The Top 10

Here are highlights of my BBQ Journey – pictures of me at the Top 10 BBQ restaurants in ascending order.

10. Truth BBQ – Brenham

It was challenging to reach Truth BBQ. My first attempt to eat there was on a circuitous route from Dallas to Austin to make a Texas Medical Association Leadership College conference. I needed full BBQ strength to walk around the state capitol and lobby legislators for patient safety initiatives in the coming days.

When I arrived at Truth in Brenham on March 2nd this year – CLOSED! I committed a rookie mistake even though I was already deep into this. Always call ahead. Thankfully, I had already visited two other BBQ spots on my list (Blue Moon in Hearne and Fargo’s in Bryan) so it wasn’t a total loss. Since Truth is a revered Top 10 unlike the aforementioned other two – it stung.

However, my father in law (partner in BBQ crime) had a crazy idea. Taylor, TX is on the way from Brenham to our final destination in Austin (loosely) and is home to Louie Mueller BBQ. The Mueller Family is perhaps the most important line of pit masters in the history of Texas BBQ. They have trained pit masters who have established classic Texas-style BBQ all over the world, including the Aaron Franklin.

Needless to say, trading a meal at Truth for one at Louie Mueller is in no way a step down. As a teaser, here is a picture of the baby back ribs I had that day at Louie Mueller. Easily one of the most memorable bites of Q I’ve ever had:

Spicy, smoky, sweet, tangy, sticky, meaty, peppery. These ribs were everything. Oh lawd.

Wait! This was about Truth in Brenham!

Sorry, I got carried away with that unplanned fling to Louie Mueller. Nearly two months later on April 28th, I went back to Truth BBQ. Having closed in 2018 around the holidays to open a new restaurant in the trendy Heights area of Houston, they had just recently re-opened their original Brenham location.

This place is right off highway 290, so if you’re driving between Houston and Austin you can’t miss it.

When my father in law and I got there it was just past 11AM when they open. Already, a line of 20 people had formed. This is a good sign. Since this trip was purely to eat BBQ, and it was nearly 4 hours in each direction, this was the farthest we had ever driven* to get BBQ.

*yes we’ve flown to a few that are further out – as noted below

You can see the line peeking out as we approached from the other side.

The spread at Truth BBQ



We reached the front and ordered “the trinity” – Brisket, Sausage, and Ribs.

Their brisket was easily the best thing. Fantastic bark, tender, good rendering/texture. It did lack a little smoke flavor however so not the top 1% I’ve had, but top 10% easily.

The pork ribs had a tasty rub, but ate very greasy for some reason.

The sausage was so-so. Admittedly I’m not a big sausage fan so it takes something amazing to get me interested.

Side-note – the sides (oh man, that’s a pun) were fairly mediocre. One of the defining features of a Top 10 BBQ place are the sides. Ranking at #10 on the list, Truth is probably right where it should be, on the cusp.

9. Evie Mae’s BBQ – Wolfforth

Coming in at #9, Evie Mae’s was difficult to get to. It’s 10 minutes south of Lubbock, and part of three restaurants in the “West Texas” zone not close to anything. This required a flight out of DFW to Midland airport. In order to capture all the West Texas places we first drove immediately from the airport in Midland to Pecos, an hour and a half or so away.

The place in Pecos is called Pody’s. It’s a real notch on the belt of any BBQ connoisseur simply due to its isolation. I called the pit master Israel a month or two before the trip to make sure they would be open, and then from the airport the day of our visit to confirm.

When we arrived to Pody’s, it was a hot day on October 4th 2018. The place had a few people inside but nothing like the big city spots we were accustomed to. Much like everything else out there, it was a slower pace. Upon ordering, the woman at the register told us they were out of brisket – my benchmark for how good a place is. Had I traveled 450 miles to the middle of nowhere to miss out on brisket?

No, friends. This is West Texas. Where people wave at you while driving by. The woman at the register said she saved us some since we called ahead (without asking) and our trip was saved!

The BBQ at Pody’s was decent but not the Top 10 we were after.  Their overwhelming hospitality more than made up for it, and I would be happy to eat there again.

Back to Evie Mae’s

After having a late lunch in Pecos, we drove a few hours north to Wolfforth and bedded down at a hotel one exit away from Evie Mae’s. Having read reviews I knew this place was super popular and getting there before they opened was a must. Once we got there, one or two people were waiting inside their cars but no line had formed, so my father in law and I decided to poke around the place. As soon as we rounded a corner and saw their huge pit area, the owner herself Mallory greeted us. We told her about our quest and she was very supportive and kind. She’s plugged in to the whole Texas BBQ scene, and it’s definitely a tightly knit community. Any time I get a recommendation from a pit-master on a new place to try, I do! As you would expect, she’s a wealth of knowledge. Per Mallory, Leroy and Lewis BBQ in Austin is turning out some of the best brisket these days. I have yet to try it, but it’s on my list.

Here is what the place looked like when we first got in…

This is what it was like when we left an hour or so later…

The BBQ

This is a plate of Top 10 BBQ, no doubt. Every aspect of it was great, including sides. I forgot to get a good shot of the brisket which is hiding under the juicy peppery smoked turkey, but believe me when I say it was fantastic.

Their pork ribs were perfectly smoked – not too mushy, they have an awesome rub with that crispy caramelized top skin that’s so mouth watering.

As I’ve mentioned before I’m not a sausage person. This is some of the best sausage I’ve ever had. Coarsely ground, casing with a brisk “pop” upon sinking in one’s teeth, super flavorful and not overly spicy. In my opinion, their sausage is what makes this place a Top 10. Texans expect a great bite of brisket and ribs, but far too often we are lenient on the sausage as an after-thought. If you nail sausage in addition to brisket and ribs, you are a top performer. I wanted to stay all afternoon and hang out with Mallory and her team including Nate (shown above) who was responsible for bringing A+ sausage to Evie Mae’s, but we had to drive north to Amarillo for our last West Texas restaurant.

The above shown is Tyler’s BBQ in Amarillo. While their brisket had decent bark, unfortunately it was dry. They do have really cool bumper stickers though.

Thanks for reading about my visit to the #10 and #9 spots on the Top 50 list. I will write about higher ranked ones when I have time!

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How it all started.

In June, 2017 the new Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ list came out. Every 4 or 5 years, Texas Monthly BBQ editor Daniel Vaughn and his team travel the state and create a list of the best BBQ in Texas. I picked up a copy off the magazine rack and something clicked.

My well-worn copy of Texas Monthly, Top 50 BBQ Edition

Inside this magazine, tucked into the centerfold, is the BBQ passport. Inside the passport is a list of all the Top 50 restaurants. I had visited several of these places before and heard of many more. It was a child-like fantasy to plan in my head all the trips it would take to accomplish this. I spent many evenings with this passport open, looking at all the clusters of restaurants on their fold-out map. A conference here, a day trip there, a vacation with friends in another city. I started planning all my trips and free weekends around these places.

Of note – Only the Top 10 are ranked numerically. Places 11-50 are left up to the reader/eater to decide where they rank. The Top 10 on this list are as follows:

  1. Snow’s
  2. Franklin
  3. Cattleack
  4. Bodacious
  5. Louie Mueller
  6. Tejas Chocolate Craftory
  7. Corkscrew
  8. Micklethwait Craft Meats
  9. Evie Mae’s
  10. Truth
Every sticker/stamp is a separate restaurant. All 50!

The above picture is my passport. Each sticker or stamp represents a different story. Most just symbolize the story, but some tell a story on their own. Look at the sticker for Kreuz BBQ (bottom center) – notice how it’s brown in color compared to the others? They keep their sticker sheet next to their smokers. Kreuz is in Lockhart, known as the BBQ capitol of Texas. Their massive smoker and huge dining hall are an institution. When I see that sticker, I vividly remember looking at this monster smoker.

Kreuz BBQ Smoker

So why go to all these places?

In addition to the pride of becoming a self-proclaimed BBQ expert, Yeti partnered with Texas Monthly and created a list of prizes you can obtain from their flagship store in Austin. Different combinations of stickers will qualify you for different prizes.

Here is a list of the combinations and prizes:

  • Top 50 Joints – All 50 locations. Yeti Tundra 45 Cooler is the prize.
  • Louie Mueller Family Tree – Visit all the pit masters who have trained with the Muellers. 5 restaurants in total. Half Gallon Rambler Jug is the prize.
  • Texas Pastrami – Visit 3 places with the best pastrami. Prize is a Wild Card! I think it’s mostly Yeti stickers.
  • Historic Tour – Visit the 5 oldest restaurants on the list. Prize is a 30 oz Rambler Tumbler.
  • Top 10 Briskets – Visit the 10 restaurants with the best briskets. Prize is a Yeti Tank.
  • The Four Corners of Texas – Visit the 4 farthest places on the list. Prize is a Hopper 30.
  • New Kids on the Block – Visit any 2 restaurants that have only been open two years or less. Prize is a hat.
  • BBQ Tacos – Visit the 4 restaurants with the best BBQ tacos. Prize is a Colster.
  • Badass Women – Visit 4 restaurants with female pit masters. Prize is a 36 oz Rambler Bottle.
  • Hoofin’ It – Visit 4 Austin restaurants all walking distance from one another. Prize is a T-shirt.

Now you’re up to speed on how this Top 50 Passport works and what’s at stake.

My first place on the list to visit was the venerable Pecan Lodge in Dallas. Previously ranked #4 of 50 but now ousted from the Top 10 and in the 11-50 stable, they are still always busy.

I stood at their door on June 7th, 2017 at 9:45AM to start the line. Shortly after I arrived, a fellow BBQ fanatic named Danny showed up. He was in the area (Deep Ellum, Dallas) because his wife was receiving a medical treatment at nearby Baylor Hospital. I showed him my then-blank passport and we talked about all the places we had been. He was just as hooked as me, having already been to Franklin’s 5-hour line in Austin among other hot spots.

When over an hour had passed and it was nearly 11:00, the cashier opened the front door and led me through their around-the-bend line. To my absolute embarrassingly childish delight, he had me ring a big prairie house style triangle to signal they were open for the day. This is the Texas equivalent of ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. I looked back at the line behind me, snaking around the building and out the front door before quickly ordering. I learned a fundamental truth about Texas BBQ:

Good Texas BBQ creates a line out the door.

Zach Jones

I am new to blogging, and I can only assume quoting yourself mid-story is obnoxious and sanctimonious, so I apologize. Here is a picture of that first line I stood in, and the glorious plate of BBQ I got as my reward.

My new BBQ bro Danny in the foreground, the line all the way out the door behind us.

In Texas, brisket is king. And few do it better than Pecan Lodge. Look at the zoomed in picture on the right. It’s tender enough to cut with a fork without falling apart. The outer black crust, called bark, is outrageously flavorful with smoke, salt, and perfectly rendered/melted fat that took the better part of an entire day to accomplish. This was a fantastic way to start my 2 year journey across the state. I will post more of these stories as time permits and if interest is there.

Thanks,
Zach