|Brisket, ribs and sausage at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor. (Photo by Tom Fox/DMN)|
By Gary Jacobson/Texas BBQ Posse
For a while now, members of the Texas BBQ Posse have strongly suspected that Dallas finally has a joint that can hang with the elite barbecue restaurants in the state.
Our recent Posse Favorites Tour confirmed that suspicion. We drove nearly 700 miles and ate at 10 top places over 48 hours. We scored brisket, pork ribs and sausage, the holy trinity of Texas barbecue, on a 10-point scale.
In the end, we compiled a list of the six top-scoring spots. Pecan Lodge at Dallas Farmers Market placed second overall, snugged tightly between Franklin Barbecue in Austin at No. 1 and Snow’s BBQ in Lexington at No. 3.
That’s stout company. Behind them in our top tier of six were Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor and Fargo’s Pit BBQ in Bryan.
Using baseball lingo, that lineup would be the murderers’ row of Texas barbecue, all eligible for the Smoked Meat Hall of Fame. In 2008, Texas Monthly named Snow’s the best joint in the state. In 2010 Bon Appétit said Franklin was No. 1 in the United States, and this year the magazine called Franklin one of the 20 most important restaurants in America.
For four years, the Posse — a loose collective of writers, editors and photographers from The Dallas Morning News, and assorted friends and family — has traversed the state in search of fabulous barbecue.
Over that time, it has become clear that getting prime barbecue requires not just travel, but meticulous timing and sometimes standing in line.
The lines at Franklin’s in Austin have become legendary since that spot opened in a trailer in 2009, and eating at Pecan Lodge now requires some wait time too. Snow’s is open only one day a week.
Worth it? During our tour, Snow’s brisket was the only meat that received a perfect 10 from all six Posse judges.
“The taste almost explodes in your mouth,” said Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins as he savored a bite. Wilkins is a photo editor at The News.
Pecan Lodge had the highest average score for ribs (9.83), and Kreuz had the highest score for sausage (9.16).
|Franklin BBQ owner & pitmaster Aaron Franklin. (Photo by Tom Fox/DMN)|
Overall consistency won the tour for Franklin.
The logistics of eating at Snow’s (only open on Saturdays) and Franklin on the same day, while also stopping at Louie Mueller and three Lockhart joints, were daunting.
There’s always that humongous line at Franklin, starting as early as 9 a.m. on weekends.
So we took advantage of Franklin’s advance-order service. They will sell a limited amount of meat by advance order, with a 5-pound minimum. (Email your request to [email protected])
The meat has to be picked up by 10:35 a.m. On tour day, Posse members Libby Jacobson and Mike Gagne, who live in Austin, picked up our order.
“The cargo is secure,” Libby, my daughter, said when she called on her cellphone at 10:45 a.m. At the time, the main body of the Posse was in the parking lot of Mueller’s in Taylor, 45 minutes away.
We did stop briefly at Franklin, where more than 100 people were in line, to visit with Aaron Franklin and his crew. Then we went to Libby and Mike’s to eat.
Reheated slightly, and nearly two hours after they were cut, Franklin’s three meats still scored highest overall.
“I’m overwhelmed,” said new Posse member Daniel Goncalves. “I’m almost crying, it’s so good.”
Goncalves, a freelance photographer, recently moved to Texas via Florida and Canada. He took his Posse duties seriously. He was always the last to report his scores, meticulously reviewing his previous ratings to make sure his scale was consistent.
On this tour, we scored only the basic meats. No sides. No chicken. No pulled pork. No turkey. No specialty sandwiches, like the tasty Brother-in-Law at Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q in Tyler.
And we didn’t rate the atmosphere of a place, which can sometimes be almost as important as the food.
“If you were to design a Hollywood set for a barbecue joint you couldn’t do better than this,” Posse veteran Bruce Tomaso said as we ate outside at Snow’s, surrounded by smoking pits.
We only judged the meat.
As Tomaso said, “The meat never lies.”
It didn’t. In fact, it was brutally honest.
When the scores were tallied, there was a clear demarcation between the top six and the rest. The attribute that separated them was consistency.
Those joints that didn’t make it — Stanley’s, Baby J’s Bar-B-Que & Fish in Palestine, Smitty’s Market in Lockhart and Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que in Lockhart — had a weak link, usually the sausage.
|Pecan Lodge owner & pitmaster Justin Fourton delivers an order. (Photo by Tom Fox/DMN)|
It’s the paparazzi
While we try to show up at places as regular customers, it’s hard to remain anonymous. From our time traveling the state in search of good barbecue, we know many of the pitmasters and owners. We also travel in a big group, armed with all kinds of cameras.
Barbecue paparazzi, Posse member Bryan Gooding calls us. Didn’t Lady Gaga — she of the meat dress — write a song about that?
This is a particularly stressful time for operators of Texas barbecue joints. Every few years, Texas Monthly rates the top places, meaning the magazine’s scouts are scouring the state right now, finalizing their rankings for the 2013 barbecue issue. Owners are on the lookout.
“They can make you or break you,” said Snow’s owner Kerry Bexley.
He was speaking mainly about Texas Monthly, but he included other food critics and barbecue bloggers.
On previous visits, we had never seen Bexley cut meat inside the main serving room at Snow’s. Yet, there he was inside, slicing up our sausage order.
The day before, at Baby J’s, preacher-pitmaster Jeremiah “Baby J” McKenzie told his kitchen crew to “put some pretty ribs” on the serving tray for us. They did. While Baby J’s joint didn’t crack the top six overall, his ribs did.
Back in Dallas
On Sunday, Pecan Lodge in Dallas was our only stop. That meant we could enjoy a full meal, instead of pacing ourselves as we must when we hit several joints on the same day.
While we stood in line, pitmaster Justin Fourton came out to greet us. He owns the place with his wife, Diane. We told him how many people we had to feed (the Posse had grown to 18 by then), and he told us how much to order.
But special treatment only goes so far in barbecue. There’s no way to quickly redo something that takes hours and hours to cook.
Two weeks earlier, Posse member Jim Rossman and I had brisket at Pecan Lodge that we would have scored a 10. On this visit, though, we gave it a 9. Excellent, but not perfect.
It’s obvious by the lines that we’re not the only ones who like Pecan Lodge.
When I arrived at 10:20 a.m., 40 minutes before opening, there were more than a dozen people ahead of me. When the opening bell rang (literally), more than 90 people were lined up. Even as people were served, that long line remained constant for the next couple hours.
It’s been that way since last year, when Pecan Lodge was featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
Still, there’s always a lingering doubt in an owner’s mind about when the magic might end.
“Sometimes I come out at 10:50 and there’s nobody in line and I tell Diane, ‘It’s over,’” Justin Fourton said. “Then it fills in.”
Based on the results from our Texas BBQ Posse Favorites Tour, that popularity should continue.
|Snow’s pitmaster Herschel Tomanetz checks briskets on their big pit. (Photo by Tom Fox/DMN)|
Texas BBQ Posse Favorites
The Texas BBQ Posse hit 10 highly rated barbecue joints in 48 hours, sampling brisket, pork ribs and sausage. Each meat was rated on a scale of 1 to 10 (best) and scores from six judges were averaged. Here’s how the top six spots fared. (Best possible score is 30.)
1. Franklin, Austin 27.48
2. Pecan Lodge, Dallas 26.83
3. Snow’s, Lexington 26.5
4. Kreuz, Lockhart 25.82
5. Louie Mueller, Taylor 24.66
6. Fargo’s, Bryan 22.98
Top brisket: Snow’s
Top pork ribs: Pecan Lodge
Top sausage: Kreuz
|Pitmaster Roy Perez at Kreuz Market in Lockhart. (Photo by Tom Fox/DMN)|