What makes someone a Texas barbecue aficionado?

What’s the best barbecue “joint” in Texas? (I’m a language purist and won’t use bar-b-q unless it’s part of the establishment’s name.)


Of course, I don’t have the answer. Thousands of Lone Star wannabe aficionados do not either. I can state one thing with a certainty: Texas barbecue beats Louisiana’s version all hollow. 


I was prompted to write this after seeing an obituary in the Houston Chronicle for Jim Goode, whose establishment became one of the top barbecue restaurants in Houston with seven locations. I knew Jim when I was selling typesetting and graphic services and he was a budding commercial artist. I was around when he opened his first restaurant.


Now, that we’ve established the bona fides on this issue, I will write a bit about some Texas barbecue establishments I’ve experienced. I use that big long noun to group all such places in one category.  And, I don’t profess to be nearly as well connected as, say, Texas Monthly Magazine, which dedicated an issue to the subject. The magazine had some staff member research the places it featured in the story. 


I can tell you that the places I’m discussing, I’ve sampled their barbecue and atmosphere and that’s what will be offered here. 


“Atmosphere,” which might also be called “personality” almost certainly plays a major role in my collection. 


Unfortunately, my hometown didn’t have a barbecue restaurant at the time I was growing up. The only samplings of barbecue until I left to attend college were Mother’s recipe and one questionable experience at an all-night fox hunt. At that event, Dad and I sat by the huge campfire where a giant coffee pot (had to be at least a gallon, maybe two) offered strong coffee accompanied by a handful of grounds since the fresh grounds were dumped into the pot before adding water. It was my first taste of coffee (I was 11) and it put me off coffee until the late-night-cramming-for-tests routine in college necessitated my indulgence. 


Meanwhile, Dad sat by the fire with me as we listened to “the music of the hounds” as they chased the fox through the woods. 


Barbecue was not often part of my menu until several years later and I found some memorable barbecue joints. I quickly learned that I really liked barbecue. At first, it was because my sweet tooth greatly approved of most of the sauce I sampled. 


After awhile and some maturity, I learned to appreciate good barbecue based on its flavor WITHOUT the sauce and to distinguish the taste by the wood over which the barbecue meat experienced its smokey curing and cooking. In my considered opinion, the best-tasting Lone Star barbecue is cooked over mesquite with oak a distant second. Forget about those phony “charcoal briquets.” 


In my opinion, some of the best barbecue in Texas is cooked in Lockhart — Black’s (traditional), Kreuz Market and Smitty’s (the latter didn’t exist when I lived there). According to Texas Monthly, the Kreuz family had a bit of a falling out and split, with the addition of Smitty’s as very good competition. Those two are recognized as among the very best in Texas. 


One place that I really liked wasn’t ranked by Texas Monthly — Casey Jones Barbecue on State Highway 105 between Conroe and Cleveland. The proprietor is a cousin of famed country and Western singer, George Jones. Casey’s joint was an old railroad car. When you entered, you faced an L-shaped serving table manned by Casey himself and he greeted everyone with “Hey, Bud,” and “Hi, Sis,” as if he really knew them. The “dining stations” were school arm-chair desks. 


Casey’s barbecue was good, his chatter utterly disarming. I almost choked laughing while trying to swallow mouthfuls of his meat. 


One place where I got to spend more time than any other was Texas Charlie’s in Jasper. The meat might not make Texas Monthly but the atmosphere and the chatter were absolutely intoxicating. 


Part of that was the “outrageous” personality of the place’s namesake, Charlie Nicholson, tempered by his sweet wife, Nancy. The “sauce” on the experience was The Table, which was sort of front center in the dining area and where local wits and personalities gathered every day to issue declarations about local, state and national events. 


These places represent most of my barbecue experiences and as you might surmise, atmosphere and personality played greater roles than the food. 


Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at wwebb1937@att.net.





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