Jim and Colleen Buchanan have been smacked down by the restaurant industry more than once. The couple’s first barbecue operation was supposed to open in Houston in 2018. They rushed to finish the kitchen for an August opening, then watched helplessly as all that work was submerged under the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey. The restaurant never opened.
Persevering, Jim partnered with the Houston bar Lucky’s Lodge for recurring pop-ups to bide his time until an opportunity for a new restaurant presented itself. The Buchanans moved to Galveston and opened Buck’s there last August, but were forced to close less than six months later. It was a large restaurant that simply didn’t bring in enough revenue to cover the high overhead. The day after the Buchanans closed the doors on Buck’s, the new owners of Dozier’s Barbeque, Jim Cummins and Steve Baur, called Jim to say they were looking for a new pitmaster. It took him three weeks to return the call. “I was so demoralized, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this anymore,” Buchanan admitted, but he and Colleen moved back to his hometown of Katy, and he took over the pits at Dozier’s in February.
Dozier’s has been serving Fulshear, a town of 14,000 west of Houston, as a meat market and barbecue joint since Ed Dozier opened it in 1957. After a fire in 1969, Dozier built a new place just up the road from the original. Texas Monthly’s first listing of superlative barbecue joints, published in April 1973, praised the pecan-smoked barbecue at Dozier’s (which is the last mention of the joint’s barbecue in our pages) despite the “severely modern” building that housed it. The article referred to the joint as “a missionary outpost of the Central Texas orthodoxy.” Just like in Central Texas, the meat is still served unadorned on butcher paper at Dozier’s, but unlike at most Texas barbecue joints, it’s still smoked with pecan wood. While “modern” doesn’t accurately describe the building any longer, Buchanan said his goal “was to maintain the tradition here but bring it into the modern era of barbecue.”
I drove out to Fulshear fully expecting a great meal from Jim Buchanan, whose cooking has impressed me in the past. While driving to the restaurant and meat market, I was writing an uplifting comeback story in my head for both the Buchanans and Dozier’s. Instead, a disappointed barbecue writer and an embarrassed pitmaster sat across the table from each other. We stumbled through an uncomfortable conversation on a Tuesday afternoon over a sad tray of barbecue that had been cooked on Sunday night. I praised the bacon-laden greens and the loaded potato salad, and commented on the decadent mini pecan pies made by a local bakery. Buchanan urged me to return another day for better barbecue. Redemption would have to wait.
They say that there’s no safer day to fly on a commercial airline than the day after a crash. That thought went through my head the following day, when I decided to drive back out to Dozier’s. Unlike the previous day, Buchanan was working the cutting block. He smiled behind his face mask while he cut my order. I retreated to a table outside, but not before Colleen handed me a cup of Jim’s house-made mustard. He said he doesn’t consider it a mustard barbecue sauce, but then most folks don’t think of ketchup as a sauce either. The mustard has some turmeric, black pepper, and paprika. Maybe it’s not a barbecue sauce, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever dipped a slice of smoked sausage into.
Wednesday’s tray of barbecue had little relation to the previous day’s. Thick slices of Choice-grade brisket from both the lean and fatty side were tender and juicy. The well-formed bark held a pungent but not overpowering smokiness. Buchanan builds on Dozier’s old rub recipe, which uses table salt and ground black pepper, as a base for his own. He then adds some granulated garlic and coarse black pepper for the brisket, which could have used a bit more salt, and brown sugar for the rib rub. The St. Louis–cut pork ribs had that same stout bark with tender pork beneath. Between bites of smoked meat, I cleansed my palate with standard dill pickle chips and the very nonstandard, but always welcome, pods of pickled okra.
The smoked turkey was spectacularly juicy, with a good dose of black pepper. The mustard tasted nearly as good on the thin slices of turkey as it did on the smoked sausage. As a meat market, Dozier’s has its sausage recipe dialed in, and the juicy filling was covered by a glossy casing with excellent snap.
It was a thoroughly satisfying meal of barbecue, made more confounding given what I’d been served the day before. Buchanan admitted that while the barbecue is cooked fresh Wednesday through Sunday, they reheat leftovers on Tuesday so that he and the staff can have one day off a week, on Monday. It’s not exactly scandalous to reheat barbecue, but the thing that defines the “modern era” of Texas barbecue isn’t expensive brisket, post oak wood, or the twin Moberg smokers newly installed in the Dozier’s pit room. It’s the expectation of consistently great barbecue, with little tolerance for off days. So if you’re visiting Dozier’s based on my recommendation, don’t blame me if you go on a Tuesday. For what it’s worth, Buchanan told me in a follow-up conversation, “I’m probably gonna make some significant changes to how I cook for Tuesday.” Choose any other day, and Dozier’s is most definitely worth the drive from Houston, and maybe even a little farther. Besides, five days a week of great barbecue is more than Fulshear has had in a long while.