It was a big year for barbecue at Texas Monthly. We released a new Top 50 barbecue list, and we welcomed 30 of those highly regarded joints to our eighth annual barbecue festival in November. In compiling the list, which was released in the June issue, I ate plenty of great barbecue. Our Food Editor, Patricia Sharpe, and I visited about twenty spots together to determine our Top 10. My fifteen best bites of 2017, which follow below, could have easily come from those visits alone, so I have decided to include only those joints not on the Top 50 list. Sadly, a few have closed since my visits, so you won’t be seeing the spare ribs from Pappa Charlie’s Barbeque in Houston or the brisket from the short-lived Short Line BBQ in Maypearl. What you will find is some of the best barbecue bites from around Texas.
Beef ribs at Black Box Barbecue, Georgetown
John Mueller is back to cooking his famous peppery beef ribs out of a food truck—this time in downtown Georgetown—and they’re as good as they’ve ever been.
Prime brisket at Bodacious Bar-B-Q, Hallsville
The original Bodacious down the road in Longview made all the headlines with its number-four ranking on our 2017 barbecue list, but the Hallsville location is hot on Longview’s trail. The demand for its Prime brisket is likely the reason it has had to add on to the dining room.
Pork ribs at Kerlin BBQ, Austin
Kerlin’s food truck is putting out some great barbecue and sides. It’s hard to fund a dud on the menu, but even in the barbecue mecca of Austin, Kerlin might have the best pork ribs in town.
There’s more to Brotherton’s than sandwiches, but that’s what most of its customers are hooked on. I’ve been thinking about the smoked brisket banh mi since the last bite I took.
The most unexpected new barbecue joint in the state was the Japanese-inspired Kemuri Tatsu-ya. The signature smoked hamachi collar is like the fatty brisket of the sea.
They still have limited hours out of a food truck, but all the smoked meats are worth the effort. I especially loved the enormous pork spare ribs simply seasoned with salt and pepper.
Pork belly at Killen’s STQ, Houston
The pork belly at Killen’s STQ is a mix of chef and pitmaster techniques. It’s smoked, deep fried, and glazed to create one of the most perfect bites I enjoyed last year.
You never know what’s going to be on the menu at LeRoy & Lewis, but if you see the smoked pork chop on the lineup, get it. It’s a double-cut beauty with a halo of golden fat and a coat of black pepper, and unlike most smoked pork chops, this one isn’t overcooked.
This food truck is off the beaten path, but the brisket makes it worth the trip. Just about anyone can make a great slice of fatty brisket, but the lean beef here was some of the best I ate this year.
Pastrami at Mum Foods, Austin
Instead of beef navel like they use in New York, Mum Foods makes its pastrami with brisket. There’s also no steaming because it spends all its cooking time in the smoker. I call it the Platonic ideal of Texas pastrami.
Pork country ribs at Big D BBQ, Mansfield
Pork country ribs aren’t ribs at all. They’re like a cousin of the pork steak, which also comes from the pork shoulder, and they smoke them to juicy tenderness at Big D BBQ.
I eat lunch here more often than just about any other barbecue joint. They’ve got plenty of sandwiches to choose from, including a pastrami melt and a brisket grilled cheese. I found the ultimate combination by substituting the pastrami in the grilled cheese.
There’s little else that’s more comforting than a simple sausage wrap. Southside has been smoking sausage for over a century. Ask for “dry” sausage and add a little yellow mustard and barbecue sauce.
I’m a sucker for sandwiches on Texas toast. They’re made even better with juicy slices of excellent smoked brisket like you’ll find at the new Tender Smokehouse.
There’s nothing bad on this menu, be it barbecue or sides. I loved the brisket and ribs, but the sides are what I crave. I’d stop in here just for a bowl of the greens, and you better believe I’d tip the bowl to drink the broth.
The beef links of Southeast Texas are some of the unsung heroes of the state’s barbecue’s heritage. I headed down to the “Land of Links” a couple weeks after Hurricane Harvey to check on the dozen or so joints still making these iconic links. I braced for stories of loss, but every single pitmaster had rebounded. They were all open like nothing had ever happened. These were my favorite links, most all of them served with rice dressing.