Brothers Jerrod and Marcus Poffenberger are the fourth generation of their family living in Bellville, and the second generation to run the Bellville Meat Market. They’ve expanded the market their parents, Daniel and Diann Poffenberger, first opened in 1981. Twenty-eight different sausages were in the meat case during my recent visit, and they’re all built upon the foundation of Daniel’s first German sausage recipe.
“A German sausage is a pretty basic recipe,” Jerrod explained. Salt, black pepper, garlic, mustard seed, and some type of a curing agent are all that’s required. Daniel worked for several local butcher shops and grocery-store meat departments before he and Diann opened Bellville Meat Market in the town about a seventy-mile drive northwest of Houston. He used his experience to come up with his own formula, which can be found in the sausage variety labeled “Original.” The family has since added flavors like sweet chipotle, habanero, and cheddar and jalapeño, which is obligatory for any sausagemaker in Texas. “All of those variations are just built on top of our original recipe,” Jerrod said. That recipe contains 80 percent pork picnic shoulder and 20 percent lean beef trim.
You can get all those varieties cold, straight from the meat case—but what if you want to try them on-site? For the last dozen years, Bellville Meat Market has run a barbecue counter inside the market. In addition to sausage, customers can order sliced brisket, chicken breast, and turkey breast, as well as a barbecue-stuffed baked potato. When I see “Sausage Boat” on the menu, I’m immediately on board. The dish features sliced sausages presented in a paper boat. It’s the best way to try all the hot smoked sausages available, which on a recent visit were the original, cheddar and jalapeño, sweet chipotle, and dirty rice.
The barbecue sauce on the side is generously portioned into a six-ounce container. It’s a ketchup-based sauce heavy on black pepper and light on sugar, and it has visible onions floating around. If you’ve read about the annual Bellville chicken barbecue, you’ll remember this style of sauce is called gravy in this region, and Bellville Meat Market’s version is the closest commercial version to the gravy I’ve had at those community barbecues. The Poffenberger family called it “Lutheran gravy” when Jerrod was growing up. He’s not sure why, but his grandmother’s great-aunt would cook chickens on a barrel pit and serve them with the same sauce now served at the market.
Bellville Meat Market’s original sausage is exactly what you’d except from a Central Texas German sausage. The casing—darkened by pecan smoke—has a great snap. The garlic flavor comes through along with the black pepper in the juicy links. Big chunks of cheddar cool the heat of the jalapeño in the cheddar and jalapeño sausage, and the sweet chipotle is more warm than spicy. I loved the dirty rice sausage. It’s not boudin, though the market does offer that. The rice is more sparse than in boudin, but the Cajun seasonings just scream dirty rice. It’s even better dunked in that Lutheran gravy.
As for the other barbecue on offer, the recipes don’t go back very far in the family. The Poffenberger brothers moved into the current building a year after their parents retired in 2001, and they wanted to get customers into the market at lunchtime. They had commercial smokers for the sausage, but they added a Southern Pride rotisserie for brisket (chilled, whole smoked briskets are also available in the market) in 2010. They didn’t smoke many briskets growing up. “We didn’t want to go home on the weekends and smoke anything,” Jerrod said, so their cooking method was developed through trial and error.
If you’re looking for even more smoke, try the dried sausages, which are made the traditional way. When they built a new processing facility in 2018, the Poffenbergers opted to include an old-school smokehouse just for dried sausages. They start with the same exact recipe as the one they use for the regular smoked sausages, but they hang the sausages in that smokehouse for a week to dry before they’re ready to package and sell. I think the flavors of the sweet chipotle shine through better in the dried version, though the subtle sweetness of the whiskey-washed dried sausage was my favorite. A few slices of it made me realize I really snubbed Bellville Meat Market by not including it in my Texas dried sausage recommendations a few years back.
Jerrod promised they’re working on a few more new varieties: “We can’t quite talk about them yet, because we haven’t introduced them, but they’re still in our Skunk Works.” One newer menu item I didn’t get to try was a cultural mash-up that sounds just crazy enough to work: a boudin tamale. “It’s the most interesting and enjoyable and satisfying tamale that I’ve ever had,” Jerrod told me, though that revelation came a few days after I’d been in Bellville. That just gives me another reason to return and see what flavors I’ll find for my next voyage on the sausage boat.