Robert Irvine is the host of Restaurant Impossible on the Food Network. He travels around the country to help bring failing restaurants out of the doldrums. In March he brought his crew and $10,000 to Lufkin. Lynn Bryan, the owner of Bryan’s Smokehouse was in desperate need of some business. When the show finally aired a couple days back we learned that Bryan had been bringing in only a few hundred dollars a day. The absentee owner blamed it on the economy, but after eating the food, Irvine disagreed.

A tour of the pit room revealed that Bryan’s was using a well worn Oyler pit, fired with hickory. They held the pits at around 250 degrees, and smoked their briskets for around 14 hours. A good start, or so I thought. Irvine suggested a combination of pecan for nuttiness and cherry for sweetness. He also noted, oddly, that, “hickory gives barbecue a bitter taste.” I’ve had plenty of good hickory-smoked barbecue, but I suppose the guy’s got to make a show. His next suggestion was to lower the smoking temperature to around 190. Now that’s definitely lower and slower than most.

There were a couple funny moments for any Texan. First, Bryan balked at using pecan for smoking because, “Pecan is our state tree. You’re not allowed to cut a pecan tree.” In fact, that’s not true, as any pecan-burning pitmasters will tell you. Later, when a customer was asked for an on-camera reaction to his chicken fried steak, he complained, “The chicken fried steak seems like it’s a lot of batter and not much chicken.” Chicken? Where do they get these customers?

Grady Bray served as the barbecue expert. All I can tell you about his qualifications is that he joined the Kansas City Barbeque Society in 2010 and he lives in Huntsville. His job was simple. Tell the camera how bad the barbecue was when they started and how great it was two days later just before the grand re-opening. On camera the barbecue looked pretty good for that re-opening, but some of the recent online reviews suggest that maybe the quality has slipped once again. I’ll have to get out to Lufkin to check for myself one of these days.