posse sets up camp in the shade next to Fargo's Pit BBQ in Bryan on June 1, 2012, during the Posse's recent Gulf Coast BBQ Tour. Left to right, Chris Wilkins, Gary Jacobson, Phil Lamb, Tom Rossman and Jim Rossman.

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