As a barbecue fan, I couldn’t wait to get to the highly touted Bar-A-BBQ in Montgomery. As a food writer, I probably should have given it more than a week to settle into its new building. While the location is new, this isn’t the joint’s first rodeo. Cooper Abercrombie and his wife, Shelby, have been serving barbecue since 2019 at pop-ups around their hometown of Montgomery, an hour northwest of downtown Houston. Last year, they picked up a retired ice cream truck in Amarillo and outfitted it for barbecue. Just a few weeks ago, they moved the business into a refinished house on the main drag in Montgomery.
“We haven’t cooked a protein the same two days in a row since we got into this space,” Cooper Abercrombie said after my visit. He and Shelby moved up from a five-hundred-gallon to a new thousand-gallon offset smoker from Mule Skinner Smoke Rigs to increase cooking capacity and expand hours. Breakfast biscuits, tacos, and klobasniky are served from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and lunch begins at 10:45 a.m. Abercrombie warned, “If you want a kolache, you better get here about nine.” I didn’t make it in time, but I was happy to indulge in just about everything on the lunch menu.
After serving Prime-grade briskets for several years, Abercrombie recently switched to Creekstone Choice-grade briskets. He’s happier with the consistency in size and shape, but he said the marbling on the lean sides isn’t as plentiful. What they lacked in fattiness, however, the lean slices made up for in intense beef flavor. With fatty slices, the rich buttery flavor from all that marbling and melted fat can get overwhelming after a few bites, but I enjoyed the clean flavors of beef, smoke, and black pepper on this brisket.
Abercrombie said his first lessons in barbecue were from Meat Church and Malcom Reed videos. Several years back, while working in residential and commercial fencing, Abercrombie purchased a home. “You gotta have a smoker if you buy a house,” he said. “It got me hooked once I realized I wasn’t any good at it. I don’t like not being good at things.” He kept learning from folks in the community, like James McFarland, formerly of Reveille and now with Nomad Barbecue, down the road in Cypress. Abercrombie said he talks shop with either Jonny White or Lane Milne, both from Goldee’s Barbecue, almost daily. If you like Goldee’s, you might recognize Bar-A-BBQ’s banana pudding, which also has a smooth texture and is topped with crushed gingersnaps. Unlike Goldee’s, Bar-A adds cream cheese to give the pudding some body and a little tanginess. But the influence goes beyond dessert recipes.
“They’ve been the ones who have really helped elevate everything here,” Abercrombie said of Goldee’s. The owners’ advice has changed how he trims all the meats and makes the sausage, and why he renders beef fat into tallow for almost every dish he serves. “Butter is extremely expensive when you’re buying it in cases,” he said.
The sausages at Bar-A are incredible. They all begin with trimmings from briskets, pork ribs, and pork shoulders. Abercrombie adds pepper jack cheese and dried chiles to the South Texan link and Monterey Jack and fresh jalapeños to the cheesy Texan link. The spices, peppers, and cheese all come from the Houston Farmers Market. The chunks of cheese keep their shape inside the Texan’s casing, which has a great snap and plenty of smoke flavor. There’s a simpler Beefy Texan option as well, but all are excellent.
I also enjoyed the moist slices of peppery smoked turkey. The pulled pork was anything but dry, but the ball of meat squirted with a sweet-mustard barbecue sauce would have been better on a sandwich. The pork ribs were plenty tender, and they had more of the mustard sauce as a finishing glaze. I just wanted more bark and smoke flavor to stand up to the sauce.
A focus on side dishes is a common theme at new barbecue joints, including Bar-A, but the joint doesn’t try to fancy it up with brussels sprouts or a fifth cheese in the macaroni. “I want our menu at Bar-A to be like what our grandma’s kitchen was like growing up,” Abercrombie said, which is relatively easy because he’s got recipes to work with from his and his wife’s families. The old-school green bean casserole calls for beans and fried onions from a can, but Bar-A begins with fresh green beans and house-made onion strings for the best green bean casserole I’ve ever eaten. The cheesy potatoes would fit in perfectly at a church potluck. The popular dish is usually made with frozen hash browns and canned cream of mushroom soup, but Abercrombie insists on fresh ingredients, including the mountain of diced potatoes. “The only thing boxed here is the Jiffy mix,” he said.
The Jiffy mix is for the cornbread, to which Shelby, who does all the baking for the restaurant, adds honey and “more sugar than [in] a Coke,” Abercrombie explained. It’s his replication of the hot cornbread topped with warm milk his grandmother served him as a kid. It’s certainly sticky sweet and hard to put down. Back on the savory side, the borracho beans are loaded with plenty of onions and jalapeños. They were so creamy I assumed Abercrombie smashed some of the finished beans into a paste, but he surprised me with his secret of Monterey Jack cheese to get the consistent smoothness. The flavor of fresh jalapeño comes through well in the cheese grits, but they’re not spicy. “We deseed all of the jalapeños that come in here,” Abercrombie said.
Just when you think you’ve ordered enough, the coffee counter tucked into the side of the dining room comes into focus. “Ever since I went to Miller’s [Smokehouse, in Belton], I wanted to have a barbecue and coffee shop concept,” Abercrombie said. Jacob Loyd, the restaurant’s general manager and co-owner, makes the coffee. He previously roasted coffee in Round Top and most recently managed Tejas Chocolate & Barbecue, in nearby Tomball, before coming on staff. He makes a good cappuccino.
In preparation for the new building, Abercrombie recently hired his younger brother, whom he credits for the name of the joint. Caleb Abercrombie, who previously sold farm and ranch equipment and was head herdsman of the Brahman herd at the V8 Ranch near Wharton, also had a show cattle operation called Bar-A Cattle. Abercrombie borrowed the name, then brought his brother in to learn the pits. After just two months, Caleb has graduated from pit hand to pitmaster in the not-so-lengthy chain of command at Bar-A-BBQ. The Abercrombie brothers will likely require more help as the joint’s popularity grows—and it surely will, given their skill, their attention to detail, and the lack of competition in their hometown. Bar-A is poised to be the next notable barbecue joint to emerge from the many small communities surrounding Houston, and in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t wait any longer to try it.
21149 Eva, Montgomery
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 6:30–4
Pitmaster: Cooper Abercrombie
Method: Oak in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2019