Thursday, March 28, 2013

Two little known facts about Slow Bone BBQ, the newest joint in Dallas

One of these places sells BBQ & one doesn't. Can you guess which is which? (Photo ©Chris Wilkins)

Every couple of weeks I've been cruising by the new location of Slow Bone BBQ, checking for signs of life. This is the joint started up by Maple & Motor owner Jack Perkins, located on the corner of Wycliff and Irving Blvd.

When word of the opening came out via CultureMap's Teresa Gubbins on January 1st, the Dallas food blogosphere lit up. After his highly successful run at the celebrated burger restaurant, Perkins was ready to take on the steadily improving Dallas BBQ scene.

I won't rehash everything that flew back and forth after Perkins basically said that cooking good brisket is pretty simple, but here's an excellent recap by Dallas Observer food critic Scott Reitz on City of Ate. If you're into the Texas BBQ scene, this was entertainment at its best.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A disappointing visit to Casstevens Cash & Carry barbecue in Lillian

A customer walks into Casstevens Cash and Carry BBQ in Lillian. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Casstevens Cash and Carry is a BBQ joint I had been wanting to visit for several years. Located in an old Diamond Shamrock gas station in the tiny unincorporated town of Lillian, Casstevens made the Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ list in 2008.

That's as good as it gets for Texas barbecue restaurants, unless of course you make their prestigious top 5. Just ask Kerry Bexley at Snow's BBQ in Lexington. Once they were named top joint in Texas in 2008, life was never the same.

Here's what Texas Monthly had to say about Casstevens in 2008, "Though several tables have been added since we last wrote about this obscure gem at a Diamond Shamrock station (there’s no sign outside to advertise the unbelievably good ’cue within), it’s still hard to snag a seat at Casstevens. The reason? Mesquite-smoked meats, including thick hunks of brisket that are generously rubbed with garlic, salt, and pepper before they’re left to blacken in the two huge pits for fifteen hours."

Monday, March 25, 2013

Video: What the Posse looks for in great Texas BBQ

A diner eats his lunch at City Meat Market in Giddings. (Photo ©Guy Reynolds)

Here's the third video from our Best of Texas BBQ Tour multimedia package on dallasnews.com. In this piece, Gary Jacobson, Jim Rossman, Bruce Tomaso and me talk about what we look for in great Texas barbecue.

When we sit down to a plate of brisket, ribs and sausage, here are the basic criteria used to judge what we're eating: Taste, tenderness, appearance, texture and smokiness.

Click the video below to see more of our tips on judging great Texas BBQ.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The 10 top posts of all-time on the Texas BBQ Posse blog

Posse members toast at Loco Coyote Grill in Glen Rose during our Brazos & Beyond BBQ Tour. (Photo©R.J. Hinkle)

We missed a couple of important Posse milestones recently. So, forgive us a few moments of backslapping as we catch up.

The very first item on this blog was posted March 7, 2010, just over three years ago. It likely will never be a trivia question, like "what was the first video played on MTV?" (Answer: Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles.)

But, still, it's kinda sentimental to us. The item was about our first trip to the Central Texas BBQ Heartland, which began with brisket for breakfast at Snow's. Until then, we didn't know what good barbecue was.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Video: How to plan your own Texas BBQ Tour

       The posse samples meats during our first trip to Franklin BBQ. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/The Texas BBQ Posse)     

When it comes to Texas BBQ tours, the Posse has a few tips to share with our readers.

We've had 12 BBQ tours since 2009, covering around 5,000 miles. Our last trip, the Best of Texas BBQ Tour, covered 700 miles and 10 top Texas BBQ joints over 48 hours.

Tip no. 1: Do your research and planning, have an agenda. Check out website's like Daniel Vaughn's Full Custom Gospel BBQ blog. Daniel has been to every BBQ joint in Texas and he can save you a trip to a pretender. In fact, his book The Prophets of Smoked Meat will be released in mid-May

Tip no. 2: Pace yourself, don't over eat at any spot, IE: judge but nibble. If it's not any good, stop eating the save room for the good joint down the road. (Think wine tasting.) Try to have some down time between stops.

Tip no. 3: No sides if going to a bunch of joints in one day, we learned that on our first tour four years ago. It just takes up room when you need to be enjoying great smoked meats.

Tip no. 4: Be on the look out for surprises along the way, follow the smoke. A great BBQ surprise is worth the trip itself.

Click the video below to get our tips on planning a great Texas BBQ tour.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bikes, Blues and Barbecues: A father and son hit the Texas BBQ Trail on 2 wheels

Tim Landauer poses in front of the Texas Capitol, left. Son Robby rides between Taylor and Austin. 
Here at Posse headquarters, we've been feeling pretty good about ourselves and the nearly 700-mile Best of Texas Tour that we did -- by car -- over a long weekend.

Then we got an email from Tim Landauer, a North Texas resident who, with his son, Robby, took a 6-day, 276-mile tour of the Central Texas barbecue heartland by bicycle last May.

They ate at five of the same joints we did and arrived at the same conclusion: "Franklin's is the best we had," Tim wrote.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Here's your chance to buy another piece of Texas BBQ history

The original brick smoker at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, built in 1959. (Photo © Philip Lamb)
A couple of weeks ago we wrote about a chance to buy a piece of Texas BBQ history - the original catering smoker rig at Snow's BBQ in Lexington. Here's a slightly less expensive opportunity to buy another item representing the best in Texas BBQ.

You may have heard about the fire that recently destroyed the original brick pit at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor. The pit, which was built in 1959, was a total loss after back-to-back pit fires over the weekend of Feb. 23. Pitmaster and owner Wayne Mueller has decided to turn the disaster into a positive thing by offering the original bricks and lid squares for sale to help fund the rebuilding of a new pit.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

When sausage links cost just 10 cents apiece at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor

       Diners order off the butcher paper menu at the famed Louie Mueller Barbecue. (Photo by Tom Fox/DMN)
A reader, Don Peck from Longview, saw our Best of Texas BBQ story in The Dallas Morning News and it jogged some memories from his more than 60 years as a customer at Louie Mueller's in Taylor.

He remembers his grandfather taking him to Mueller's when sausage links cost just 10 cents apiece.

"I was there a couple of months ago and bought 50 links at $3 apiece," Don wrote.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Checking in with Fatboy's BBQ in Cooper

A customer waits for his order at Fatboy's BBQ in Cooper. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)
You meet some great folks as you travel the blue highways of Texas BBQ. Shannon Bankston and Heather Hoff of Fatboy's BBQ in Cooper are those kind of people.

A year ago, Marshall Cooper and I met Shannon and Heather at Fatboy's, then located in the tiny town of Ladonia in northeast Texas. It was a slow day in the town of 613 residents, so we talked BBQ for half of the afternoon, which of course is one of our favorite things to do. Fatboy's had been open for two and a half years at that point.

In April 2012, they moved their entire BBQ operation to Cooper, population 1,961, located 18 miles east of Ladonia. The location on a busier road in a bigger community would eventually allow them to triple their weekly food sales. Cooper is located 80 miles northeast of Dallas, near Commerce.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Barbecue Chronicles: Best of Texas BBQ Tour

Brisket, ribs and sausage at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor. (Photo by Tom Fox/DMN)
By Gary Jacobson/Texas BBQ Posse

For a while now, members of the Texas BBQ Posse have strongly suspected that Dallas finally has a joint that can hang with the elite barbecue restaurants in the state.

Our recent Posse Favorites Tour confirmed that suspicion. We drove nearly 700 miles and ate at 10 top places over 48 hours. We scored brisket, pork ribs and sausage, the holy trinity of Texas barbecue, on a 10-point scale.

In the end, we compiled a list of the six top-scoring spots. Pecan Lodge at Dallas Farmers Market placed second overall, snugged tightly between Franklin Barbecue in Austin at No. 1 and Snow’s BBQ in Lexington at No. 3.

That’s stout company. Behind them in our top tier of six were Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor and Fargo’s Pit BBQ in Bryan.

Indeed, Lockhart is no longer the BBQ capital of Texas, and other things we learned from the Posse's Best of Texas Tour

A customer eats lunch at Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Q in Tyler. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves)
A few things we think we learned from our recent Best of Texas BBQ Tour:

--In a post here a while back, we pondered whether Lockhart was losing its distinction as the BBQ capital of Texas. Upon more reflection, we're ready to say, yes, it definitely has lost the crown. With Franklin Barbecue and a host of start-up joints, we're declaring Austin the new capital. To us, Lockhart is going stale. In Texas barbecue, you can't take success for granted.

--Related to that, newcomers are making a huge impact. We first learned what great brisket was when we made our first trip to Snow's BBQ in Lexington in 2009. During our recent tour, Snow's finished third overall. It's not that Snow's has slipped. We'll eat brisket for breakfast there anytime. It's that a couple of young competitors, Franklin and Pecan Lodge in Dallas, have caught up and edged ahead. That's what competition is about.

--Judging only the three basic meats of Texas barbecue -- brisket, pork ribs and sausage --  really focuses the evaluation process. Before, we would give a place an overall qualitative rating based on the food and atmosphere. Having average sausage or ribs didn't really hurt if the place had another great dish or great atmosphere. On this tour, though, one low-scoring meat torpedoed any chance of a strong finish.

--We're more adamant than ever that real Texas barbecue is cooked with real wood. The state doesn't need a Truth in BBQ law. But the public should be aware which joints are cooking with the real thing.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Video: The Posse talks about their picks for the Best in Texas BBQ

The Posse judges dig into ribs, brisket and sausage at Kreuz Market in Lockhart. (Photo by Tom Fox/DMN)
One of the new additions to our reporting of the Best in Texas BBQ Tour was taking advantage of the new video studio at The Dallas Morning News. Some might say the Posse members in the video -- Gary Jacobson, Jim Rossman, Bruce Tomaso and me, Chris Wilkins -- have the perfect faces for radio. We don't disagree, but we had a great time filming these videos.

DMN photojournalist Nathan Hunsinger shot three videos of the Posse discussing the pursuit of great barbecue for dallasnews.com. The video shown below is our discussion of how we ranked the top six BBQ joints in Texas.

We also shot two other videos: How to plan your own Texas BBQ Tour and How the Texas BBQ Posse judges good BBQ. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Today in the Dallas Morning News: The BBQ Posse's Best of Texas picks


Here's a look at our three-page spread in today's Dallas Morning News travel section. The Best of Texas BBQ project was published in print and online on dallasnews.com and the DMN iPad app.

Dallas Morning News editor Bob Mong shared his thoughts on the Posse in his weekly note to the readers published in today's paper:

I can always stop by photo editor Chris Wilkins’ desk and catch up on the top visual journalism of the day.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Experience the Posse's Best of Texas Tour on the iPad

Here's a big shout out to The Dallas Morning News iPad team for this amazing interactive multimedia package on the Best of Texas BBQ Tour. This has to be one of the best online presentations ever assembled to feature the top BBQ joints in Texas.

Special thanks to iPad editor Paul O'Donnell, designer Amanda Robinson and multimedia editor David Guzman for their hard work making this all come together. Also, thanks to DMN travel editor Cathy Barber for her support on this project.

Click here to see the DMN iPad package showing our picks for the Best in Texas BBQ.

Click here to see the story and links on the DMN Travel section of dallasnews.com.

Check out 360-degree panoramas of the best BBQ joints in Texas

Snow's BBQ, Lexington. Click on each photo to see a 360-degree panorama.
When planning started for our Best of Texas BBQ Tour, we wanted to come up with a unique way to let readers experience the best BBQ joints in Texas. Welcome to the BBQ panorama project, a way to take a virtual tour of each joint without leaving your easy chair.

Dallas Morning News staff photographer Tom Fox shot the panoramas using a specially-designed rig consisting of a tripod bracket that helped him to align and shoot six separate photos of each place, which were then stitched together using software that forms the full 360-degree panorama.

You can click on each photo on this blog post to go to the related panorama hosted on dallasnews.com. Once you're there, you can use your mouse or touchpad to navigate your way around each BBQ joint. This technology works even better on the iPad, where you can simply hold up the panorama in front of you and slowly turn in a circle as the image on the screen moves with you.

Also, thanks to Dallas Morning News multimedia producer David Guzman for his hard work putting these together. Enjoy!
Louie Mueller Barbecue, Taylor
Franklin Barbecue, Austin
Pecan Lodge, Dallas
Kreuz Market, Lockhart
Fargo's Pt BBQ, Bryan
Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Q, Tyler

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Posse's best of the best BBQ joints in Texas: Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Pecan Lodge in Dallas and Snow's BBQ in Lexington

The faces behind our top six BBQ joints, clockwise from top left: Aaron Franklin of Franklin BBQ, Justin Fourton of Pecan Lodge, Tootsie Tomanetz of Snow's BBQ, Roy Perez of Kreuz Market, Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller Barbecue, Belender Wells & Alan Caldwell of Fargo's Pit BBQ. (Photos by Tom Fox/DMN)  
The Dallas Morning News posted the results of the Posse's Best of Texas BBQ Tour today on its Web site. The results will appear on the paper's iPad's application this weekend and in the newspaper's travel section on Sunday.

It was an exceedingly close finish. With 30 being the best possible score, less than a point separated the top three joints -- Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Pecan Lodge in Dallas and Snow's BBQ in Lexington.

Over 48 hours we ate at 10 top places. Six judges from the Posse rated the brisket, pork ribs and sausage at each on a scale of 1 to 10. We averaged the scores for each meat and then added them to determine the overall winner.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A short, philosophical meditation on our Best of Texas BBQ Tour

Posse BBQ judges (L-R) Jim Rossman, Bruce Tomaso and Gary Jacobson sample the meats at Fargo's Pit BBQ in Bryan. (Photo by Tom Fox/DMN)
In some respects, our recent Best of Texas barbecue tour was like a cookoff. Only the food didn't come to the judges, we went to the food.

Eating at 10 places over 48 hours and scoring each joint's brisket, pork ribs and sausage -- the three foundation meats of Texas BBQ -- gave us a good framework for comparison.

It also focused our attention entirely on the basics.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Pecan Lodge of Dallas wins best ribs in the Posse's Best of Texas BBQ Tour

Order of award-winning ribs at Pecan Lodge in the Dallas Farmer's Market. (Tom Fox/DMN)
While we wait for the full results of the Posse's recent Best of Texas barbecue tour to be published in The Dallas Morning News this weekend, we can reveal one more detail:

Pecan Lodge in Dallas won the pork rib category. Five of our six judges rated pitmaster Justin Fourton's ribs a perfect 10. The sixth judge scored a 9.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The secret to avoiding those long lines at Franklin Barbecue in Austin


The line was over 100 deep at Franklin BBQ on a recent Saturday. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)
Even now, four weeks later, we're still complimenting ourselves for our nifty navigation of the long lines at Franklin Barbecue in Austin during the Posse's Best of Texas Tour. People can begin queuing up two hours before the joint opens and the number can quickly grow to a hundred or more.

We took advantage of Franklin's advance-order service and had Posse members and Austin residents Libby Jacobson and Mike Gagne pick up our food before the place opened for regular business.

"It was a glorious feeling," Libby said of walking past the line and directly inside the restaurant to the pick-up counter. "You feel like you're someone special."

Monday, March 4, 2013

A readers' guide to The Barbecue Chronicles, the journeys of the Texas BBQ Posse


Since November 2009, members of the Texas BBQ Posse have traveled nearly 5,000 miles searching for the best barbecue in the state. True sojourners of smoked meat, BBQ Snob and prolific blogger Daniel Vaughn once called us. Back at you, Daniel.

As we await publication in The Dallas Morning News of our recent Best of Texas Tour, here's an annotated readers' guide, with links, to the first 11 chapters of our barbecue chronicles.