The barbecue history of Southeast Texas has been entwined with links for as long as it’s had a dining culture. Legendary joints like Patillo’s Bar-B-Q have been making all-beef sausages stuffed in beef casings for over a century, and a dozen or so link shops carry on the tradition. Folks here pick a favorite and stick with it, so it’s tough for a new operation to compete. Charles Brewer is the latest to add his own variety into the lexicon of links in Beaumont. At Charlie’s Bar-B-Que he has made his grandfather Leroy Ardoin’s recipe the centerpiece of the menu, and he’s reeling in new loyalists.
“A lot of people, like the old-timers, they come here and tell me they like my links because they’re not greasy,” Brewer says from behind the counter at his restaurant. He cringes at the “grease ball” nickname sometimes given to this style of link. Brewer grinds brisket for his but trims off plenty of the fat first. He prefers the finished links not to drip with fat. Tearing into the casings, darkened with red oak smoke, reveals a brick red filling of coarsely ground beef and plenty of spices. The obligatory slice of white bread it arrives on is not moistened by overflowing fat, as you might expect if you’ve taken a link tour through the city. Lean links like these basically pass for health food here in Beaumont. Just ask for sauce on the side (for the links and everything else on the menu) to better savor the intense flavors of garlic and chile powder.
Ardoin may have shown him how to make the links, but it took Brewer years to get it right. “He couldn’t read or write,” Brewer says of his grandfather, who worked as a bricklayer. Since getting a written recipe from him was out of the question, Brewer just watched and paid attention. “He never used a measuring cup—he would cup his hand,” Brewer remembers. “When I decided to try it on my own, the flavor just wasn’t there,” he said. There was a specific sequence for adding the seasonings. Once he learned the proper steps, it took another three years to get them right. He’s got the flavor now, but he’s not sharing the secrets. “My wife doesn’t even know the recipe,” Brewer says, and I believed him.
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These links aren’t sausages. They’re also not to be confused with hot links. Explains Brewer: “When people wanted a link they didn’t ask for a ‘link,’ L-I-N-K. They said ‘lank,’ L-A-N-K.” And if ‘link’ is written on a barbecue menu in these parts, chances are you’ll get the latter. Links have become synonymous with Beaumont barbecue, but what I love about the menu at Charlie’s is that it has so much more to offer.
Brewer doesn’t put black pepper on his pork ribs. They’re seasoned with salt, garlic, and a few other spices the day before they go into the smoker. The meat is salty throughout and comes away easily from the bone with every bite. There’s a richly fatty bite of pork at the end of the St. Louis rib, where the bone stops and cartilage starts. With each one of those bites came a rush of smoke, salt, juice, and pork flavor that seemed to validate my decision to skip the sliced brisket. Who needs it with ribs this good, especially in an area not known for smoked brisket?
The smoked pork chop was another favorite. The surface is heavily tinted from the smoke inside the J&R Smokemaster, a wood-fired cabinet-style smoker. They’re not thin-cut, but I wouldn’t call them thick-cut either. Still, it was a heck of a slab of meat for just one item in a combo plate. The boudin is also smoked. Brewer get it locally from DJ’s, and puts a good snap on the casing.
The side options are limited to a basic potato salad, baked beans from a can, and a solid rice dressing, which is dirty rice by another name. The prize is dessert. Brewer’s wife, Shelia, makes personal-sized sweet potato pies with a nutmeg-heavy filling inside a thinly rolled out crust. They’re in plastic bags behind the counter, and you’d be remiss to leave Charlie’s without one, even if you can’t see them from the drive-thru. About half of Charlie’s customers are served while still in their car. Brewer plans to serve even more when he opens on Sundays, a move he said is coming soon. “I’m the rookie on the block, so I have to be open,” he tells me with a laugh.
Brewer also told me a story about the power of barbecue. He learned more than just a link recipe from his grandfather. “When I was a kid and my uncles and aunts would get into a little altercation, my grandfather would always invite them all over and light the barbecue pit,” Brewer remembers. Ardoin called those family meetings but didn’t intend for any real confrontations. “It’s like all the arguing goes away,” Brewer says. “Everybody was happy and they forgot what they was mad about.” I guess it’s hard to stay angry with good barbecue on the plate in front of you.
I have to time my next visit for a Saturday when Brewer smokes oxtails. There’s also the turkey leg, which I skipped because of its heft, and because I didn’t know how popular it was. Before Brewer opened his brick-and-mortar he sold links and turkey legs from a food truck. The turkey leg sales outpaced the links then, but the links have taken the lead (Brewer makes five hundred a week) since he got into his current building last year. Brewer is cautiously modest in a crowded field of local link purveyors, but I asked him if the new kid in town had heard from any of the more established joints. “I’m making noise in Beaumont now,” he says. “They know who I am.”
3125 College St., Beaumont, TX, 77701
Hours: Mon 10:30-6, Tues-Sat 10:30-7
Method: Red oak and hickory in a wood-fired cabinet smoker
Pitmaster: Charles Brewer
Year Opened: 2012