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BBQ wars

Arguing BBQ supremacy is a tough business, especially in Texas, where distance makes building a credible CV difficult and there is no shortage of joints in far flung towns to contend for the top spot.

Flame wars seem to break out every time Texas Monthly publishes their annual BBQ list and rage on for months. No one is really wins, because few people live close enough to great BBQ to have it on regular basis.

As if straining already fragile relations between Central Texas towns and major cities isn’t enough, this year the Texas Monthly top pick was Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, population 1,178. Unphazed? Snow’s is only open on Saturday from 8am (best time to eat smoked meat, apparently), until the cue runs out, which has been only a few hours as of late. Take that!

Houston never does well on the Texas Monthly BBQ lists (for a good reason in my opinion), but that didn’t stop a rather enthusiastic group of chowhounds from setting up their own tasting competition to set the record straight. Around the same time Pat Sharpe found herself defending the Texas Monthly picks in her blog from people who question the very existence of Central Texas BBQ belt.

I wasn’t able to attend the Houston BBQ tasting this weekend, but I have been sneaking trips down to Luling/Lockhart when I am in the area to see what all the fuss is about. The BBQ I tried really is some of the best I have ever had, but even at ground zero of Texas BBQ greatness your mileage may vary.

My first visit to City Market in Luling completely ruined all hope that anything remotely like it exists in Houston. The brisket at City Market was revelatory. Strange as it sounds, it reminded me of smoked wagu I had at Alinea about a year ago. A perfectly tender slab of meat with incredibly smooth smoke flavor was so good it actually made me forgive the City Market for their “no forks” silliness.  

But another “Top 5″ pick was rather disappointing. The macabre pit contraptions at Kreuz Market look like they handle serious BBQ and Kreuz has the reputation to back it up, but the brisket I tried was completely dried out. If not for excellent jalapeno cheese sausage, the trip would have been a complete waste. I’ll probably come back and try the smoked pork chop some day.

How can two places in the upper echelon of BBQ greatness be so different? Lot’s of reasons. BBQ is more an art than a science, difficult to replicate on large scale and Kreuz Market is definitely a commercial operation. Turnover matters. Come in at the height of the lunch hour and you may get perfectly cooked meat. Come a few hours later and you get something left behind once the pit master already went home. The giant dining hall at Kreuz Market was empty at 3pm, which explains the terrible brisket. The City Market should have been dead around 4:30pm, but the place was packed with locals taking out huge brown bags of meat home for dinner.

All of that makes rating BBQ difficult, to say the least. And sort of pointless. Who cares if best BBQ is in Luling if you live in Galveston? Find a place with a pit master who cares about their craft, figure out what they do best, be smart with your order and make sure you come when there is a line out the door. You’ll probably get pretty good BBQ.

One last thing. Goode Company may have come in close to last in the chowhound tasting, but it’s one of my favorite places for BBQ in Houston. Here’s how you get the best they have to offer: order a 3 meat plate with jalapeno pork sausage, smoked duck and brisket off the fat end (this is important). Skip the sauce.

Let me know how that works out for you.

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