Can you take barbecue out of Texas and still call it Texas barbecue? A growing number of restaurateurs born or bred in Texas say you can, and they are opening establishments across America where customers can be indoctrinated into the unique tradition of Lone Star barbecue—smoked meat ordered by the pound, served on butcher paper, without sauce or utensils.
While dozens of restaurants outside of our borders claim to serve “authentic Texas barbecue,” in most cases, the description turns out to be little more than a marketing gimmick. But several places serving legitimate Texas barbecue have popped up around the country—from Compton, California, to New York City—and the proprietors of these restaurants remain true to the history and techniques of Texas barbecue.
Close your eyes, put on some Willie Nelson, and you might not know the difference.
Bigmista’s Barbecue, Southern California
Neil Strawder, who was raised in Galveston, started making barbecue while pursuing a more conventional career in financial management. What began as a hobby soon became an obsession as he researched methods and techniques from barbecue websites and eventually joined a competitive barbecue team. He turned his extracurricular activity into a legitimate business by opening Bigmista’s Barbecue in 2008. Strawder now slings smoked meat at farmers markets in cities like Long Beach, El Segundo, and Torrance. His wife, Phyllis, takes care of the business side, while Phyllis’s stepfather, Blondie Croxton, helps out in the booth (and takes credit for Bigmista’s smoked pork ribs). Although Strawder doesn’t specifically characterize his barbecue as Texas-style—he calls it “Bigmista style”—his methods appear to be influenced by the regional technique, starting with a signature beef brisket smoked for twelve hours.
Various locations. Bigmista.com.
Bludso’s BBQ, Compton, California
Kevin Bludso was born and raised in Compton—a predominantly Hispanic and black community in South Central Los Angeles—to parents who moved there from Texas. During the summers of his youth, Bludso’s family sent him to Corsicana, where he worked for his grandmother, who ran a small barbecue joint. At the time he viewed the summer job as back-breaking work, but Bludso admits he soaked up everything his grandmother taught him about smoking meat. After leaving a career as a corrections officer, he began catering full time and eventually opened Bludso’s BBQ in 2008. The offerings here reflect an East Texas-style of barbecue with big portions of meaty ribs and brisket accompanied by traditional Southern sides of collard greens and potato salad. A number of Southern-style barbecue restaurants can be found in this area of Los Angeles, and Bludso’s adds a proud East Texas flavor to the mix.
811 S. Long Beach Blvd., Compton. 310-637-1342, bludsosbbqandcatering.com
Hill Country Barbecue, Washington D.C./New York
Marc Glosserman has deep roots in Lockhart, aka, the barbecue capital of Texas: His grandfather was a former mayor and his father grew up there before moving to Austin to go to college. Although his parents eventually relocated to Washington, D.C., where Glosserman grew up, the family frequently returned to Lockhart. It was during one of those family trips in 2003 that Glosserman, who was working as a high-tech executive, grabbed lunch at one of the state’s most storied barbecue places: Kreuz Market. A discussion with Rick Schmidt, a friend and the owner of Kreuz, over a plate of barbecue convinced Glosserman that a career change was in order. He eventually moved to New York City and in June 2007 opened Hill Country Barbecue Market in the Flatiron District of Manhattan to critical praise. He branched out to Washington in March 2011. Plaudits from East Coast critics are nice, but what do his Texas peers think of his big-city barbecue ventures? “I don’t want to speak for them,” Glosserman said. “But I’ll just say that the highest compliment we can get is when a Texan says we make great barbecue.”
New York City: 30 W. 26th St., 212-255-4544. Washington, D.C.: 410 Seventh St. N.W., 202-556-2050, hillcountryny.com.
Podnah’s Pit Barbecue, Portland, Ore.
Rodney Muirhead, Podnah’s pitmaster, grew up in Waxahachie, attended Texas A&M University, and went to culinary school in New York. But it was a series of less-than-secure high-tech jobs that led him to Portland. After being laid off in 2004, Muirhead started smoking Central Texas-style barbecue and selling it at farmers markets under the name L.O.W. (Laid Off Workers) BBQ. He soon developed a devoted following in the West Coast city, prompting him to open a brick-and-mortar location in 2006. He changed the name to Podnah’s but did not change the menu, which features the trinity of Texas barbecue—trimmed spareribs, white oak-smoked brisket, and spicy sausage. His food has never been a hard sell in Portland: “The city’s been great,” Muirhead said. “Not only is the population diverse—there are actually quite a few Texans—but this is the quintessential food city. Portlanders love authentic food of any type.”
1625 N.E. Killingsworth St., 503-281-3700, podnahspit.com