Feature

There Is Bad Barbecue

In my quest for the perfect bite, I've eaten a few bad ones too.

by Daniel Vaughn · October 11, 2013

Regular readers know that I review a barbecue joint every week. I highlight places that have an interesting story, or that serve one particularly good barbecue item, and when I can, I review new joints. As I travel around the state I usually have a few targets on my itinerary, but, considering barbecue restaurants in Texas are as much a staple of the small town landscape as the Dairy Queen and the locally-owned donut shop, I like to leave enough time to stop in random joints. The hope is always to find that hidden gem—this tactic is, after all, how Texas Monthly‘s Katy Vine found Snow’s—but obviously enough, finding the hidden gem is about as common as finding a real one in the parking lot of the joint I pull up to. More often, I find middle-of-the-road barbecue, but sometimes it’s just plain bad.

There’s this one memory I get in my mind when asked about the oddest thing I’ve seen eating barbecue. I went to this barbecue joint (now closed) looking to try their garlic-stuffed brisket. I imagined thick slices of brisket studded with big cloves of garlic, like you might find in a leg of lamb roasted Sardinian-style. What came out looked like wounded flesh. Instead of whole cloves, they’d used some heavy gauge injector to squeeze in that oil-soaked, pre-chopped garlic that comes in a jar. It tasted of beef marinated in rancid oil, a flavor I never wanted to taste again. Here are a few other places that I’ll likely never return to:

George’s Restaurant in Post, Texas

Lubbock was forty miles behind me when I passed the newly opened Wagon BBQ in a converted Post gas station. It looked promising, but they had closed up early. Just a few blocks away was George’s Restaurant with “BBQ” written prominently on the sign. I drove around back and found the door to the pit room wide-open. I got my hopes up seeing the wood-fired offset smoker and a large stack of wood.

Bad BBQ Georges 01

The menu was varied, and the back page was all barbecue. Ribs had been crossed out with a Sharpie so I went with sliced brisket and German sausage. Cigarette smoke wafted by as I waited for my order at a table near the door. There wasn’t a smoking section so much as a few smoking tables. I was happy to take my order to the car.

Bad BBQ Georges 02

The German sausage was an insult to Germans. Cheap commodity kielbasa has no German provenance, but it seems to pervade the menus of West Texas. Stop calling it that. I took one glance at the brisket and knew I wouldn’t be finishing it. It looked more like wood trimmings than brisket. I braced for my first bite, but it didn’t actually taste like much. It was like the sensation of picking up an empty jug of milk that you think is full. The flavor was so completely empty it was jarring.

Bad BBQ Georges 03

Outlaw’s BBQ in Waco, Texas

This new entry among Waco’s barbecue options could have really made an impression in a town without a lot of quality barbecue. I may have been the first customer of the day when I went by at 10:30 a.m. I was traveling to Austin, so I took the meat on the road. Before I opened the boxes, I smelled smoke, which is normally a good sign. This time it just meant meat with way too much smoke on it.

Bad BBQ Outlaws 01

The day I had it, I tweeted that it tasted like dirty smoke. Some people were confused about what I meant. It’s simple. Wood that is actively burning produces clean smoke that is white or blue. If you choke off the oxygen to the fire it will smolder, and you’ll see thick, dark gray (dirty) smoke. This poor quality smoke carries flavors like creosote, and the meat ends up tasting like it was brined in a dirty ashtray.

Bad BBQ Outlaws 02

Demeris Bar-B-Q in Houston, Texas

In fairness the most popular menu item here is probably a chopped beef sandwich. I went for a combo plate of brisket, ribs, and sausage. A thick layer of unrendered fat had to be peeled off the ribs before I wanted to take a bite. The end cuts of brisket were dry, undercooked and chewy. The sausage was bland, but at least the sauce was good. You’ll need it.

Bad BBQ Demeris

Mesquite Pit in Weatherford, Texas

It’s pretty easy to recognize when you are not eating fresh barbecue. The meat is drier, and the texture degrades. It was a Friday, but it might have been Monday’s brisket and ribs at the Mesquite Pit.

Bad BBQ Mesquite Pit 01

I tried to pick up a spare rib, but the bone slipped out. A few bites of the pork tasted like burnt spices and heavy smoke. The meat was so dry, it flaked away from the massive ribs, and it seemed like the chewing never ended. Brisket had the texture of a wet sponge, and the flavors were washed out. I didn’t need more than a couple bites to realize I should just be happy with the corn muffins and onion rings.

Bad BBQ Mesquite Pit 02

Blanco BBQ in San Antonio, Texas

If I’m going to make a barbecue discovery, chances are it will have to be a new barbecue joint. Event though Blanco BBQ had only been open for a few weeks when I visited, the word was out. Online reviews were split, but the parking lot was full. The multiple cash registers, “moist” and “lean” brisket, and creamed corn on the menu were all reminiscent of Rudy’s. I took in the immaculate interior as I waited for my order, and the order coming out looked promising.

Bad BBQ Blanco BBQ

The ribs and brisket I got looked decent; then I took a bite. I like my ribs to require a little tug to get the meat off the bone, but these needed a stronger jaw than mine. It would have taken another couple of hours on the smoker to make them edible. The brisket suffered from the same issue. They were so undercooked the slices sprung back into shape when I tried to tear them apart. They have plenty of mouths to feed here, but they need to be a lot more patient with the meat.

I love writing about great barbecue that I find, and it’s not rewarding to write a negative review. But knowing where you might find disappointment is just as relevant to my readers. And maybe singling out a few places that aren’t doing things right will help prod them into tweaking or changing the operation. With so many great options for smoked meat in Texas, there’s no need to settle for bad barbecue.

Comments

18 Comments

    bansley says:

    Git a rope.

    Debi Prather says:

    In defense of George’s, there are not a whole lot of places to pick from in Post if you don’t want to eat at DQ, and they stay open late and have a big parking lot where you can easily pull in your truck/camper/boat. Not the best food, but far from the worst and when we are traveling in that area we usually stay in Post because at least we know we will be able to eat somewhere when we roll in at 10 pm.

    douglas78 says:

    I think its shameful you feel the need to run folks businesses down have you eatin at any of these places more than once ? was there regular cook sick, something going on that it was less than stellar . Theres always the possibility that others wouldnt agree with your assessment there are some of your choices for best barbecue I dont agree with .You said you hoped these people tweeked there business and it helped ? Thats whats great about Texas barbecue that I dont think someone from Ohio can understand its about every place being different using different spices, different wood ,cutting the meat differently all these things make for a wonderful food, BBQ and I say god bless the differences and bless your heart for not knowing what it means to be a Texan .

      Dennis Myhand says:

      Sorry, but there is such a thing as bad BBQ. And when I taste, no, I don’t go there more than once. Writing about a bad dining experience isn’t running someone’s place of business down. It is calling things the way they are. It doesn’t matter if they are from Ohio, or New Jersey, or even California. Well, maybe California doesn’t count.

      Scooter Hendon says:

      So you’re saying that all criticism is wrong because it hurts a business? Pretty hilarious. I guess the world is all smiles and rainbows and nothing ever sucks. This world sounds amazing! As for me, I’d prefer to be warned by the experts about what sucks so I can avoid wasting my time and money. This is is beauty of the press and of capitalism: The best rises to the top and the rest drop off. Do better or risk getting called out by those who know better.

    Matthew Noreen says:

    I once saw an insufferable Avant-garde performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Art. My friend said “you need to know awful art to know what excellent art is”. Same with BBQ.

    Steven Bodiford says:

    Two smug remarks about smokers. I read this for the comments about BBQ, not your personal opinion about others habits. I’m getting really tired of other peoples prejudices about smokers. You could have left the remarks out, and it would have been just an article of your opinion about BBQ, which, by the way, is what we come here for. I respect your opinion about BBQ, but leave the snide comments about other patrons out. I have talked to several people that test the theories of second hand smoke, and all say that you would have to be in a very small room with many smokers, and no ventilation for it to even make a slight difference in the air quality. I can understand not liking the smell, I have walked into smoking sections of restaurants that I would not sit in, and I smoke. They just don’t clean them like they should, because they figure, hey their smokers they don’t care about the smell. We have just as much right to be there as anyone else, and if the eatery has a pro smoking policy, then I just might endure a little subpar BBQ to be accommodated. Smokers tip better than non-smokers also. I won’t judge you for being a Texas BBQ expert from Ohio, so don’t judge me for enjoying a smoke before or after my meal. We all make accommodations for others while we dine, like people that think good BBQ needs sauce, or people that think medium well is the way to eat a steak! In all fairness, everyone has their own way of enjoying a meal, so lets just be civil to each other and enjoy the great food that only comes from the Lone Star State!!!

      Colorado_Kool_Aid says:

      the smoke from a skanky cigarette may well have ruined the flavor of anything that resembled BBQ . . . it’s a vile and disgusting habit that intrudes on others around it.

        Steven Bodiford says:

        I’m quite sure you don’t have any bad habits… Mr. Perfect!!! If you don’t like the smell, stay in the places that choose to discriminate… I can refrain from smoking if I choose, but you can’t refrain from being one of the people that feel they have to have everything their way, or they start crying. People like you are the reason this country is becoming unlivable for everyone else that tries to be compassionate
        towards their fellow man. It’s always me me me!

    Amanda says:

    Bill Miller’s is some of the worst BBQ I’ve ever had. Their sauce tastes like catsup. The brisket is always dry and grainy. At least their iced tea is delish.

    OMGosh says:

    I’ve never had a really good smoked brisket. . .have heard that it happens, just have not experienced it myself.

    JOE says:

    I COMPLETELY AGREE WITH THE STORY I ALWAYS LIKE TO GET MY MONEYS WORTH IN ANYTHING I PURCHASE SO WHY SHOULD THAT BE DIFFERENT WITH BBQ.I WORK HARD TO GET WHAT I HAVE AND BBQ IS NOT CHEAP.

    Jacob Taylor says:

    I’m surprised Mesquite BBQ in Mesquite didn’t make this list.

    David Campbell says:

    Try JD s barbecue just outside texarcana in Arkansas ,exit 7 north of the exit near flying j. They smoke their brisket and all their meats with pecan wood. So tender and light smokey and a flavor that’s smooth but full. Try it out would like to see your review. Only thing was the meat wasn’t hot warm but not hot.cool in spots. Barbecue should be served piping hot, right? That’s my only gripe.Fries were good and hot.How do you serve meat cold.

    Don in Huaco says:

    Hey, the ‘que options are looking up in Waco….we’ve got a brand new Dickey’s. Sigh.

    Joey says:

    Irrespective of where you’re from, you’re entitled to form your own opinion on food (leave the term BBQ out for a second). The reality is, restaurants can suck and as a consumer, I want to know where not to spend at. As far as BBQ is concerned, preferences in style is not bashing. I can form my own opinion on something being too sweet or smokey. However, dry means dry, undercooked means undercooked. A person being from Ohio, Rhode Island or Pakistan has no bearing. I’m born and raised in Texas. Guess what, we have places in Texas that have no business in BBQ and I’m sure they’re in your neck of the woods also. To say a person from can’t form an opinion on bad food is ridiculous.

    Brian says:

    Mesquite bbq. Weatherford TX. Totally agree. Sub Standard flavor and Quality of the ribs and sausage. Cole slaw was good. Over Priced and Far from Fresh

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