I sat at a picnic table on the patio of Blood Bros. BBQ with a banh mi and a bowl of gumbo on one tray. The banh mi was stuffed with the cucumber, cilantro, pickled carrots, and daikon you’d expect to find on the iconic Vietnamese sandwich. A swipe of chicken liver pate, made by co-owner Terry Wong, hid beneath a layer of chilled turkey breast slices, smoked by pitmaster Quy Hoang. Chunks of the same smoked turkey and smoked sausage swam in a caramel-colored gumbo, the work of chef Allen Duhon. Grasping the crusty bread of the sandwich, I dipped it into the gumbo before taking a bite. Even as a proud Dallasite I couldn’t help but repeat the cliche I’ve grown so tired of: only in Houston.
Technically I was in Bellaire, on the edge of Houston proper, staring into a strip-mall parking lot. Hoang, Terry Wong, and Wong’s brother Robin opened the Blood Bros. BBQ restaurant here last December. The trio grew up in the Alief neighborhood, just a little to the west, where they attended high school together and didn’t think a whole lot about barbecue. Hoang started a career in the aquarium business, which he continued for decades. The Wong brothers opened Glitter Karaoke together, which they still own. It would take them all a long while to discover their passion for smoking meat.
“I never even thought about barbecuing, honestly, until about five years ago,” Hoang said. He first dabbled in cooking meat over fire when he offered to grill steaks for one of Glitter Karaoke’s customer-appreciation nights. After a couple events, he graduated to smoking pork shoulders on his Weber Kettle grill. They’d serve the food only to regulars and employees, but curious patrons asked if they could buy some. Hoang’s hobby grew, but a restaurant wasn’t really the goal. “Everything just happened by chance,” Robin told me, like when an acquaintance offered to sell the Wongs an offset smoker. They talked with Hoang and agreed to split the cost.
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Until then, Hoang had mostly been smoking quick-cook proteins like pork ribs and sausages. In the new offset smoker, he smoked a brisket and a few other items for a pop-up event. The new equipment required more attention than he’d bargained for. “I’m not trying to mess with this thing every thirty minutes,” Hoang said about the smoker, which he grew to resent. They traded it for a vault-style smoker made in Houston by Pitmaker. It required less attention and fuel. That smoker still sits in the pit room and gets fired up for sausages and beef ribs, but most of the cooking at the restaurant is done on their newer Pitmaker Sniper offset smoker, fueled with pecan and oak wood.
Even without a storefront, Blood Bros. made an impact on the Houston barbecue scene over several years of intermittent cooking. Their tent was always popular at local barbecue festivals, where gochujang beef belly burnt ends became a staple, and their Saturday pop-ups were legendary for the smoked-meat experimentation on display. Who in Houston wouldn’t want to line up for Thai green chile boudin?
When the trio finally found the right restaurant space, they wanted to put their creativity on display, but they were also aware that folks new to their name might just be looking for good brisket and pork ribs. “We want to have a good foundation,” Hoang said. They’ve certainly achieved that. The brisket is smoky and tender, and the pork ribs have a hint of sweetness with some cumin and black pepper mixed in. Hoang also makes a great sausage, which is on the everyday menu. He told me, “I just like spicy stuff, so I tried to make a Texas-style hot link.” Its seasoning is well balanced, and it takes on plenty of smoke.
What gets me more excited is when Blood Bros. extends beyond the confines of traditional Texas barbecue. Smoking boudin has gotten trendy in Texas barbecue joints (I recently ate a link all the way up in North Texas), but here they make the Louisiana staple their own. The spice of Thai green chiles brings a vegetal flavor and a more vibrant heat than simple cayenne (the boudin is available Fridays only, for now). That banh mi I mentioned earlier uses cold slices of smoked turkey, which was surprising, since hot, fatty meats have been used successfully by other barbecue joints in the same sandwich. At Blood Bros. they don’t shy away from adding the swipe of chicken liver, a flavor Vietnamese customers would expect on a banh mi—which also happens to pair quite well with smoked meat.
Leftover brisket finds a home in the fried rice, a holdover dish from the Glitter Karaoke dinners and their most popular side. There’s a unique pop of flavor from kimchi in the rice, the grains of which are glossy with brisket fat. A few peas, carrots, and eggs make it a meal all its own. A newer side is the cucumber salad, which is fresh but a bit bland. It’s hard to recommend, given the selection of free, homemade pickles on the ample pickle bar. I wondered aloud when the kimchi will be available for brisket sandwiches. “We love that, but we don’t know if the customers will,” Robin said. They encourage culinary exploration, but they don’t want to inundate new customers with too many unfamiliar choices. Changes are coming, though, based on the community’s positive feedback thus far. “They get excited that it’s not your run-of-the-mill barbecue meal,” Robin said. The Blood Bros. are already talking about Thai sticky ribs and boudin-stuffed turkey legs for a dinner menu that’s in the works.
Hoang and the Wongs are modest about their success, despite selling out of barbecue most days. They were never trying to make their unique mark on Texas barbecue or be considered influential. Heck, none of the trio ever thought a restaurant was in their futures when they started cooking their barbecue. They just wanted to have fun and bring others along for the ride. “Our whole thing is we’re bringing the backyard barbecue vibe to the masses,” Hoang said. Their menu seems to be a Texas barbecue paradox, but doing the basics well makes it even more interesting when they break from norms. A meal at Blood Bros. is exciting because it’s delicious, but also because it provides the opportunity to witness the innovation of Texas barbecue in real time.