Pitmaster Adrian Handsborough, of Virgie's Bar-B-Que, in Houston, perched on his pile of oak. Wyatt McSpadden
Rating: 4 Opened: 2005 Pitmaster: Adrian Handsborough, age 48 Method: Oak; indirect-heat pit Pro tip: Virgie’s is named for Handsborough’s mom, who taught him the art of smoking.
The brawny pork ribs that emerge from the big metal smoker set a standard for the genre. They are massive, pink, and delicious, their meat lightly clinging to the bone until you grab a bite with your teeth and give a light tug. A heavy salty-peppery crust, without a trace of sweetness, lends depth of flavor to each piggy bite. There is no way to be genteel when consuming these monsters, so pile up some extra napkins and dig in. They need no condiments, but the sweet sauce, with a hint of smoke and heat and a bit of a fruity undertone, provides a worthy complement. The brisket is satisfying, if less memorable than the ribs. It looks the part, with a jet-black outer crust, not too thick, and a good half-inch-deep smoke ring shading from red rose to soft pink, giving way to the warm brown of well-smoked meat. But it dries out pretty fast. The building itself is a humble affair, a long, low dining room painted beige with cedar wainscoting. It’s the folks inside that make Virgie’s something special: they’re Texas friendly and make you feel right at home.
5535 N. Gessner, 713-466-6525. Open Tue 11–2, Wed–Fri 11–6:30, Sat 11–5:30. virgiesbbq.com