Being positive, the Posse thinks, is always better than being negative.
That’s not to say the Thrillist item, written by Colleen Rush, is bad. It has excellent advice , i.e., be wary if there’s no wood pile in sight. And Rush knows her stuff. Three years ago, she wrote an item recommending 10 barbecue meccas to be sure you visit before you die. Four of them are in Texas, Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, and Kreuz Market in Lockhart.
She gets no argument from us on that lineup.
For this effort about how to spot great bbq joints, I enlisted the aid of several veteran Posse members who contributed specific advice.
“Gary, I think we've pretty much done your work for you,” Bruce Tomaso wrote after reviewing our virtual email roundtable.
He’s right. My job here is just to organize and punctuate, while adding an important caveat: In barbecue, as in life, there are exceptions to every rule.
So, keep that in mind as you read our seven ways to spot great BBQ joints:
There’s probably a line ahead of you.
Face it, in this age of social media and ubiquitous food blogs, great joints don’t remain a secret for long. The word gets out and lines form exactly because the barbecue is good, and worth a wait.
No sauce, or sauce only on the side.
Real barbecue is all about the meat, the rub and the smoke. Let the meat speak for itself, as the Posse says.
Look for a big wood pile.
Again, there are exceptions. We’ve eaten some great barbecue from gas-fired pits. But real barbecue is about smoke. And the best way to get real smoke is to burn real wood in real wood-fired pits. “The right wood fire produces an unmatched flavor that gas, pellets, chips, chunks or electrics can’t match,” says Posse pit master Marshall Cooper.
You can watch the meat being cut.
When you order brisket, the first question the meat cutter should ask you is: “Lean or moist,” moist coming from the fatty end of the brisket. Posse member Jim Rossman also thinks it’s a great sign if the owner or pit master is the one cutting the meat.
Look for a trailer, shack or building with personality.
Several Posse members referred to the “patina” of a joint. There are lots of ways to define patina. I look at is as authentic aging that occurs over a long period. “Newer places can certainly be damn good,” Posse member Libby Gagne says, “but if the place looks like it's been around forever and there are still a lot of cars in the parking lot, then it's probably worth a try.”
Look for single location, not chains.
Again, there are exceptions. Lockhart Smokehouse and Hutchins BBQ in North Texas. Smokey D’s in Des Moines. But “if there is more than one location, the likelihood that their Q is truly great drops off exponentially,” says Posse member Michael Meadows.
If the Posse approves of the joint, Go!
This kind of brings us full circle in our advice. There are lots of sources of information about good joints. If we like a place, or the BBQ Snob, or BBQ Bryan, J.C. Reid, or The Smoking Ho, it’s probably pretty good.
“One thing I've noticed about the great joints is how the owner or pit master interacts with their customers,” says Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins. “Think of Louie Mueller, one of the great joints we've all been to a bunch of times. I don't think I've ever been there and not seen Wayne work the room. You feel like part of the family and it makes you want to come back. You see this at most of the top places and it really helps build a strong business, like Snow's or Franklin Barbecue.”
So, there you have it. Go forth and explore. And please let us know if you spot great bbq joints that we should know about.