If you know us, you know we're huge fans of Texas BBQ. We love brisket and beef ribs, pork ribs and sausage. We're OK eating pulled pork, and chicken if we have to. In our opinion, smoked turkey, pork steaks, and any manner of other smoked meats may be tasty, but don't deserve to be included in the pantheon of Texas BBQ. We like authentic, beginning with beef and going from there.
Whenever we travel, we try to visit local BBQ establishments to see whether they live up to the high standards set by our local favorite --Pecan Lodge. Now, we will disclose that we frequent Pecan Lodge all the time, and have for years. But when they first came onto the scene, we were skeptical--surely they weren't as good or as consistent as everyone said. Come to find out, they were. And we sing their praises to anyone who will listen, just like we aren't afraid to call out a death in the BBQ family when a staple like Lockhart Smokehouse loses its way (although not according to Texas Monthly). That's why we were so surprised when Texas Monthly recently came out with its list of Texas' 50-best BBQ joints, and knocked Pecan Lodge from its previous rank of #2 to completely out of the top 20. An utter travesty we say, and here's why.
First, let's look at the establishment listed at #1 on the list--Snow's. Now, don't get us wrong, we've heard amazing things about Snow's for years. How they have the best brisket. How it is so much better than anyone else's. How their extra-moist cut makes you see God. How they are only open one day per week for a few hours, and spend the rest of their time pondering BBQ like some unapproachable brisket monk in search of meaty nirvana. And we don't intend to question that brisket superiority. It may just be that much better. But Texas Monthly didn't place the majority of its focus on the brisket--settling instead for a discussion of Snow's pork steaks and chicken. I'm sure it's great chicken, but does that vault a BBQ restaurant past the venerable Franklin's? Is it deserving of #1 on the Texas Monthly list of best BBQ restaurants?? Is it even a restaurant when it's only open 1 day per week? The answer to all of these questions is, in my mind, "maybe not."
Now, let's look at why Texas Monthly no longer believes Franklin's is the best BBQ restaurant in Texas (and the world). The authors admitted Snow's stole first place from Franklin's because it was "smoking hot," as if it was the BBQ equivalent of Hansel in a meaty new Zoolander movie. The magazine also seemed to take a passive-aggressive swipe at Franklin's proprietor, commenting that it "wouldn't have been surprised if the barbecue at [Franklin's] had started to slip," even more after proprietor Aaron Franklin published a cookbook, won a James Beard award, and helped start an exciting food festival in Austin. Let the little guy win the award was the message perpetuated by Texas Monthly. Pointing out that Snow's brisket was an inexpensive $15.95 / pound, they seemed to intimate that anyone daring to enjoy commercial success like Franklin's will eventually bring a pox on their BBQ quality. They didn't bother to even picture Franklin's--the shrine of Texas BBQ for years--but made sure to give Snow's 2 pics (including one where the proprietor is handing out free Lone Star beer like a BBQ everyman). And, while they officially awarded Franklin's #2 on their top 50 list, its 4.75 / 5.0 rating was tied with 8 other BBQ joints on the list.
Now, that leads us to Pecan Lodge itself. Texas Monthly opens their review with a snarky comment about how Pecan Lodge "crank[s] out four times the amount [of BBQ than] they did before" when they were operating out of a food stall at the Dallas Farmer's Market. They make money?? How dare they?? And the magazine seems truly amazed that a place that serves more than a handful of customers 1x per week could possibly still serve handmade sausage, which, of course, Pecan Lodge still does. Once again, focusing on the cost of Pecan Lodge's offerings ($75 for the "Trough" and $25 for a beef rib), the magazine has only tepid praise for a BBQ joint that came in at number 2 on their top 50 list the last time it was published in 2013. The result: they believe that Pecan Lodge has fallen not just out of the top 10, not just out of the top 20, but now sits tied with 15 other BBQ spots somewhere between 21st and 35th on their list. I say "how ridiculous." We've been to Pecan Lodge when it was popular, and we've been when it wasn't. It offers the same BBQ it's always offered. The beef rib may be the best meat I've ever eaten, and their brisket is to die for. Delicious. Succulent. Beautiful. Deserving of a top-5 spot for sure!
And how does the only other Dallas BBQ joint on the list fare? Well, the editors at Texas Monthly seem to think that Cattleack BBQ in North Dallas is deserving of the number 3 spot on their top 50 list. Why, you ask? Well, they offer non-traditional, wholly different fare than others, like "lamb and fig sausage," smoked boudin, and Akaushi ribs. All well outside the BBQ pantheon for sure. And, of course, they're in a small strip center and are only open two days per week (and one Saturday / month) for a few hours. Maybe they epitomize the quintessential BBQ monk in the eyes of Texas Monthly, but I've tried their brisket and sausage, and I don't think so. The brisket is too fatty, too moist (much like Slow Bone in my mind), and the sausage is over-smoked and simply too chewy. Did Cattleack offer "OK" BBQ? Yes. Was it better than Pecan Lodge? No. Is it deserving of 3rd best in the state? Not at all.
So, it seems that Texas Monthly's list of 50 best BBQ restaurants should come with an asterisk. The disclaimer should read "the smaller you are and the more non-traditional your offerings, the better you'll fare in our rankings." How dare you just serve amazing brisket and ribs? No, not good enough any longer. You need real pizzazz. Something different. Mix it up, they seem to say.
Well, at least we now know how they grade. And, that inspires me to put my two smokers to good use. By the time the next list comes out, I may have opened my own "restaurant." Of course we'll be very "exclusive," serving smoked goat and water moccasin croquettes between the hours of 8:30 and 9:00 a.m., one time per month out of an often-flooded shack in the Trinity River basin. That'll show Texas Monthly how dedicated I am for sure! I have no doubt I'll make the top 10--maybe even higher. I'll just have to remember to pass out some free Lone Star beer for good measure.