James “Blue” Broussard was born into a family business founded in Beaumont in 1889. Broussard’s Mortuary has six funeral home locations around the Golden Triangle in southeast Texas, and Blue is part of the sixth generation to run the business. His father Jim is the president, his sister Jayme Broussard Toeppich is the CEO, and Blue is listed as director of special projects. One of those special projects is 1701 Barbecue, which opened in downtown Beaumont last December and is now arguably the most popular barbecue joint in town.
A restaurant seems like an odd side business for a family of morticians, but Blue Broussard’s path in the family business has been a winding one. He graduated from Sam Houston State with a degree in agricultural business, and formed a band soon after. The Blue Broussard Band toured until 2015, when Broussard partnered with his friend David Thompson on a barbecue trailer called Blue Daves Barbecue, which they ran for four years. “I kinda traded one for the other,” Broussard says of his switch from music to food. Now, 1701 Barbecue, named (as straightforwardly as his previous ventures) for the building’s address, has become his full-time job, and he knows the barbecue is better for it. “Getting to do something every day, you’re picking up on little things,” he says.
At first, not everyone in the family loved the idea of a barbecue venture, but Broussard credits his sister and his wife Rachel with convincing the skeptics. Ten months in, there are customers waiting outside the door every day when the restaurant opens, and Broussard has no trouble selling out of barbecue, especially on Saturdays. On a recent drizzly Friday, I arrived ten minutes before the 11 a.m. opening and counted twenty people in front of me. The line moved swiftly, and I was seated with a tray full of barbecue at 11:25.
The only menu item missing from my platter was the beef chuck rib from 44 Farms, which seemed like overkill after I ordered the other five smoked meat options. Broussard complained that the 1855 Prime-grade briskets being delivered are huge, with more fat on them than he can use in the beef sausage. His cooking crew, which includes Travis Cox, Jacob Golmon, and Derek Ray, whom they call the joint’s pitmaster, still smoke them until tender. The seasoning is simple salt and black pepper, and the oak smoke comes through in the final product. Back in the pit room, they’re running a trio of homemade smokers, none of which are the thousand-gallon behemoths so often found at Texas barbecue joints.
The smoked turkey was magnificent. There’s no secret behind the juicy slices with plenty of smokiness and a little pepper, Broussard said. They just buy turkey breasts that are already brined, don’t overseason them, and don’t rush them. (A final dip in melted butter before serving doesn’t hurt either.) Tender pork ribs are jazzed up with a sweet barbecue sauce and a drizzle of simple syrup. Smoked pork shoulder gets pulled into a warming pan, where the meat is mixed with a semisweet, vinegar-heavy sauce. I liked it best on a bun with some slaw.
The Beaumont area is famous for sausage, specifically all-beef links. Broussard likes the local links, but the established businesses have a long history of making them. He “doesn’t have that history,” and didn’t want to copy a style so well executed by places like Patillo’s Bar-B-Que and Gerard’s Bar-B-Que. Instead, he chose to offer something Beaumont didn’t really have in the form of a house-made Central Texas–style beef sausage.
Broussard developed the beef sausage recipe in his home kitchen. For two months before the opening, he made a new batch every few days. “I watched every YouTube video, listened to every podcast, and read every book that I could about sausage making,” he said, and it shows. The sausage was juicy, with a great snap to the casing. Rather than the fine texture and strong garlic and chili powder notes of the local beef links, it had the coarse grind and simple seasoning of a Central Texas link. He’s currently working on a beef and rice sausage as well. It’s like a boudin, but the meat that goes into it is raw rather than cooked, so the filling resembles a beef sausage with dirty rice. I’ll have to wait until the next visit to try a bite.
Rachel Broussard developed the sides. There’s nothing groundbreaking in the lineup, but each dish is well-made. Her husband doesn’t like a soupy slaw, and asked her to create a slaw “like you would get in a fish taco.” She tosses in cilantro with diced cabbage, which stays crunchy thanks to a minimal amount of dressing. Potato salad gets a lift from pickled sweet jalapeños, and the meaty pinto beans are studded with chunks of sausage and brisket. I really loved the spiciness of the savory greens as well, which thankfully weren’t cooked down to mush.
Dessert is another classic done well. Fresh whipped cream and crushed Nilla wafers top the cup of banana pudding, which capped off an excellent meal of Texas barbecue favorites.
1701 Barbecue isn’t like the other barbecue joints in town, and that’s okay. I love the deep history of Beaumont barbecue, and wouldn’t think to leave town without one of the area’s signature links, but Broussard wanted to offer his hometown a different take on Texas barbecue than they’re used to. That includes serving the best smoked brisket I’ve had in the city. More specifically, he wanted to offer it up in downtown Beaumont. “All the new development has really moved to the west side of town,” he says. “[The restaurant] is a small step to get some neat things going on in our area.” He started out with weekday hours only because downtown was so quiet on the weekends. After prodding from both faithful and potential customers, he exchanged Monday for Saturday, which is now the restaurant’s busiest day of the week.
Broussard originally got into barbecue because he loved cooking it, and he loved eating it. I wondered if running a barbecue joint that’s open five days a week has dampened that love, or at least his craving for smoked meat. He gave an answer which I hear often from pitmasters these days, joking that he and his family eat a lot less barbecue and a lot more pizza and tacos at home than they used to. Then he got philosophical. “Everything’s a grind, but if everything is, then it sure helps to be doing something that you like to do.”
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 11–2
Pitmasters: Blue Broussard and Derek Ray
Method: Oak in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2021