You could lose a lot of tire tread and a little bit of soul looking for good barbecue in East Texas. But if you should find yourself in Jasper, mosey down Main Street, past the modest houses and packs of free-range dogs, and make the acquaintance of George Ralph Mahathay, better known as Billy, the nicest pitmaster you’re likely to come across hereabouts. His establishment isn’t much to look at—a tiny wood-frame, tin-roofed building equipped with a few cafe-style booths, a wall of family photos, and a little TV above the counter (playing Designing Women on our visit, naturally). But this 35-year-old joint is beloved among locals and even gets a few nods on the World Wide Web; one enthusiast claims he’d “drive 100 miles out of the way to get here.” Which, as noted above, is pretty much a requirement in this neck of the woods. Quality brisket is particularly hard to come by behind the Pine Curtain, but Billy, bless him, turns out tender slabs of nicely marbled meat (it spends a good 24 hours in his thirty-foot-long pit). The thick, fatty slices were cut just right and redolent of hickory smoke (a blanket of sauce notwithstanding), and we couldn’t stop eating them, despite stomachs sorely traumatized from ingesting lesser specimens earlier in the day. That same commitment to quality is just as evident in the hefty pork ribs lacquered in a slightly sweet glaze; the fat, juicy links of peppery sausage; and even the plump dollop of mustardy potato salad festooned with a cheerful cherry pepper.
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