Caroline’s Quality and Quantity Bar-B-Que
Beef links worth celebrating.
Twenty years ago, Arthur Yarbough’s family was trying to develop a recipe for beef links. Arthur doesn’t sugarcoat his recollections of his older sisters’ attempts: “They wasn’t worth nothing.” So he gave it a try. It took some time and effort, but now Arthur’s beef links are a weekend staple in the small town of Kountze, about thirty minutes north of Beaumont.
Arthur and his wife, Caroline, opened the joint in a small building just off the main road. Arthur Jr. also helps out, and is being groomed to take over. The 62-year-old Arthur Sr. reminds his son that the barbecue business can age a man quickly, and the process they use to smoke the links doesn’t help. Wood partitions are nailed together in the back corner of the pit room. The particle-board door, not yet stained black by the smoke, must be new. A few chunks of red oak burn on the floor of the coat closet-sized room, and the links hang above them on wooden roads. They smoke overnight, and sometimes as long as 24 hours. That’s a lot of smoke.
Although it wasn’t passed down to him, Yarbough’s links recipe wasn’t without inspiration. Curt Cruse sold homemade links at a store in town when Yarbough was young, and Yarbough tried to replicate the flavor of those links, which are classic Southeast Texas-style beef links. At Caroline’s, they use pre-ground 80/20 beef. It’s spiced with garlic, sage, chili powder, and a few other spices before being stuffed into natural beef casings. The beef casings are tough, so they’re either cut open or the meat is squeezed out. They’re not as fatty as the links in Beaumont or Port Arthur, and thanks to the extended sauna in the smokehouse, they’re intensely smoky.
Beef casings weren’t Yarbough’s first choice, despite the tradition of using them in Southeast Texas links. He started with pork casings, but they were too thin and broke too easily. “When one bursts it goes down into the fire and boom!” Yarbough explained. The rest of the barbecue is cooked away from the fire in offset smokers, but the fire in the smokehouse is directly below the links hanging above. “I burned up so many links,” he remembered with a laugh.
I loved these links straight out of the casing, or squeezed onto slice of white bread. They offer a tomato-heavy dirty rice with ground beef, which is only improved by adding some of the link filling. The menu features a stuffed potato (which I didn’t order), and I suggested to Yarbough that a version with a beef link as the topping might be better than brisket. The links are also quite large, which Yarbough explains is so he doesn’t have to hand-stuff so many of them. As first I balked at the $8.75 price tag for a link sandwich, but as “Quality and Quantity” in the name suggests, I got about a pound and a half of beef links with two slices of bread.
The sliced brisket is not Caroline’s strong suit. Although they smoke them overnight for the Friday and Saturday crowds, it gets chilled down in the morning for some strange reason. I watched in disbelief as my order of brisket was sliced in a deli slicer and warmed in the microwave. Skip it. The links and the incredible spare ribs will give you plenty to enjoy. Thick ribs with a hearty bark and plenty of spice were perfectly tender. Smoky, salty, and juicy, they were the perfect example of a Texas barbecue spare rib.
The Yarboughs had to close for a brief time in 2014 due to family illness. I got a note from someone passing through Kountze that they had closed and got no answer from the restaurant’s phone number, which is why our site had them listed as permanently closed. I must credit the local paper for correcting our mistake, and giving me a reason to come down and taste these incredible beef links. They’re worth the journey, and you won’t leave hungry. As Yarbough reminded me as I headed out the door with leftovers, “We sell a lot because we give a lot.”