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A Shiny Gem in the Crowded Central Texas BBQ Scene

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    A Shiny Gem in the Crowded Central Texas BBQ Scene

    Texas is defined by many things but almost universally known as one of the great barbecue capitals of the universe. Known primarily for big beef and longhorn cattle, Texas is really defined by not only ethnic but regional styles beyond that of their famous low and slow smoked brisket. That then begs a brief history of the state’s most famous cuisine.

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    Although Central Texas barbecue is the most well-known (and arguably the most popular) there are really several types and styles of barbecue in several distinct regions. Perhaps the first barbecue in Texas dates back to 1501 when the Spanish first introduced cattle to the North American continent. Soon migrating north into what is today South Texas, Mexican vaqueros would cook meat on both open fires as well as slow smoke it in pits dug into the ground. Today’s barbacoa traces its roots back to those early cowboys and the rich Tex-Mex cuisine so famous in South Texas today.

    It might also be interesting to note that although pork and pork barbecue are better known in Memphis, the Carolinas and Kansas City, early African American freed slaves brought whole hog cooking to East Texas well over a century ago. Some of the very first barbecue restaurants in my home town of Houston can be traced back to the early 1920s in the Fourth Ward where pork barbecue was some of the very first popularized locally. Up in what we call the East Texas Piney Woods, dotted among the trees are still lots of barbecues shacks serving delicious pork products.

    West Texans had limited fuel supply and made open fire cooking with mesquite wood more about grilling then smoking. I could on and on but you see where this is going. The Lone Star State is crowded with not only various types and regional styles, but you can easily find almost anything considered barbecue somewhere within its borders. Texas Monthly Magazine has long been the go to for promoting the top barbecue restaurants in Texas. In 2015 they sighted a CHD report that claimed there were at least 2,238 barbecue establishments of all kinds throughout the State.1 That’s more than twice as many as can be found in the second ranking state of California and almost three times as many as can be found in the third ranking state of Florida.

    Yet the statistics are interesting and somewhat misleading. Of those well over 3,000 establishments by today’s standards, they need to be broken down into three distinct categories to understand the dynamics of their explosion and popularity. The first are the barbecue chains or franchises. What may have started as a small mom and pop operation grew into a large group of restaurants often franchised to independent owners. The largest of these and the most well know is the Dickey’s chain. At least in my opinion, restaurants, including barbecue ones, have a tendency to lose their originator’s reason for popularity, that being good consistent barbecue, through the franchise process. Yet they continue to mushroom despite themselves due to convenience, reasonable prices and pedestrian flavors. They therefore make up a large portion of the barbecue growth in the state.

    The second category is what I call the old guard restaurants. The central Texas town of Lockhart is a perfect example. The region was settled by German and Czech immigrants who brought with them great sausage making techniques and butchering skills. A lot of the meat that they smoked occurred due to lack of refrigeration and as a preservative measure. Restaurants like Kreuz’s, Black’s and Smitty’s dominate the scene and trace their roots back generations to those early settlers. These types of restaurants tend to self-perpetuate over time and are destinations unto themselves. They don’t obviously tend to grow for those very reasons so statistically they remain relatively stable from a growth perspective.

    The third and probably most popular and well know are the small independents, I just call these the barbecue “joints”. Statistically they make up a large portion of the total due to a number of reasons; better dedication and perfection of their craft, more casual dining and faster service and word of mouth popularity. They are also not bound by large brick and mortar establishment costs that a large sit down restaurant must absorb. They often times begin as food truck operations or in smaller indoor facilities. Unfortunately, they are also statistically bound by the most failures and turnovers. Like many in the restaurant industry nearly 53% fail within the first five years they are in business. Therefore, the best of them who do survive tend to become the most popular. A couple of prime examples are Snow’s in Lexington and Franklin’s in Austin. Always on the Texas Monthly top ratings year after year, they become foodie meccas difficult to enjoy due to overcrowding and long lines, unless you’re willing to wait in those lines for hours on end.

    So who survives and flourishes in an overcrowded but increasingly popular barbecue state like Texas? Sadly, and statistically it’s the Dickeys of the world more so then the guy in the trailer who operates in a small town. Ironically, and again sadly, that guy in the trailer, the proverbial barbecue joint, may not be here five years from now. He can only work hard, ply his craft and hope someone at publications like Texas Monthly recognizes him and gives him a fighting chance. It’s about that type of joint many of us in the First AR Pit Bi-annual Texas Meat-up enjoyed in the little town of Rockdale where we stayed. That place is known as Brett’s Backyard Barbecue.

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    Brett’s is your prototypical Texas outdoor trailer service, with an adjacent smoke house, backyard live music, picnic table type barbecue joint we tend to flock to on warm Texas afternoons. Lots of festoon lighting, shady oak trees, wafting smoke in the air and cool vibe that puts you at ease as you enjoy craft barbecue at its finest along with an ice cold long neck brew. I’m the first to admit that I had not heard of Brett’s yet increasingly a recent Texas Monthly reader’s poll had them ranked as the #2 best barbecue restaurant in the State.

    What I do know is they serve up some killer ‘cue in a friendly and casual atmosphere. Several of us sampled much of what they had on the menu. The universal sentiment was it was as good, if not better, as almost anything in the area. The brisket was probably the star. Typical Central Texas style, perfectly rendered with a smoky, peppery bark, it melted in your mouth as the fattiness of the cut was like velvet curtains to the palette. Equally as delicious, and some of the best I’ve had, were the pork ribs. Not sure what he applied as seasoning but it perfectly complimented the bite through and unctuous perfection of this classic.


    Surprisingly, and often understated, were the sides. So many barbecues restaurants serve up the same old boring coleslaw and tasteless potato salad, but not here. The sides were done with equal precision and taste bursting care to complement the barbecue itself. The clear winner was the smoked tater tot casserole. Oniony with a hint of vinegar, it was distinctly different from others I’ve had or cooked, but absolutely delicious none the less. Oh and the whipped banana pudding, well let’s just say at the very least it was the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

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    Without a doubt Brett’s is that shiny gem in an otherwise overcrowded and increasingly growing Central Texas barbecue scene. Whether or not he graduates to a brick and mortar restaurant, stays true to his small craft roots or even survives at all is yet to be seen. Yet I’m betting he may soon become the new Snow’s which ironically may be a blessing and a curse. Blessing because he achieves notoriety for all his hard work and a curse (at least for us) because now we wait in line at 2 am just to be the 100th person who may or may not get a slice of brisket. Whatever happens I know I’ll be making the 2-hour journey up to Rockdale again very soon before anything about this laid back and quintessential Texas barbecue joint changes. I suggest if you’re in the area that you do the same.


    1The Growth of Texas BBQ in Texas Monthly by Daniel Vaughn July 14, 2015
    Last edited by Troutman; June 7, 2021, 01:50 PM. Reason: Thanks to @Panhead John's editorial help

    #2
    Great job, Steve!

    Comment


      #3
      Damn. That’s all. Just, damn.

      Comment


      • ofelles
        ofelles commented
        Editing a comment
        I'll 2nd that!!!!

      • Panhead John
        Panhead John commented
        Editing a comment
        +3

      #4
      Thank you. We might get to go by there this fall on the way to College Station. It sounds great!

      Comment


        #5
        Excellent writing, Steve. I read it twice.

        Comment


          #6
          Very well done.

          Comment


            #7
            (and great photos, too!)

            Comment


              #8
              Outstanding! Thanks.

              Comment


                #9
                What Steve said. The pork ribs were spot on for texture, even better than the terrific brisket.

                Comment


                  #10
                  Very well written piece Troutman and great pics made me feel like I was there!! Thanks
                  Last edited by Northern lights smoke; June 7, 2021, 02:48 PM.

                  Comment


                    #11
                    Now y’all know why I wanted Steve to write this and not me. 😂 Let me also add that several of us in the group were with Steve at Brett’s and concur with everything he said. I tried the brisket (fatty burnt ends), pork ribs and the Pico de Gallo sausage. My sides were the jalapeño cream corn and the brisket flavored pinto beans. There wasn’t a dud in the bunch. The brisket had a great bark and was “plastic” fork tender and juicy. The ribs were some of the best I’ve had, great slightly peppery bark and just tender enough. I don’t care for fall off the bone tender, these had just the right “tug” to them. That unique sausage, loved it. I’d never heard of a pico de Gallo sausage before and had to try it. Someone else in the group had it also, we talked about how really good it was.

                    As mentioned, too many BBQ places treat sides as an afterthought. To me, bad sides can really put a damper on otherwise good BBQ. Everything here seemed to be fresh and made in house. I’m sure they probably were, they had to be. I rarely brag about corn, but the jalapeño cream corn was also really good. And man, that smoked tater tot casserole 👍👍. I bought it as a side to eat with our briskets Saturday night in our room. We heated it up in the microwave, and it was still awesome that night! If you haven’t tried Brett’s yet, you owe it to yourself to put them high on your “to do” list.
                    Last edited by Panhead John; June 7, 2021, 02:59 PM.

                    Comment


                      #12
                      I agree with everything in Troutman 's write up. I went there with CaptainMike after we went to Louie Mueller's in Taylor. Brett's is definitely a place that will make waves in Texas BBQ.

                      Brett's uses a peach glaze on the ribs IIRC, very good.
                      Last edited by 58limited; June 7, 2021, 03:50 PM.

                      Comment


                        #13
                        Excellent review and pics.

                        How long was the wait at Brett’s?

                        Comment


                        • 58limited
                          58limited commented
                          Editing a comment
                          Most of the group went at opening time, one of them will chime in I'm sure. Me and Mike showed up about 1-1:30 and there were about 8-10 in line at that time.

                          We arrived at Louie Mueller's at opening time (11am) and there were 25-30 in line. It went pretty fast. And - they served brisket kolaches to those waiting in line.

                        • Panhead John
                          Panhead John commented
                          Editing a comment
                          zero_credit Not bad. We got there at 10:50, they open at 11:00. There was maybe 8-10 people in front of us. We were sitting down eating at maybe 11:15 -11:20

                        #14
                        Excellent! My only addition would be Brett's sausages were fantastic as well.

                        Comment


                        #15
                        Sometimes I sure wish I lived in Texas.

                        Comment


                        • Uncle Bob
                          Uncle Bob commented
                          Editing a comment
                          Doesn't everybody?

                        • smokin fool
                          smokin fool commented
                          Editing a comment
                          We tried, couldn't get a Green Card.

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