Brazoria County native Leon O’Neal doesn’t usually dress up, but he does often don a cowboy hat, even in the summer (when the headgear is made of straw and he may be wearing shorts). Dressed up or not, he and his sister will welcome you like honored guests to their simple little blue dining room outfitted with red and green tablecloths. During most of his more than 25 years in the business, O’Neal cooked on a traditional smoker, but after Hurricane Ike, in 2008, he switched to a commercial Ole Hickory smoker, which doesn’t demand so much babying. He uses plenty of oak in it and gets a decent amount of smoke flavor, but sometimes a brisket will be a little dried out around the edge (though moist in the middle). When it comes to sausage, it’s hard to choose between the big, fat, rice-stuffed boudin, with its fantastic pork flavor, or the coarsely ground, garlic-happy beef links, but the latter recipe is Leon’s, so go with it. As for the peppery pork ribs, they simply hit the ball out of the park, with pink, tender, close-textured meat that clings lightly to the bone. Leon’s original “stepped-up rice”—dotted with celery and jalapeño—is locally famous, and the sweet potato pie wins regular raves.
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