Monday, July 21, 2014

Strong reviews for CorkScrew BBQ in Spring...but

Brisket, ribs & sausage at CorkScrew BBQ in Sprint. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

The food is excellent at CorkScrew BBQ, a trailer joint located behind a shopping center in Spring:

"This could be a Top 10 joint," said friend of the Posse Bryan Norton, who joined us on this stop in our 35-hour, 610-mile barbecue tour of the Houston area.

"I can't stop eating," said Posse member Phil Lamb as he picked from a selection of fatty brisket, pork ribs, turkey, sausage, pulled pork and chopped brisket. Later he said he would have liked more smoke flavor on the brisket and ribs.

"The brisket is on a par with la Barbecue," said Daniel Goncalves, referring to the top Austin joint.

"This is really good," said Tom Fox. "The chopped brisket is better than the pulled pork."

"I'm with you, man," echoed Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins about the chopped brisket. "I could eat two pounds of that."

At CorkScrew, customers eat outdoors, at shaded tables. And anyone who eats outdoors expects some bugs from time to time. On this visit, though, the flies were out in force. We had to shoo them away before we could take a piece of meat.

"I couldn't bring my wife here," Lamb said. "She wouldn't put up with the flies."

CorkScrew BBQ, 24930 Budde Rd., Spring, 832-592-1184. Open Tues-Sat 11am-til the meat runs out. Website: (Texas Monthly Top 50)

Customers wait in line on a Friday at CorkScrew BBQ. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Complete Idiot's Guide To Wine Tasting

Brisket and wine were on the menu for the Posse at Pecan Lodge. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves/

By Bruce Tomaso/Texas BBQ Posse

On Tuesday, the BBQ Posse was invited to join the Dallas Morning News Wine Panel for a tasting at Pecan Lodge. The mission: Find the red wines that pair best with Texas barbecue. (Look for the story in the July 30 Arts & Life section of The News.)

Diane and Justin Fourton served up platters of Justin’s other-worldly smoked brisket. Cathy Barber, the paper’s food editor, and Tina Danze, a Dallas freelance writer, served up 26 bottles of wine. The wines came from around the world: Argentina and Australia, France, Spain, and Portugal, California and Washington State.

The brisket was pure Texas.

The members of the Wine Panel sniffed and sipped and swirled.

The members of the Posse tried not to scarf down all the brisket.

Truly, this was a meeting of the connoisseurs and the goobers. The people on the Wine Panel are master sommeliers, well-known Dallas chefs and restaurateurs, people of rigorous training and refined palates. They’ve spent decades studying wines.

The BBQ Posse is a less exclusive society. To get in, you have to ask.

I know a great smoked brisket when I taste it, but if you put a revolver to my head, I couldn’t tell a Malbec from a Merlot, a Shiraz from a Petite Sirah. I don’t pretend otherwise.

Sometimes, the less you know, the easier it is to learn. If the gaps in your knowledge are the size of moon craters, it’s not hard for one or two small nuggets of insight to carom in there and settle.

Here, then, are six lessons that I learned from my first wine-tasting. (Once Cathy and Tina read this, I’m pretty sure it will also be my last wine-tasting.)

Pecan Lodge pitmaster/co-owner Justin Fourton delivers out first of two briskets. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

1. Use the spit cup

It seems counter-intuitive to put wine in your mouth and not swallow it, especially when it’s good wine and you’re getting it for free. But there’s a reason that experienced tasters spit out each sample.

If you’re tasting 26 wines in two or three hours and you take one small sip of each, you will be inebriated by the time you stand up to leave.

And if you drain your glass 26 times, you’ll be picking fights afterward with bikers coming out of tattoo parlors.

2. Don’t use your fingers

When the platter of beautifully smoked, expertly carved brisket arrives at the table, you should resist the temptation to reach in, grab a blackened, juicy bit with your hand and stuff it into your mouth.

This is perfectly acceptable, even customary, on a barbecue tour. Among people who know where the butter plate goes, you will be regarded as a cretin.

3. When you sip, stick your nose in the glass

This is to experience the wine’s aroma as well as its flavor. I was surprised to discover that wine smells just like wine.

4. Assume the authoritative voice

After tasting each wine, listen to the experts before you fill out your evaluation sheet. They will use phrases like “subtle spice notes,” “dense, peppery palate,” “hints of courant,” “dense tannins,” and “elongated finish.” Write these down.

Don’t worry if you don’t know what they mean. At any given moment, half the people on Earth who are speaking have no idea what they’re talking about. Bill O’Reilly knows no more about immigration policy than I do about Côtes du Rhône. That hasn’t shut him up. My three nephews know more about sports than Skip Bayless, and ESPN pays him $500,000 a year. If you write that the Merlot “displayed aromas of dark stone fruits,” who’s going to argue with you?

Four Seasons master sommelier James Tidwell pours wine at the tasting. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves/

5. After a while, you’re faking (and you’re not the only one)

The BBQ Posse once hit eight Central Texas joints in just over 24 hours. (We were young and foolish back then.) By the time we got to our last stop, the mere sight of ribs and brisket – the mere sight of a guy in a greasy white apron with a carving knife in his hand – was enough to make us queasy. I’d have rather eaten a small box of paper clips than that eighth barbecue meal.

The gross overload not only killed our appetites; it blunted our ability to distinguish one brisket, rib, or sausage from the next. The same was true with the wines. Twenty-six was too many.

Halfway through the tasting, I found myself thumbing ahead through my stack of evaluation sheets to see how many more samples were yet to come – and softly groaning that the number wasn’t smaller. The people sitting across the table from me – not BBQ Posse goobers – were doing the same.

And even though I was dutifully using my spit cup and drinking water between samples, after 15 or 20 wines I was fooling myself that I could tell how the cabernet from Beckman Vineyards stacked up against the one we’d tried an hour earlier from Becker Vineyards.

6. Barbecue and wine might just be a bad idea

The consensus of our table – oenophiles and mooks alike – was that most of the wines paired poorly with Justin’s brisket.

Many of these vintages were good. A few were really good. They would have gone well with a medium-rare New York strip, or a thick slice of prime rib in au jus, or even a baguette and a wedge of aged Gruyère.

But thickly smoked, crusted, peppery brisket has an immense, forceful personality. It just steamrolled most of the wines we tried. Their subtle, supple, silky, luscious, sexy, opulent, complex, layered, textured, fresh, intense, pure, suave, ripe, rich, refined florals and truffles and mocha and herbs and spices and chocolate-coated dark cherries and velvet plums and black raspberry perfumes and hints of boysenberry liqueur didn’t stand a chance.

The wines were like Nanci Griffith trying to sing a duet with Janis Joplin. After Janis had drained about six bottles of wine. After swishing and spitting our way through 26 bottles, we did find a few that more or less held their own alongside the brisket. (I believe that I may have described one of them as having “balls.”)

But all things considered, a robust amber ale – or a big plastic glass of sweet tea – would have been better.

Members of the Texas BBQ Posse & the Dallas Morning News wine panel at Pecan Lodge. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves)

Monday, July 14, 2014

High on smoke and creamed corn, BBQ eureka at Killen's BBQ

Pork ribs, brisket, potato salad & creamed corn at Killen's BBQ in Pearland. (Photo by Daniel Goncalves/

Just a week after the Posse's barbecue tour of Houston-area joints, Posse member Daniel Goncalves and his wife, Magda, made a return visit, including a trip to Killen's Barbecue in Pearland, which might just be the best barbecue joint in the state. Daniel says he had a couple of new barbecue revelations while high on smoke and creamed corn. Here is his report:

My wife and I decided at the last minute to spend the 4th of July weekend in Houston. The previous week's trip to Killen's may have influenced that decision.

When the Posse visited Killen's, Posse member Jim Rossman showed up a couple of hours before opening and had the #1 spot in line.

My wife and I stopped Saturday, July 5th, just before 3 p.m. We spotted pit master, Ronnie Killen, on the side lawn. I was curious to see if the joint had sold out any of the meats and how the food would measure up to the "first in line" offerings we had the week before.

Only 6 people were in line ahead of us when we arrived. The board up front said sausage had sold out. We decided to get a 6-meat plate ($28), but divided between only two meats: two portions of pork ribs and 4 portions of moist brisket. It's a lot of food, enough for us have a nice lunch and leftovers for dinner.

We were disappointed we couldn't sample the sausage, which was very good the previous week, but I was pleasantly surprised that sausage was the only meat that had sold out.

A worker said meat capacity was increased for the holiday weekend by temporarily bringing in an additional smoker. On Friday, 85 briskets were smoked and they had sold them out by 3:30 p.m. They had 12 out of 65 left at just after 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

The plate came with a choice of two sides. I've never been excited about sides at a BBQ joint. We ordered the potato salad and the creamed corn.

I assumed we would both take a bite of each and the rest would end up in the trash bin. After last week's visit I didn't believe anything could possibly stand up to the meat. I couldn't have been more wrong.

This led to the second great revelation of my BBQ touring experience: Don't put sides to the side (sorry).

The sides stood up just fine and were not out of place with the meat. They were not an afterthought or a simple filler as with many barbecue joints.

Pitmaster/owner Ronnie Killen. (Photo by Daniel Goncalves)
The creamed corn was sublime. It was creamy and luscious while being light and almost frothy with a small spicy after kick. We were told that the creamed corn is the exact same corn served at Killen's Steakhouse which is considered one of the top steakhouses in the country.

If I could create a new BBQ category called "most luscious side," the creamed corn would be king. I challenge any other side from any other joint to go toe to toe with the creamed corn in my fictitious category. Bring it on.

The brisket was perfectly cooked and unbelievably moist, but I personally would have liked a little more rub, especially salt. The ribs were perfect. I felt the same way on the previous visit. The beef flavor seems to be the star while the seasoning does back up duty and that's not a bad thing.

I felt compelled to try the sauces after sampling some naked bits and pieces. Since my Florida days I haven't touched sauce. My personal feeling is that if it needs sauce I don't want to eat it.

This led to my third ever BBQ revelation. The sauces were delicious and complemented the brisket beautifully. I'm wondering if this is part of some genius plan to get you to reach for the sauce so you can experience another layer of culinary goodness. Killen definitely has "it" when it comes to creating perfectly balanced flavor. Escoffier would not be disappointed. sweet and acidity balanced beautifully. No one flavor stands above the other.

We decided to take a brisket back home to Dallas after making sure they had enough left over for the people in line behind us. Our brisket was just short of 8 pounds of jiggly, glistening and gorgeous meat. Memories of Baywatch's intro sequence came to mind.

We decided to further indulge by getting a slice of the buttermilk pie to share. Magda said she noticed lemon rind while exclaiming how wonderful it was. No bottled lemon juice here.

I haven't been this excited about smoked meat since my first BBQ revelation while sampling Snow's marvelous brisket on a beautiful Saturday morning. That was when I finally understood how great brisket could be.

After its Houston tour, the Posse debated on the way back to Dallas whether Killen's was the best BBQ joint in the state. I was reluctant to agree on the spot.

But if you take into account comfort level (A/C, nice decor, friendly staff, personable pit master, beer in line, etc.), all the different meats and their quality, and if you throw sides into the discussion, then I personally would have to say that this is the best BBQ joint in Texas and possibly this side of the sun.

Please pass more of that creamed corn.

Killen's BBQ, 3613 E. Broadway, Pearland, 281-485-2272. Open Tues-Sun 11am-until they run out of meat. Website:

Dining room at Killen's BBQ. (Photo by Daniel Goncalves/

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Robust flavors make Brooks' Place in Cypress a BBQ winner

Our meal of Brisket, deer sausage & pork ribs at Brook's Place in Cypress. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

In the Spring of 2013, Trent Brooks said, he was struggling to sell 3 or 4 briskets a day from his barbecue trailer located in an Ace Hardware parking lot in Cypress, outside Houston.

"Then one Wednesday," he recalled, "I opened and all of a sudden my Twitter account exploded. In an hour, I was done." Sold out.

The next day, he said, there were about 50 people in line when he opened.

What happened?

Brooks' Place made Texas Monthly's list of the Top 50 BBQ joints in the state. Instant celebrity and business boost.

Pitmaster/owner Trent Brooks. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves)
"For a month, I sold out in 2 hours a day," Brooks said.

A half-dozen strong, the Posse arrived at Brooks' joint about 2:30 on a Friday afternoon during its recent Houston-area tour. The first stop of the day was CorkScrew BBQ in Spring; the second, Virgie's in Houston.

We sampled brisket, pork ribs and a very spicy deer sausage and liked them all. Four members said Brooks' barbecue was the best of the day. Two gave the nod to CorkScrew.

""There's a lot more going on here flavor wise," Posse member Jim Rossman said of Brooks'.

"CorkScrew is a little more delicate," said Phil Lamb. "This is more robust."

Brooks said he cooks with a mix of oak and pecan wood and uses mainly salt and pepper in his brisket rub, though he was protective of the exact recipe.

"I'll give you one ingredient that you wouldn't normally think of," he said. "Cinnamon."

Brooks started his joint part time in 2009 and went full time in 2011 after the company he worked for let him go.

"After I lost my job, I didn't look back," he said.

Open 5 days a week from 11 a.m., Brooks said he normally sells out by 2-3 p.m. on weekends and 4:30 to 5 on week days. He said he sells 50-60 briskets a week now.

The ordering and eating areas of the place are sheltered by a metal canopy attached to the parking lot.

When it rains -- and it rains a lot, Brooks said -- he turns the space into a drive thru. Customers can order and get served without getting wet.

Brooks' Place, 18020 FM 529, Cypress, 832-893-1682. Open Wed-Sun 11am-til the meat runs out. Website: Website: (Texas Monthly Top 50)

Brooks Place's trailer is located next to an Ace Hardware in a Cypress parking lot. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse) 

Monday, July 7, 2014

From the NFL to Ray's BBQ Shack in Houston, meet Herb Taylor, pit master in training

Herb Taylor, co-owner of Ray's Real BBQ Shack in Houston. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves/

At TCU in Fort Worth, offensive tackle Herb Taylor started every game during his four-year college football career.

He was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2007 and spent time with four other NFL teams over six years.

Herb Taylor as a Kansas City Chief.
Now out of football, Taylor is a co-owner and self described "pit master in training" at Ray's Real Pit BBQ Shack in Houston. The other co-owners are Ray Busch and Maxine Davis, Taylor's mother, who were't there when we stopped.

Taylor said he started cooking for his teammates and friends while he was at TCU. Now, he's learning from Ray, who began serving barbecue out of a food truck nearly 30 years ago.

On day 2 of the Posse's recent barbecue tour of the Houston area, we hit Ray's Shack right after Killen's Barbecue in Pearland, a very tough act to follow.

Still, we liked Ray's sausage and pork ribs, although we thought the brisket tended toward roast beef and the chicken was dry.

The rub on the ribs reminded some of us of the Baby Back Shak in Dallas. Shak ribs are among our favorites.

Ray's four meat plate with boudin. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves) 
Like the Shak, Ray's also serves a tasty boudin.

"To me, this place is better than Gatlin's or Virgie's any time I've been there," Posse regular Jim Rossman said, referring to two Houston joints that made Texas Monthly's Top 50 list.

We had visited Virgie's the previous day and were disappointed.

Taylor's jersey -- #72 -- from his time with Green Bay Packers, hangs on one wall. At 6-4, he looks considerably lighter than his listed NFL playing weight of about 300 pounds.

While he may still be a smoked meat apprentice, he shares the same attitude about food as many veteran pit masters we have met.

"No way I can eat barbecue all the time," Taylor said.

Ray's Real Pit BBQ Shack, 4529 Old Spanish Trail, Houston, 713-748-4227. Open Mon-Sat 11am-8pm. Website:

Customers wait in line at Ray's Real Pit BBQ Shack. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves/

Herb Taylor's jersey from the Packers hangs in the dining room of Ray's. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves/

Ray's BBQ Shack is located next to a convenience store & gas station in south Houston. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Take a number -- A different approach to BBQ lines

Posse members Jim Rossman & Gary Jacobson head up the line at Killen's BBQ. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves/

In our recent travels to Houston, part of the scheduling involved knowing that two joints – Killen’s and CorkScrew – were places that would require a wait in a pretty lengthy line.

We hit CorkScrew BBQ in  Friday for lunch and did the same Saturday at Killen’s. Each place opens at 11am. I volunteered to be the line sitter each morning, arriving at 8:30 a.m. each day to secure the first spot in line.

Note to our fellow line-waiters – I was alone in line each day until at least 9:30am if you’d like to gauge when to arrive. I don’t mind the line if the food at the end of the wait is as good as we knew it would be, but frankly standing in one place for two hours or more is nobody’s idea of a good time.

There is a line culture that forms each day – a brotherhood of sorts -- amongst the BBQ faithful. I enjoy the alone time early in the morning. I was greeted bright and early by the owners and employees of both joints and they were happy I was there.

But both places have instituted a number system for those waiting in line and I think it really makes the wait a much better experience. At CorkScrew, there’s a three-ring binder with 20 numbered pages inside. As customers arrive, they remove their number from the binder and find a table to wait.

There’s no standing around. You’re free to wander, run to the bathroom, go sit in your car or whatever you like, as long as you don’t leave (although I doubt anyone would even know you’re gone if you had to run a quick errand). Once the numbers are gone, the line forms under some umbrellas, but those folks have to stand (or sit) in line.

Customers stand in line as CorkScrew BBQ in Spring opens on a Friday. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

When 11 a.m. comes, holders of numbers 1 through 20 line up at the window and the rest of the line falls in behind them. It could not have been a smoother process. A word of warning for CorkScrew customers – at 11:45 a.m. when we were leaving, they were only serving number 15. But don’t worry, the food is worth the wait.

At Killen’s, it’s a different sort of line. When I visited on Father’s Day, the line was the traditional “snake around the sidewalk” version with folks just standing in one place. Last weekend, Killen’s introduced a “take a number” dispenser just like you find at the grocery store meat counter.

The number dispenser is put out around 9:45 a.m. when there were about 6 groups of people lined up. We each took a number (mine was 21, which was the first number available) and again once you pulled a number you were free to go find a shady spot under one of the dozen picnic tables and wait. Myself and the others who showed up early found adjacent tables and continued our conversation about where we’d eaten good BBQ lately and other important topics.

Killen’s has recently started offering free beer to people waiting in line. The keg of Lone Star was wheeled out about 10 a.m. and it was tended by employees who dispensed the beer and even carried some full cups around on a tray to offer up to the guests. There were also large decanters of ice water available.

Not everyone is ready to drink beer at 10 a.m., but I have to say it was damn good. Everyone seemed to be putting a dollar or two in the “donation” jar, which I hope ends up paying for the keg each Saturday.

Once the beer was flowing and as the last hour of waiting ticked away, the place took on a really relaxed feeling – more like a backyard gathering of friends and not at all like a long line of people waiting in the sun (or rain). I even saw owner and pitmaster Ronnie Killen manning the keg as I returned for a refill – talk about a good way to connect with your customers.

Pitmaster/owner Ronnie Killen mans the keg on a Saturday morning at Killen's BBQ. (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves/

There was no limit on the numbers at Killen’s, but once everyone lined up at 11am, I have to figure people stopped coming up to the front to take a number and just joined the end of the line. As a point of reference, when we were leaving shortly after noon, the number coming through the front door was 75, so they’d run through 54 numbers in just over an hour.

Overall, I really liked the number system, but probably a little more so because I was first in line each day. I tried to think about which other joints have a daily line, like Franklin or Pecan Lodge and wonder if a number system could work at those places.

Both Corkscrew and Killen’s have quite a few outdoor picnic tables in the shade, which gives number holders a place to enjoy the wait. Franklin and Pecan Lodge don’t have near that type of room outside, although Pecan Lodge does have a patio with a dozen or so tables.

I’m not convinced either of those places would benefit from numbers, but I could be wrong. As the Posse waited at Killen’s Saturday morning, the talk turned to what would happen if someone arrived early and grabbed half a dozen numbers and sold them quietly to late arrivers?

We agreed this (hopefully) wouldn’t be too big a problem, but other questions did come up. What’s the etiquette for showing up at 10:59 a.m. and joining someone already in line? The Posse did just that each day, but I‘d warned the group behind me that six other guys would be joining me, but I’d only be placing one order for all of us.

I’ve often arrived at Pecan Lodge when someone else had arrived earlier and joined them in line with no issue, but I have to wonder if there’s a limit to the number of people you can have join you in line without raising the ire of the rest of the line.

Of course, there’s always the Pecan Lodge express line…

CorkScrew BBQ, 24930 Budde Rd., Spring, 832-592-1184. Open Tues-Sat 11am-til the meat runs out. Website: (Texas Monthly Top 50)

Killen's BBQ, 3613 E. Broadway, Pearland, 281-485-2272. Open Tues-Sun 11am-until they run out of meat. Website:

Posse member Jim Rossman was first in line at CorkScrew BBQ on Friday and first at Killen's BBQ on Saturday.
(Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)