Your response to the above question probably depends upon personal taste. Evolving personal taste.
At first glance, the answer appears to be a loud YES! The young guns of Texas BBQ have, indeed, taken over from the traditional joints.
Look no further than the makeup of Texas Monthly’s recent Top 10 places in the state. Seven of them have either started or reopened operations since 2011, five since 2013. Only one place — Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor — was continuously operating since before 2003.
We first tackled this subject in a post four years ago, concluding that we were definitely in the middle of a barbecue revolution, led by young pitmasters like Aaron Franklin (Franklin Barbecue in Austin), Justin Fourton (Pecan Lodge in Dallas), John Lewis (then la Barbecue in Austin) and Nick Pencis (Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q in Tyler).
We called them “Hipster pitmasters,” and, oh, did we hear from them and others.
I wasn’t taking notes at the time, but Fourton’s reaction was basically: “I ain’t no hipster.”
Like all good researchers, though, we promised further study of the topic. “I’m going to keep thinking on this,” I signed off at the time.
Not only me, but Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins, too. This year, after visiting a trio of new joints — 2M Smokehouse in San Antonio, Truth Barbecue in Brenham and Pinkerton’s Barbecue in Houston — we were ready to declare the revolution complete.
While maintaining respect for Texas barbecue traditions, here was another group of young pitmasters, young guns of Texas BBQ, turning out creative dishes and perfectly cooked meats. We rank our first trip to 2M in April right up there with our first visit to Franklin's little turquoise trailer in 2010. Every bite was something new, yet familiar as well.
And then we took a recent day trip to City Market in Luling, one of only three joints to appear on all six of Texas Monthly’s best barbecue lists since 1973. The other two places: Kreuz Market in Lockhart and Louie Muller Barbecue in Taylor.
At City Market, we met fellow barbecue lover Brandon Holloway of Richardson. He’s in transportation logistics so he travels a lot. And, along the way, he stops at a lot of barbecue joints. He had been to 2M the day before and planned to hit Truth later the day we met him
While Wilkins and I thought there was no comparison between the brisket at 2M and what we were eating at City Market — 2M by a landslide! — Holloway thought otherwise.
“It’s a touch dry,” he said of the City Market brisket. “But there’s really a natural beef flavor in there. I like it better than 2M.”
Over the years, much of the old school-new school debate has been framed according to the rubs used on the meat. Simple salt and pepper versus something more adventuresome.
But that is overly simplistic, says Posse pitmaster Marshall Cooper, a long-time cook and competitor, including with John Lewis.
“I think many have used the words salt and pepper but it's always been more than that,” he said. “They just didn't say it.” Many joints, for example, use Lawry’s seasoning, not just salt.
“Mueller's beef rub has been predominantly 16 mesh black pepper, a small amount of Kosher salt and actually has a small part of garlic powder,” Cooper said. “It was never just salt and pepper.”
So, when Tom Micklethwait at Micklethwait Craft Meats in Austin says he adds a little celery seed and other spices to his rub, he’s just following in a long Texas tradition of barbecue innovation.
The day after our trip to Luling, Wilkins and I went to Georgetown and ate at John Mueller Black Box Barbecue. Believe us, the bad boy of Texas BBQ can still cook up a storm.
There, sitting outside under a couple of big pecan trees, we met Eddie Trejo and some of his friends from San Antonio. Trejo is a hard-core traditionalist and barbecue blogger on Facebook. So, we were happy to continue our discussion about the Texas barbecue revolution.
“There’s room for the fusion guys,” Wilkins said, as a statement, but also a question.
(NOTE: As far as I can tell, in the history of this blog and Web site, this is the first appearance of the word “fusion” — as in combining elements from different culinary traditions — in any story. Talk about traditionalists.)
“Sure there is room,” Trejo responded. “As long as I’m driving, they can sit in the back seat all the time.”
Then, he offered an accommodation:
“I’m sure I’ll wander to the dark side pretty soon.”
And there we are, back where we began. Evolving personal taste.
I’m going to keep thinking even more on this topic. Have the young guns of Texas BBQ really won the revolution?