Rudy's Country Store & BBQ

I12/08/13 12:08pm - This is where the "worst bar-b-q in Texas" empire began. This is the original Rudy's. Now there are over 30 restaurants across 5 states. Yep, adding BBQ to the grocery store and gas station business back in 1989 worked out pretty good. So how does the original compare to the franchise?

I scored the original Rudy's an 86 out of 100. This is Reserve Grand Champion Texas BBQ.

Smoke: Oak. Stacks and stacks of post oak used in real brick pits. The franchise locations use wood fired Olyers.

Brisket: Very Good. A 5/16 impressive smoke ring beneath a thick substantial bark. Tested tough of tender just like the franchise. Same rub and oak smoke flavor as the franchise. Overall this brisket tastes better than the franchise, hands down. The difference is the full intense smoke flavor from the brick pits. If you love Rudy's BBQ, don't miss an opportunity to eat at the original.

Ribs: Fair. Must have caught them on a bad day. I have had better ribs here in the past. Tested tough of tender with much tearing and dirty bone. Overall flavor was dull. Full smoke but little else.

Sausage: Good. This is a different link than what is served in the franchise. My first thought is this a big smokey yummy hot dog! Fine ground pork and maybe beef with salt, mild spice and no aftertaste. Great smoke flavor. I envisioned putting this big link on a bun covered in Chile and cheese.

Sauce: Excellent. What can I say? This is the best sauce in the state. My own recipe is an attempt to duplicate this sauce. Before the franchise exploded, the wife always sent instructions to buy a bottle when coming back from the deer camp.

Overall I am impressed how well the franchise compares to the original. There are other big name Texas BBQ joints that have expanded their business, but none have done it better than Rudy's.
Rudy's Country Store & Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Ultimate Turkey

11/28/13 - My wife triple-dog-dared me to smoke the Turkey on the new Lyfe Tyme pit this year for Thanksgiving. Of course I accepted the challenge. Now all the pressure was on me or we would be eating Peking Duck with Ralfy.

I researched a few recipes and went back to my tried, true and most trusted source: This website is my go-to for all things barbecue. The website manager refers to himself as Meathead. On the site one can find The Ultimate Turkey Recipe. Well, with a name like that how can I possibly fail? Go to the website for specific ingredients and recipes.

First, we need a bird. My first preference was to brine a fresh organic bird. Most turkeys are injected at processing with a saline solution and then flash frozen. I found a one at a Whole Foods for around $75!. After recovering from sticker shock, I thought a $10 frozen 16 pound bird with 8% solution injection sounded just mouth watering.

Next we have to thaw the bird. The website suggested putting the frozen bird in the refrigerator on Friday morning before Thanksgiving. My wife thought that was way too long but Meathead said so. Who to trust? Wife or Meathead? I compromised and started thawing Saturday morning. Wednesday night there were still ice crystals in the bird, so I pulled it out for several hours before going to bed. Meathead was right, but don't tell the wife.

Its Thanksgiving morning. Game On! The first thing to do was to prepare the "Gravy" and the bird. I put Gravy in quotations because its not your typical grease and flour concoction. This Gravy serves two purposes. First, it provides a steamy bath inside the pit to help keep the bird from drying out. Second, it provides a thin flavor power packed broth that will penetrate the sliced turkey.

Before Turkeyday, find a disposable aluminum roasting pan that will fit underneath the grates of your pit. I have a 16in barrel with bars 16 inches apart that support the grate. I got a 13"W by 15 1/2"L pan. It also needs a volume of 3 quarts or more. This pan was almost 3 inches deep. The length was a little too long. I had to warp and bend the pan to get it out of the pit. Some precious broth was sacrificed for this costly error.

Prepare thawed bird. Place thawed bird in bag in pan. Remove bag and keep every last drop of the melted juices. Remove pop out thermometer and throw in trash. This is not amateur hour. I am a backyard professional!.....aided by digital remote thermometer technology. Remove red ice and neck from cavity and place in pan. Trim loose fatty skin from craw and butt and place in pan. You want a nice open cavity for smoke and heat to flow through. Find that nasty bag inside the butt. Pull out heart and gizzards and place in pan. Throw liver and nasty bag in the trash. Next cut the wing tips off at the joint. Now, remove the bird from pan. These turkey parts, juice and red ice are the stock of our "Gravy". Amen.

Next add 3 quarts of water, apple juice, onions, carrots, celery, sage, thyme and bay leaves to the "gravy" pan. These items are for flavor only. They will not be consumed.

Next prepare bird for pit. First, remove the steel/plastic thingamajig that holds the tops of the drumsticks together. We smoke our turkey spread eagle! This helps the dark meat cook evenly with the white meat. I bet some prude came up with this contraption. How could you possibly raise your Southern Debutantes to keep their knees together and feet crossed and then present a trashy immoral bird on the Thanksgiving Day table?

Second, prepare the wet rub. This is an herb rub mixed with oil. The herb rub consists of parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, bay leaf, black pepper and sugar. The oil helps dissolves the flavor of the herbs and it crisps the skin. I chose olive oil. Spread this oily herb wet rub first underneath the skin of the breast and then over the top of the whole bird.

Injection. You would never think of frying a turkey without injecting it with some magic marinade. Why skip this step for smoking a turkey. A buttery injection will give this bird a flavor boost and add must needed moistness. I chose a creole butter injection.

Next prepare the aromatic ingredients for the cavity. No stuffing for this bird. Stuffing means just more mass in the center that has to be cooked. We want an open cavity for smoke, aroma, and heat to cook and swirl flavor from the inside out. Place inside cavity onion, garlic cloves, fresh thyme, orange peel and fruit wood chips. None of this will be consumed. I don't know if it works or not but I can testify that my backyard was filled with an intoxicating perfume. My pit smelt so good I placed my nose over the smoke stack to enjoy the aroma. Unfortunately that aroma was super heated to 300F! Ouch!

The target temp is 160F deep in the heart of the breast. Stick the remote digital thermometer probe into the middle of the thickest part of the breast. With the bird spread eagle, the dark meat of the thighs and drum sticks can reach a temp of 175F while deep breast meat reaches 160F. Place the bird with drumsticks facing the heat source. The large open cavity also faces the heat and smoke.

Wife wanted to serve dinner at 1:00pm. A 16 pound bird at 325F should cook in 3 hours. I have yet to get my pit to hold a temp as high as 325F. I told the wife it will take 4 hours to cook bird. She was unaware that I didn't have a clue how long it would take. Fired up the pit and bird at 9:00am. Pit struggled first hour to get up near 300F. I figured that was because the cold large bird and cool gravy pan were absorbing the heat. At 10:30 pit finally reached the 300 mark but stayed underneath it most of the cook time. My average pit temp was 271F, well beneath the suggested 325F. However, the internal temp of the bird steady rose the entire cook time. It never stalled or retreated so my anxiety over cooking at a lower temp subsided but my anxiety over finishing too soon rose. This bird was cooking fast! It was rising 40 per hour. At that rate I would be done an hour ahead of schedule. Bird hit target temp of 160F 30 minutes ahead of schedule. Not to fear, stuck bird in a dry beer cooler. By carving time 2:00pm (Ha! Wife was late for once) it was still too hot to touch.

Recipe recommended going light on the smoke. Use oak or fruit woods but not mesquite and hickory. I chose Pecan. I added chunks throughout the process.

Results: The turkey was very very moist and tender. After I finished carving the turkey, there was a large puddle of juice. This was much more juicy and tender than frying and so much better than dry-as-bone oven roast. I was disappointed in the the smoke flavor. It was very faint and undetectable. I will go a lot heavier next time. I imagine the gravy steam bath prevented what little smoke there was from ever reaching the bird. The "Gravy" was another disappointment. After I strained all the solids I was left with a water drowned turkey broth with very little flavor. I'll substitute chicken stock for water next time for more flavor. The wet herb rub was a big success. It was a dominant flavor that you could taste in every bite. The aromatics produced a wonderful perfume for the backyard but did very little in flavor. I could not detect anything. The creole butter injection added to the juiciness but I cant testify for its flavor. Probably skip this step next time.

When you get the nod of approval from the Mother-in-law who secrectly prepared and smuggled in a second turkey (just in case I failed), you know you have a new Thanksgiving day tradition.

Brisket Bar B Q

11/15/13 - Never judge a book by its cover.  When you enter the parking lot, you think "this place has to be good".  Its a stand alone structure with an old vintage look.  Tin roof, smoke stack, cedar and limestone finishes.  Unfortunately, it all goes down hill from there.

I scored Brisket Bar B Q a 71 out of 100.  This is Bum Steer BBQ

Smoke:  Large stacks of hickory behind a CMU block smoke house with rusted smoke stack reaching to the sky.  Looks like an Olyer and all the signs of wood fired BBQ.  This is the first wood fired Bum Steer rating.  Since I spot wood fire 5 points, this is worst than most gassers.

Brisket:  Good.  A 1/4" smoke ring beneath a smokey chewy bark.  Tested tough of tender. Even the fat was tough.  It dried out fast.  Need a good set of teeth for this brisket.  Use the sauce.

Ribs: Fair.  Tough and chewy.  Had a good rub, smoke and salty pork flavor.  Need a better set of teeth for these ribs.  Maybe they should go all the way and sell jerky.  Use the sauce.

Sausage:  Fair.  A fine ground salty pork link.  Casing was chewy.  Tasted like greasy Bologna. Use the sauce.

Sauce:  Fair.  A thick clumpy tangy brown sauce.  Flavor was mild buttery tomato soup.  Everything here needs sauce but they need a new sauce here.  Bring your own.

Brisket Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Meat Candy

11/9/13 - Dropped the wife off for the annual Nutcracker Market.  Its a some what of tradition for the Houston ladies.  Its an excuse to get together with your girlfriends, drink wine, and buy overprice Christmas junk.  All under the guise of supporting the arts, the Houston Ballet.  Just an excuse for wine and shopping, two things Houston ladies do best.

Anyway, I am on my own for supper tonight and there is an Aggie football game on today.  Time to fire up the pit!

I decided to make my fabulous Meat Candy ribs.  I got this recipe from Southern Living a few years ago.  The key is the wet seasoning.  It transforms the smokey porky goodness into Meat Candy!

I wanted spare ribs but the wife likes baby backs so what to do?  Smoke 'em both! No since in wasting all the hard work on one slab of ribs. 

First I remove the membrane off the back of the ribs.  I hate it when I order ribs and there is this plastic sheet on the bottom.  Pure laziness.  It  takes 1 minute to remove.

I prepared my secret rib rub.  Its heavy on salt vs sugar.  Light on Black Pepper.  Chili powder for transitional flavor.  Secret spice is cinnamon.  If I don't scorched the ribs the cinnamon flavor comes through so subtle.  Cover both sides generously with the rub.  The salt starts the dry brining process. I leave on counter while I get pit ready.

Smoke? Pecan is the perfect Meat Candy nutty smoke.  You want to go soft on the smoke so you can taste all the great meat Candy flavor.  Will use charcoal and a few chunks of pecan for smoke flavor.

Love my pit.  One chimney of charcoal and it hits 238 in fifteen minutes.  Couple chunks of pecan and were smokin.  Put on a chimney about every 75 minutes with pecan chunks.  At hour 4 I pull the ribs off for the wet seasoning.  The meat temp as reached 175 not the 185 target I wanted but its getting late. 


Aggs BTHO out Mississippi State! 51 to 41.  Johnny Manziel's last home game.  I am going to miss Johnny Football.  He was stuff of legend and myth.


The wet seasoning is pineapple juice, peach nectar and a little balsamic vinegar.  The core ingredient is pineapple, you can experiment with other nectar like apricot or mango.  Place ribs meat side down in foil.  Pour a cup over the ribs.  Fold up tight and put back on pit for an hour.


Pull ribs off, discard foil and juice.  I love the fruity steam aroma that rises when you open the foil.  Place ribs back on pit meat side up to dry off a little. 

Try to get internal temp up to 190 but it has fallen to 167.  This is taking way too long. Six hours is long enough for ribs.  I am not waiting until 10pm to eat.  Wife will be home soon and I have to pretend like I'm interested in the junk she bought.


Ribs:  Good.  As expected the tenderness was not perfect.  Blogging is easy than smoking. Slight tearing and dirty bone.  A nice rosy red interior underneath a tasty bark.  The wet seasoning flavor was deep into the rib and the rub added yet another flavor boost.  The pecan smoke was just right and added another flavor dimension to the ribs.  No sauce needed. 

7 Rivers - A Texas Kitchen

11/7/1311:37am - Typical Houston gasser BBQ.  Yet another example that all you need in Houston is a great sauce, a gasser and you are in the BBQ restaurant and catering business.

I scored 7 Rivers a 73 out 100.  Regional Texas BBQ.

Smoke:  Green Oak.  The Old Hickory is proudly displayed in the back in a glass enclosure.  Bright and shiny stainless tasteless steel.  The owner with great pride announced he only needs 2 sticks to smoke his BBQ.  Any wonder why I hate gassers?!

Brisket:  Good. Standard 1/8in smoke ring beneath a paper thin bark.  Thinly sliced, tested tough of tender.  Very little smoke and was basically dry roast beef.  Use the sauce.

Ribs:  Fair.  Slightly overcooked soft bite clean bone tender and moist.  Had a mushy peppery rub.  No sign of smoke ring, just brown pork.  Little smoke.  Use the sauce.

Sausage:  Very Good.  A beef link with traditional spice and good after taste.  Little grease and little smoke.  Overall flavor was good.  I enjoyed this link.  No suace needed.

Sauce:  Very Good.  Served warm.  Tomato based and very tangy.  It has a sutble spiciness that started out soft but finished strong.  This stuff could make anything taste good.  Use it with every bite.

7 Rivers BBQ Texas Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sunday stuffed pork loin

11/3/13 - Stuck in the house all day Sunday meant it was time to fire up the pit.  I had a pork loin in the freezer so that solves what to smoke.  I decided to try a stuffed pork loin.  Pork loin is very lean so a good moist stuffing helps offset any dryness. 

So what to stuff it with?  The few recipes I found were impressive but way too labor intensive.  This is not Cafe Bistro.  So I dumbed it down to Stove Top stuffing left over from last Thanksgiving.  I added some apple, pecans and cranberries.  Good enough for the backyard.

The wife came home from the grocery store with mesquite charcoal so I guess that choice was taken away from me.  I had a few mesquite chunks left over so that's that.  Pork loin is delicate so you want to go soft on smoke.  I will use only charcoal and one chunk of mesquite.

The 3lb package of pork lion had two separate loins about 2 inches thick.  First I trimmed the fat and silver.  I "unrolled" each loin by filleting 1/2 inch from the board. You cut sideways at same height above the board until you "unrolled" the loin. I overlapped the two loins so I had about a 8 1/2 inch wide sheet of pork loin.

I sprinkled a little Kosher salt to start the dry brining process.  I then spread 2 cups of prepared Stove Top stuffing over both loins and padded down tight.  I then rolled the lion and stuffing like a towel.  Tied the pork loin with string about 1 inch apart to keep everything together.  Looks good so far.

After it was tied up, I sprinkled some kosher salt over the outside along with cracked black pepper.  Stuck in the frig uncovered until cook time.

My target temperature is 145F.  Last time it only took about 1 1/2 hours.  Since its a lean muscle, there is not a bunch of connective tissue to break down.  There is no need to go low and slow.  Get the fire hot and go baby go!  Last time I got the pit up to 300F and everything worked out fine.

I started with a full chimney of charcoal with brown paper bags I collected from the Specs liquor store.  Placed the loin in the pit.  Stuck the remote control thermometer in the thickest part.  Placed a chunk of mesquite in the center of the fire box.  Opened the dampener on fire box all the way and dampener on smoke stack 1/2 way for some serious air flow.  Once coals were flaming over the top of the chimney, I poured them over the mesquite chunk.  Burn baby burn!

At 20 minutes fire pit was up to 209F and pork loin was at 63F.  Started another full chimney.  At 45 minutes I put 2nd chimney on.  Fire jumped to 230F and pork loin rose to 79F.  At 60 minutes pit was up to 285F and loin rose to 103F. At 90 minutes pit dropped to 280F but loin rose to 122F.  Cool weather was messing with my temp control.  Started another 1/2 chimney to finish off the loin.  At 105 minutes pit fell to 266F but loin continued to rise to 139F.  Poured 1/2 a chimney of flaming hot coals to get me over the finish line. At 110 minutes pit rose back up to 278F and loin rose to 141F.  Time to set the table! At 120 minutes pit was back up to 286F and pork loin reached the magic temp of 145F.  Let's eat!

Pork Loin: Very Good.  A rosy red interior beneath a noticeable smoke ring.  Near perfect tender and moist.  Smoke was perfect, added a new flavor dimension but did not overpower. The apples and cranberries added a nice texture and sweetness.  Could not taste the pecans.  The stuffing tasted like stuffing.  It needed a sauce or gravy to put it over the top.  Its a lean cut, the stuffing definitely helped to offset the lean pork but a sauce or gravy would have sent the flavor over the top.

Luling City Market

10/31/13 11:48am - After 32 years, was the decision to name the joint Luling City Market brilliant marketing or identity theft?  Sadly it seems the latter because nobody talks about the BBQ.  It is hard to believe but after three decades, BBQ enthusiasts are still upset about the mere existence of this Houston establishment.  With purpose and intent the owners lured a City Market employee back in 1981 to be the pit boss and bring legitimacy to this new upstart.  He also brought the mustard based sauce recipe (get a rope!).  The rest they say is Texas BBQ history.  The name itself seems to be a curse.  To this day patrons compare this Houston barbecue to its Luling name sake.  That expectation is near impossible.

I scored Luling City Market an 85 out 100.  This is Reserve Grand Champion Texas BBQ.


Smoke:  Oak.  Wood fired barbecue in special designed steel pits.  The billowing blue smoke out of the rusted smoke stack is a rare site in Houston.  The health inspector must get free lunch for life and free drinks at the bar for life.

Brisket:  Very Good.  A 1/4in smoke ring beneath a substantial black bark. Slice was near perfect tenderness but dried out way too fast so it was marked down a bit.  Full smoke flavor and well rendered fat.  The salt and pepper rub gave it a great flavor boost.  No sauce needed for the first half then use it after it dries out.

Ribs:  Good. Rosy red throughout beneath a nice bark.  They were just a little bit overcooked but still very tender, with soft bite and clean bone.  Rub was long gone and descent smoke.  Use the sauce.

Sausage:  Good.  A handmade Central Texas style all beef loose packed link.  It was mushy beef with garlic and traditional spice flavor.  A descent after taste for a central Tx link.  However, it was not Central Texas good.  I did not finish it.  Use the sauce.

Sauce:  Excellent.  They actually sell the stuff by the bottle and I wish I knew that before I left the place.  I have had the original in Luling and other knockoffs around the state but this was the best mustard base sauce I have had.  It was bold in mustard flavor and tangy spicy.  It worked magic on the brisket and lack luster ribs and sausage.  A bottle is on each table and don't worry you will find it halfway through lunch.

PS:   Warning: based on reviews from meatheads I trust, this place seems to be "Hit or Miss".  I fortunately got a Hit but suffered massive sticker shock: $25 for 3 meat lunch and no left overs!  That ain't right. Overall they did a good job bringing that Central Texas BBQ experience to Houston. They just should have come up with a better name.  Bet they would like a do over.

Luling City Market Real Texas Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Lenox Bar-B-Q


10/25/13 11:55am - When you walk through the front door, you walk straight into the kitchen.  The staff must be used to the startled look on peoples faces, as they smiled and told me its OK and pointed where to place my order.  Lenox is a catering business that serves carry out lunches week days only.  There is no dining area or even a picnic table outside.  But that does not seem to deter the hungry customers.  The parking lot was full of blue collar workers.  Men in safety yellow vests lined up to the catering office to place their order.

If take out is not an option, Lenox now caters and serves lunch a few blocks west at Medel's Ice House located at 3509 Harrisburg Blvd.  I drove my lunch over there, and enjoyed the great weather seated at their outside picnic tables wishing I had a beer but was on the clock.

I scored Lenox an 80 out of 100.  Regional Texas BBQ with 65 years of history.

Smoke:  Oak.  Three big ancient black Olyers occupy a smoke dungeon with 65 year old soot stained ceilings and walls.  A very primal experience for this meathead.

Brisket:  Good (sigh).  A respectable 1/4in pink smoke ring beneath a thin black bark.  Slice tested tough of tender which hurts the score.  Smoke was disappointingly mild.  There was a rub that was long gone in flavor.  Overall flavor was ok, use the sauce.

Ribs:  Very Good.  The spare rib was very tender with soft bite and clean bone.  I marked it down a little because it was just slightly overcooked but only a meathead could notice.  The overall flavor was great.  A slight sweetness from maybe the reduction of BBQ sauce slathered over it before it cooked.   No sauce needed.

Sausage:  Good.  Well the benefit of walking into the kitchen to place your order is there are no secrets.  Lenox serves Eckrich sausage.  HA!  I prefer handmade sausage but I don't throw stones at "grocery store" sausage.  I love to sample all different kinds.  There is nothing wrong with Eckrich, I grew up eating the stuff. Lenox however slices it up before it smokes it.  So there was good smoke flavor on this grocery store classic.  Use the sauce.

Sauce:  Good.  A thick thick mildly tangy sweet sauce with black pepper, molasses, butter and lemon flavors.  It clings and coats every bite and added a good flavor boost.  It does the job.

History: Back in the day (1949 - 1967), one of the largest caterers in the state was Leonard O'Neill. He acquired Lenox Barbecue in payment for a gambling debt.  O'Neill was a machinist by trade.  When the orders surpassed the capacity of the brick smokers, O'Neill converted a Rainbow Bread rotisserie oven into a wood fired BBQ pit.  In 1968 Hubert Olyer from Mesquite, Tx patented the same type oven (thief?) and revolutionized Texas BBQ forever.  In 1980 J&R Manufacturing bought the patent rights and began manufacturing Olyers in Mesquite Texas. The Olyer Pit uses only wood as its heat source. Temperature is maintained by automatic dampeners and fans that circulate air. Levi Goode, Pappas and Rudy's owe their success either to Hubert Olyer's theft or O'Neill's innovation.
Lenox Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Hinze's Bar-B-Que


10/19/13 10:59am - On my way to Eagle Lake, I thought why not swing through Wharton and try an old 1997 Top 50 joint.  If you have ever driven out of Houston down Hwy 59 you mostly drove past this joint thinking "I wonder if its any good; I should stop sometime".  Its worth one stop and lunch on the way to your South Texas destination.

I scored Hinze's Bar-B-Que a 74 out of 100.  This is Regional Texas BBQ.

Smoke:  Pecan.  One of the saddest things is to see an old smokehouse retrofitted for a gasser.  Yes behind the stacks of pecan are two commercial gassers.  I hate to admit it, but gassers save a lot of family businesses.  Its hard to pass down passion to the next generation or investment buyer.  The low cost of push button efficiency is a smart business decision, saves jobs and saves restaurants.

Brisket: Good.  A gasser 1/8in smoke ring beneath paper thin bark (is it really bark if its only paper thin?).  Tested tough of tender but was surprising moist.  Good smoke flavor.  Use the sauce.

Ribs:  Fair.  Not a good gasser product.  A St Lious cut spare rib, tough of tender with noticeable tearing and dirty bone. It had a mild black pepper rub, thin bark and smoke ring.  Use the sauce and a toothpick.

Sausage:  Good.  A course ground pork/beef country link.  Good traditiaonal spice and mild black peppery after taste.  Casing was snappy.  No sauce needed.

Sauce:  Very Good.  A thick tomato tangy semi sweet sauce with onions.  Had citrus or cider vinegar flavors, brown sugar.  A little different but good.  Gave everthing a nice flavor boost.

PS:  Inside decor is worth a lunch stop.  Interesting taxidermy and folksy antiques. They expanded the restaurant around a living tree.


Hinze Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon