Texas is a big state. If you wanted to traverse its interstates and blue highways in search of the state’s best barbecue, you’d spend weeks (and hundreds of dollars on gasoline). That’s where the annual Texas Monthly BBQ Fest comes in handy. The "National Magazine of Texas" rounds up more than two dozen of the state’s top operators and corrals them on Austin’s back porch at the Long Center.
While it’s cool to see some familiar Austin faces out there — Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew, La Barbecue, Micklethwait Craft Meats, Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ and Terry Black’s Barbecue this year — I always take the opportunity to hit places from outside Austin. The research helps me plan future jaunts across the state.
I hit more than a dozen of the 30 vendors at Sunday’s 10th annual festival in quick succession. It was the first year I didn’t have a friend in tow, which was a mistake for logistical reasons and those of stomach space. I won’t make that error again. Here are a few of the best bites my phantom friend missed.
• How do you make chile relleno sausage and then stuff it inside a quail? I don’t really know. But the folks from Tejas Chocolate & Barbecue in Tomball do. Mild spice, a little vegetal twang and the moistest little birds you can imagine. Best bite of the fest (and only available during the opening VIP hour). There’s a reason the restaurant landed in Alison Cook’s Houston Chronicle list of the top 30 restaurants in the Houston area.
• Few folks in the Texas barbecue scene are cross-pollinating flavors to create exciting new takes on barbecue the way brothers Robin and Terry Wong and their childhood friend Quy Hoang of Blood Bros. BBQ have. And while I love the Vietnamese rendition of burnt ends (strewn with pickled veggies and peanuts and squirted with nc chm from the Houston area’s first Vietnamese pitmaster), I loved their "Mac & Sleaze Sausage" stuffed with, you guessed it, macaroni and cheese, even more.
• At least as far as I could tell, Baker Boys BBQ was one of the only attendees that doesn’t have an Instagram account. You want a sense of what their barbecue is about, you gotta come and take it. Smoking over oak charcoals, the outfit from Gonzales (about 90 minutes southeast of Austin) served a smoky and piquant deboned chicken thigh stuffed with onion and jalapeno, and some tender turkey. Score one for white meat.
• A wild card with less smoke and a touch more grass, locals Desert Door Sotol served frozen pops flavored with lime and grapefruit, a frozen take on a paloma that was a perfect antidote to the meat and sun.