As we travel, we like to hit the local pitstops, tuck in a napkin, take a few pictures, and meet the pitmasters. In this section, still very much under construction, we plan to post our experiences and we invite you to do the same in the comments section below. Sooner or later we will set it up as a searchable database where you can rate the restaurants. This is a big expensive project, so forgive us if it takes a while. At this time we haven’t even posted all our faves. We have a much more comprehensive list in our Pitmaster Club compiled by our knowledgable 16,000 users from around the world.
If you’re looking for a place just around town or when you’re on the road, there are a lot of handy resources to tip you off on where to go, and where not to go. I have included some of them below. You should also check out the popular food message boards. They usually have sections devoted to restaurant discussions. And they’re often up to date on who got cited by the health board and who lost their chef.
A word about Yelp, the popular crowdsourced restaurant guide: we frequently read ignorant and uniformed reviews from people who clearly know nothing about food, especially barbecue, and others whose wording makes me suspect that the reviews are planted by employees, competitors, or disgruntled former employees. Worse, there are numerous complaints by restaurateurs that if they do not buy ads from Yelp, positive reviews will be hidden. Just Google “Yelp Complaints.”
Here are some of our faves. If you stop in, tell them we sent you!
Roadfood. Although Roadfood is ostensibly focused on inexpensive restaurants on the highways and byways, the discussions on this message board often include restaurants in cities as well as recipes. They have a section on BBQ and it contains a lot of great joints. Some good tips. Easy to use.
Zagat. The Zagat guides are among the most respected in the world. But you’ve got to pay to see the entire database. There are bits and pieces available for free online, but to get the complete reviews and to add your reviews, fork it over.
America’s Best BBQ by Ardie A. Davis and Chef Paul Kirk
This wholly wonderful book is meant as a cookbook, as described in the subtitle “100 Recipes from America’s Best Smokehouses, Pits, Shacks, Rib Joints, Roadhouses, and Restaurants”. But it is much more. Davis and Kirk probably have visited more barbecue joints than anyone I know, and they know the good stuff from the bad. For this book they have picked some of the best barbecue restaurants, describe them, and share a recipe. Davis and Kirk are not professional photographers, but their snapshots do a fine job of conveying the ambiance of the restaurants, the personalities of the people, and the taste of the food. I have used it more than once as a reference when I hit the road, and they have never steered me wrong.
The narrative is folksy and personal. Here they are discussing pig snoot sandwiches: “Ardie hasn’t made it through a whole snoot sandwich yet, even after downing a shot of Pig’s Nose Scotch first. Paul downs them with gusto reminiscent of a New Yorker eating clams or oysters on the half shellArdie says they taste like bacon fat with barnyard rub. When he gets to the whiskers, he stops and orders a tenderloin sandwich or a cheeseburger.” Yes, they offer a recipe that even Ardie will eat.
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Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit Bosses by Robb Walsh
This book is a wonderful piece of scholarly research that is also a great read. Walsh has delved into the history and lore of Texas barbecue, it origins, its ingredients, its personalities, and its tall tales. He recommends the best places to eat when in the Lone Star State, what to eat, and provides recipes from pitmasters to help you replicate the real thing at home. Even the photos are fascinating.
A quote: “The majority of Texas barbecue joints now serve a little bit of everything. You’ll always find some kind of beef offered, and usually German-style sausage along with Southern-style pork with barbecue sauce, Mexican tortillas, West Texas beans, and sides from all over the place. Not to mention banana pudding, coconut cake, and sweet potato pie. Some places try to maintain a degree of stylistic purity, but few succeed. That’s why when you say “Texas barbecue,” no one can ever be sure about what you are talking about… The best way to preserve our tradition is to constantly disagree about what Texas barbecue really is.”
A 46 minute DVD narrated by the late former Governor Ann Richards and directed by Chris Elley. This clever 2005 documentary features some of the characters and culture of Texas barbecue including the Sowpremes (women who dress like hogs and root for barbecue), and Kinky Friedman (novelist, humorist, former candidate for governor, songwriter, and leader of the band Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys). “Jesus loved barbecue. That’s well known,” asserts Friedman.
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