Matagorda is a barbecue desert for half the year. From May to October, however, the coastal Texas community is home to one of the best barbecue joints in the area, Coastal Que BBQ and More. Russell and Brandy Hicks opened the takeout-only restaurant to a slow midsummer start in 2016. Five years later, they’re selling out of barbecue consistently Thursday through Saturday, thanks to Brandy’s array of creative sides and desserts and Russell’s steady hand on an oak-fired steel smoker he welded together himself.
The smoker Hicks uses today isn’t the first one he’s built. He welded one in eighth grade, when nobody in the family really knew how to cook barbecue. Hicks taught himself through trial and error, found success on the competition barbecue circuit, and went on to attend the Texas Culinary Academy in Austin. After a failed seafood restaurant in Port Aransas, the Matagorda native traded surf for turf when he and Brandy opened this gem of a joint.
What used to be a small indoor dining room became a prep area during the pandemic, so all orders are now taken at a walk-up window. You can dine at one of the picnic tables on a covered patio, but everything is packaged for takeout, even the margaritas, which come in plastic cups with tape fixed over the straw hole. Lifting the lid of each food container, I was struck by the generous portions of the combination plates.
“We spoil our customers,” Russell says. “If they’re not happy, I’m not happy.” That claim is best exemplified in the chicken sandwich. He uses breast meat from half of a chicken, chops it, sauces it, and puts it on a bun. Then, along with a side of your choosing, you also get the rest of the chicken half—a thigh, leg, and wing. The smoked chicken arrived with crisp, mahogany skin and juicy meat beneath.
Knowing Hicks’s competition barbecue background, I expected more sweetness in the rubs, and lots of sauces and glazes. His seasoning methods for the restaurant are more restrained. Along with kosher salt and Malabar black pepper, the briskets get a spritz of Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, and distilled water while on the smoker. It’s not just for flavor, either: Hicks contends that a high acidity on the surface of the meat “helps the smoke stick to the meat.” I’m not sure of the science behind that, but each tender slice was perfumed with oak smoke. My serving was from the lean side, but it was incredibly juicy with a well-rendered fat cap.
The pork-rib rub includes a little brown sugar, which adds a sheen to the surface of the perfectly cooked ribs without much sweetness. I could have eaten a full rack, but I wanted to save room for Brandy’s sides. Her collard greens were cooked until tender, but not mushy, with more spice than I anticipated. The cool crunch of her house-made dill pickles (available only by request) quickly tamed it. The rich tater tot casserole wasn’t just scooped out of the casserole dish and into the to-go container; it was carefully topped with melted cheese and chunks of still-crisp bacon.
I didn’t even realize the excellent smoked beef short-rib tamales (also made in-house) came with a side until I opened the lid and spotted chilled corn salad. Brandy shucks fresh sweet corn and mixes it with cilantro, cotija cheese, and lime juice. The dish is far more refreshing than the creamed corn or elote made from canned or frozen corn more commonly found at barbecue joints these days. It’s just another touch that shows the thought and care that goes into the food at Coastal Que.
There’s nothing light about the sopapilla cheesecake. The base is buttery crescent-roll dough, and the filling is more like a cream cheese–based bar than a dense cheesecake. After a slice, I couldn’t even consider getting the banana pudding too, which is one more reason I’m looking forward to a return visit to this spot on the coast. The seafood options are aplenty in Texas beach towns, but when it comes to barbecue, Matagorda has most of them beat.
333 Fisher, Matagorda
Hours: Thursday–Saturday 11–3
Pitmaster: Russell Hicks
Method: Oak in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2016