The opening spread to Texas Monthly's Top 50 BBQ list. (Photos by Wyatt McSpadden/Texas Monthly)

During the past four years, we've eaten a lot of great barbecue and met an equal number of notable folks running BBQ joints around the state. A meal is almost always followed by a pit tour while swapping tales about the Texas BBQ trail.

They always have a story to tell.

At some point the conversation almost always turns to Texas Monthly magazine and the holy grail of endorsements, their Top 50 BBQ list.

Faces would light up at the possibility of landing on the list. An instant evaluation that all those early mornings and hard work were finally worth it. All of the sudden they might join the joints with long lines that are open "til the meat runs out."

We even had several pitmasters tell us that landing on the top of the list could be worth a million dollars a year in revenue. That's serious business.

Dirk Miller, owner and pitmaster at Miller's Smokehouse in Belton recently told me his dream was to have lines like Aaron Franklin has in Austin. Given the great barbecue that comes off of Dirk's pits, I warned him to watch what he wished for, it might come true.

I got my June edition of Texas Monthly yesterday and anxiously started paging through the 24 pages devoted to their Top 50 list. A list of winners had already been announced on Twitter last week, but this was a chance to read the stories and fine print on each joint.

I had to smile seeing some of the great joints we've visited over the past few years make the 2013 list for the first time. It's really nice to accomplish your goals.

Only 17 joints on the 2013 list were on Texas Monthly's list five years earlier. Welcome to the club as the time-honored traditions of Texas barbecue enter a new era.

Here's the first of those stories, Joseph's Riverport Barbecue in Jefferson:

Jospeh's Riverport BBQ in Jefferson was rebuilt from the ground up after a fire in Jan. 2012. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins)

Up from the ashes

In the early morning on January 15, 2012, Stephen Joseph watched his dream burn to the ground. As the owner and pitmaster at Joseph's Riverport Barbecue in Jefferson, he was busy at the time building the reputation as the best real Texas barbecue east of Stanley's in Tyler.

I had almost accidentally wandered into Joseph's a couple of years earlier while on a weekend trip to Jefferson with my wife Michele. The joint wasn't on any Top 50 list and was under the radar at the time, but I was immediately blown away with the meats coming out of Stephen's smoker.

He saw me taking photos of our three-meat platter and came out of the kitchen.

"Are you with that Texas BBQ Posse?" he asked. "I read your stuff all the time."

An instant friendship was born and my wife headed back to the antique stores as Stephen gave me a pit tour while we talked Texas BBQ.

He was really curious about what was happening in the rest of the state. The Texas barbecue scene was in the early stages of exploding and I shared whatever I could think of.

Stephen Joseph and crew on the reopenng weekend, June 2012.

Stephen wanted to get on the main stage of Texas barbecue.

The biggest problem for Joseph's Riverport was their location, not exactly target rich for great BBQ joints. Jefferson is more of a weekend destination, off the beaten path and not really on the way to most major destinations.

Not an easy stop on a Texas BBQ tour.

Stephen was hoping that BBQ snob Daniel Vaughn could make it out there one day. To be reviewed by Daniel on his Full Custom Gospel BBQ blog was a rite of passage for Texas pitmasters.

Under the guise of another weekend getaway, I took Michele back to Jefferson following the fire for their reopening weekend in late June 2012.

The BBQ coming off Stephen's pit was a good as ever. Longtime customer Misty Baldwin of Jefferson summed it up better than I ever could.

"We can't live without Joseph's," she said.

Flash forward to May 15, 2013, when Joseph's Riverport was announced as a member of the Top 50 fraternity. I could imagine the smile on Stephen's face when he heard the news.

In his typical humble way, Stephen tweeted:

"I'm very thankful and blessed to be included in Texas Monthly's Top 50 list! Thanks to everyone who has supported us over the last 20 yrs!!!"

Click here to see the rest of the story on the rebuilding of Joseph's Riverport Barbecue.

Joseph's Riverport Bar-B-Cue: 201 N Polk St, Jefferson, TX, 903-665-2341. Open Tues-Sat 11am-7pm, Sun 11am-2pm.

Nicole Thomas

10 years ago

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Austin Top 5 plus Snow's

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