At the first stop of the day on a barbecue tour, we almost never order dessert. Plenty of opportunity later for sweets, if we’re still hungry.
And so it was at Truth Barbeque in Brenham on a recent Saturday morning.
After tasting the joint’s beef rib, brisket, pork ribs, turkey and sausage, we confirmed that Truth deserved every bit of its recent Texas Monthly ranking among the Top 10 places in the state.
“I can’t think we’re going to eat much better than this today,” Posse member Jim Rossman said.
But as we were preparing to leave, Janel Botello, mother of pitmaster Leonard Botello IV, brought over three big pieces of homemade cake. Chocolate, carrot and banana caramel.
Can’t say no to mom.
“I didn’t want to eat it, but she brought it out and I did,” Posse member Michael Ainsworth said. And he’s glad he did. “That’s the best carrot cake I’ve ever had,” Michael said.
This two-day Posse barbecue tour was a hybrid of many sorts. A Dallas contingent met up with an Austin contingent in Brenham. Then we went on to the Houston area for three stops — Roegels Barbecue, Killen’s BBQ, Pinkerton’s BBQ — before ending in Austin at Terry Black’s Barbecue. All five joints made Texas Monthly’s Top 50.
By the time they returned to Dallas, Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins and his group had covered nearly 800 miles in about 40 hours.
Friends and family members joined us at several stops. Greg Smith, a former Newsweek and agency photographer who specialized in covering Central American wars, met us at Truth. He told a wonderful story about his start in the business as a young teenager, loading cameras at ringside of a heavyweight championship fight for legendary photographer Neil Leifer.
Yes, in the telling, there was blood.
Houston itself, with its diversity, wide open zoning, and never-ending sprawl, is always invigorating and educational. At one point, as we were driving West on Interstate 10, Rossman declared that this was the widest stretch of Interstate highway in the country. Seven lanes in each direction.
After checking, I can conclusively say that maybe Rossman is right and maybe not, according to a Politifact story from 2016. And, BTW, at some points that stretch of the “Katy Freeway” has 26 lanes counting access roads.
In 2012, on our first eating trip to the Bayou City, we didn’t find any good barbecue. “Houston, we have a barbecue problem,” the headline on our story read.
That changed on a return barbecue tour two years later. We found a lot of good smoked meat, and some truly outstanding fare at Killen’s, which opened in 2014, and remains one of our favorite joints.
This trip reinforced our feeling that Houston has become a big-time barbecue town.
Wilkins and I had stopped at Truth a couple months ago on a trip that eventually took us to 2M Smokehouse in San Antonio. Truth, unfortunately, was closed that day, so we were happy to finally get back.
By opening time, there were about 60 people in line. Long, but not that long by Texas standards. And the line moved fast. There was a big cooler full of free bottled water and Lone Star beer for those waiting.
All of Leonard Botello’s smoked meat offerings drew high praise from the Posse, as did the corn pudding and collard greens with bacon side dishes.
Ainsworth absolutely loved the garlic sausage.
“Wow,” he said after taking a bite. “If I’d have known how good this is I would have ordered a whole pound of it.”
Truth is open Friday to Sunday. Botello said he and Dylan Taylor, former pit master at la Barbecue in Austin, literally move in to the joint on Thursday and take turns sleeping — for very brief periods — on cots while tending the pits at night. When the place is open for service, they both cut meat.
“It’s crunch time,” Botello said, estimating he might get a total of 12 hours sleep — max — from Thursday night to Sunday.
Sleep may be slim for Botello for a while. After our visit to Brenham, a reader pointed out a recent business filing that indicates some thinking has already begun about bringing a Truth Barbeque someday, sometime, maybe, to Houston.
"We are focusing on Brenham right now," Botello said in a text message response to my query about Houston. He said he did file for a Truth/Houston LLC, limited liability company. "Always good to be prepared," Botello texted. And later: "Just options."
With that, we’ll give Janel, cake maker and mom, the last word. “He’s very humble,” she said of her son. “He’s worked very hard.”
Roegels Barbecue Co.
In operating format, there probably couldn’t be much more difference between our first stop of the day and our second.
Roegels, a cafeteria-style joint, is open seven days a week, including until 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. There was almost no line when we arrived at about 2 p.m. And we got our food right away.
Rossman called the ribs “purist” — salt and pepper rub — and “good.” His mom, Diane, and dad, Tom, had joined us. “The brisket is really good,” Diane said. “And the pudding.” It was bourbon banana pudding.
We also ordered the smoked boudin and everyone gave it a thumbs up.
If we lived in Houston and worked within reasonable driving distance, Roegels, I suspect, would become a regular lunch stop, just like Slow Bone in Dallas became for some on the Posse. A good, dependable barbecue joint, where wait times are reasonable, is always in demand.
The first thing we saw walking into Killen’s a little before 4 p.m. was a handwritten sign: “Snake River Farm Gold Brisket $30/lb. . .Wagyu Burntends $22/lb.”
Of course, we ordered both, along with pork ribs, turkey and sausage. Everything was good, but in comparison to the meats we had over the entire course of the day, we rated those at Truth better.
“The best thing I had today was the garlic and jalapeño sausage at Truth,” Ainsworth said.
For Wilkins, the single best bite of the day was the beef rib at Truth. For me, the pork rib at Truth.
As for the expensive brisket at Killen’s?
“There’s more of a depth of flavor going on here,” Rossman said of the Snake River Gold, “but I wouldn’t say it’s better. I taste the beef more in this brisket versus Truth, where I tasted more salt.”
Don’t get us wrong. Killen’s is a great place and we'd still put it comfortably at the very top tier of Texas joints. Remember, just a few weeks ago we predicted the Pearland place would come out No. 1 on Texas Monthly’s list. But one-on-one versus Truth, we now have hard evidence otherwise. Tasting is believing.
The joint opens at 11 a.m. on Sundays. We arrived at 10 a.m. and were first in line.
“Meat first, smoke second,” is the motto of pit master/owner Grant Pinkerton. And it shows in his food. We ordered brisket, pork ribs, sausage, turkey and a beef rib.
“That’s sublime,” Rossman said of the rub on the beef rib. “Very understated, but it’s good. . .This is the first beef rib I’ve had in a really long time that wasn’t too salty or too peppery. The rub steps away and let’s the meat speak.”
Wilkins said the turkey was the best we had eaten on the trip.
“This brisket has the best smoke of all of them,” Michael Ainsworth said.
We also sampled some of the joint's banana cake. And while we didn't get a direct appeal from Pinkerton's mom, Michelle, she did develop the recipe and does oversee Pinkerton's dessert program. So, once again, we couldn't say no to mom.
Ainsworth’s brother, Alan, head of the English Department at Houston Community College, joined us on this stop. He pointed out another of the place's attributes. Pinkerton’s has a full bar. A very nice full bar. Among the many, many barbecue joints we’ve visited over the years, Pinkerton’s bar, perhaps, rates only behind the bar at Lamberts in Austin.
Robert Seale, one of the top commercial and portrait photographers in the sports business also joined us. In fact, Robert is the one who steered Wilkins in Pinkerton’s direction when Chris was setting up the barbecue tour itinerary. Great spot. Thanks much for the recommendation, Robert.
Terry Black’s Barbecue
After the drive from Houston, we arrived at Terry Black’s about 3:30 p.m. There was no line and the dining room was about three-quarters full.
We were joined by Posse member Sherry Jacobson, as well as Don Rypka and his wife Emilse Neme, who run a photo agency. Rypka is the father of Torchy’s Tacos founder Mike Rypka.
One — actually two — of the reasons we wanted to visit Terry Black’s are the twin 28-year-old pit masters, Mark and Michael Black. Twenty-eight years was a common theme on this tour. Leonard Botello IV and Grant Pinkerton are also 28. So, if our trip is any indication, the future of Texas barbecue is in good hands.
We ordered brisket, pork ribs, sausage, some sides and banana pudding. Much like our feeling about Roegels, we concluded that Terry Black’s is a solid everyday barbecue joint.
“You can definitely come here and get a good meal, depending upon what you want to order,” Rossman said. He called the jalapeño cheese sausage “great.”
A few minutes later, Sherry pointed to our eaten-clean food trays. “This is a good illustration of satisfaction,” she said.
Houston Top 50 Barbecue Tour
10 a.m.: Truth Barbeque, Brenham, 2990 US-290, (979) 830-0392. Open Fri-Sun 11am-4pm.
2 p.m.: Roegels Barbecue Co., 2223 S. Voss Rd, Houston. 713-977-8725. Open Mon–Sat 11am–8pm, Sun 11am–6pm or till meat runs out.
4 p.m.: Killen's Barbecue, 3613 E. Broadway, Pearland, 281-485-2272. Open Tues-Sun 11am-until they run out of meat.
Overnight in Houston area
10 a.m.: Pinkerton's Barbecue, 1504 Airline Dr, Houston, (713) 802-2000. Open Wed-Fri & Sun 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-midnight.
3:30 p.m.: Terry Black's Barbecue, 1003 Barton Springs Rd., Austin, (512) 394-5899. Open Sun-Thurs 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-9:30pm.