Houston Barbecue Project


View Houston Barbecue Project in a larger map or at houbbq.com

Over the last few decades, Central Texas-style barbecue has been enshrined as the best and most desirable barbecue in Texas. And rightly so. The dedication and technique of pitmasters in places like Lexington, Taylor and Lockhart have made the barbecue of Central Texas celebrated around the world. And yet, in this celebration, another worthy and long-storied tradition of Texas barbecue – hailing from East Texas – has been overshadowed. The mission of the Houston Barbecue Project is to revisit, document and recognize the East Texas-style of barbecue as it is embodied in the urban barbecue joints of Houston, Texas. It’s time to put Houston barbecue back on the map.

To properly evaluate the state of barbecue here, we’ll have to visit the majority (if not all) of the barbecue joints in Houston. A cursory review of the various restaurant listing sites reveals the number of joints in greater Houston to be somewhere between two and three hundred. That’s a lot of barbecue places to visit. So I decided to limit (for now) the scope of barbecue joints to those physically located inside Beltway 8.

This could be controversial, if you think about it. One of the knocks against Houston barbecue, and really all urban barbecue, is that city health and environmental codes are incompatible with producing good barbecue. The codes certainly make producing good barbecue more difficult, though it does not necessarily preclude it. But the argument could be made that barbecue joints outside the city limits would have an advantage because the codes are less strict, usually governed by county health codes. County health codes typically follow the Texas state health code, which is broader and more generic than city codes.

But I’ve had a lot of barbecue both inside and outside the city limits, and did not notice an appreciable difference in quality. To confirm I recently made a trip out to the Katy area to sample the barbecue there. It wasn’t any better, and was possibly worse, than barbecue inside the Houston city limits.

The bottom line, based on my experience with urban barbecue, is that the quality of barbecue is primarily driven by economics rather than any regulatory issues. Even if city codes were less restrictive, most barbecue joints would probably still choose the self-contained, automated smokers made by companies like Southern Pride. It’s just easier and more profitable (sadly). With that in mind, the decision to limit Houston barbecue exploration to within the Beltway should still offer a representative sample of the general quality of Houston barbecue.

Once we’ve made good progress on documenting this limited sample of barbecue joints, we’ll expand to the outskirts of Houston, as well as to all of East Texas.

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The manifestation of the Houston Barbecue Project, the deliverable as they say in business parlance, will be an online, interactive map and website. This will rightly present Houston barbecue in a geographic context that provides both potential demographic insights as well as a resource for barbecue diners to easily find the location of good barbecue.

In addition to location information, we will collect other data that may reflect on the quality of the barbecue: type of wood and smoker, cost for typical dishes, barbecue type, and how the sauce is handled (on the side or on top?).

Additionally we will apply a version of the much-debated barbecue rating, from 1 (worst) to 5 (best). The rating will be based mostly on our general standard for good barbecue, but unquantifiable values will also be considered. We will evaluate Houston barbecue in the context of all Texas barbecue joints, i.e. the rating for a given Houston barbecue joint will be determined by comparing it to the best places (5 rating) throughout the entire state.

Our sample for evaluation will be the holy trinity of Texas barbecue: beef brisket, pork ribs and sausage. For purposes of comparing apples-to-apples, the application of our general standard will be made to brisket and ribs and will have the most influence on the rating. Every real Texas barbecue joint has some version of beef brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is almost always offered, but there are just too many variations on this dish to be able to compare consistently. Sausage, along with other “unquantifiable” values, will be considered in the rating, but will mostly be featured in the documentation.

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This project is in its earliest stages and will change and improve over time. Comments and suggestions are welcomed and encouraged. After all, as Texans, either by birth or adoption, we are all granted the title of self-proclaimed barbecue experts. Let’s go out and eat some Houston barbecue.

The Houston Barbecue Project website is here http://houbbq.com.

You can also read the article “What’s Wrong with Houston Barbecue?” that discusses the background and inspiration for the Houston Barbecue Project.

This entry was posted in Barbecue, Blog Only, Food, Texas. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Houston Barbecue Project

  1. TC says:

    We would like to be listed in your BBQ project. We are outside the Tollroad, West Houston, in the Energy Corridor. Please check us out.

    Houston Barbecue Company
    1127 Eldridge Parkway
    South of Memorial
    Houston, Texas 77077
    281-531-6800

  2. the_birds says:

    Been to Lenox BBQ and its just like in the picture you have posted. Dry, very dry. 4 of 5 stars? Can’t take this HBP seriously, if you’re going to give it that many stars! Downgrade them to 2, or 3 if you’re feeling nice! Or leave them at 4 and give Gatlin 5 of 5, because they are exponentially better than Lenox.

  3. Ray says:

    Hey J.C., in your description of Powell’s BBQ in Sunnyside, you mentioned that it has been called different names over the years. Was one of those names Reid’s BBQ? I remember Robb Walsh visiting a Reid’s BBQ in either Sunnyside or Cloverland several years ago in a review he did for the Houston Press. If this is the same location, do you know if the same family that ran Reid’s BBQ also runs Powell’s BBQ?

  4. Andy Saldana says:

    Great job, J.C.!

  5. PF says:

    I was sad to read the reviews on Burns. Used to go to the De Priest location as often as possible and had friends who knew Roy Burns personally. I had heard the quality suffered a bit after he passed, but hadn’t made it back out since then to see for myself. 2 out of 5 stars … I think I’ll skip the trip out and just keep the good memories of the the place the way it used to be.

    • J.C. Reid says:

      I’d recommend checking out the Burn’s BBQ run by Gary Burns, the son.

      Burns Old Fashioned Pit Bar-B-Q
      6314 Antoine Dr.
      Houston, TX 77091
      832.767.0342

  6. Todd Gregory says:

    I see some good BBQ inside of Beltway 8 but there are some great ones outside of this as well. Carl’s BBQ, Goodie Company on 290, The Backyard Grill, County Line BBQ and much more. Hope to see some more coming soon.

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  8. jeremy says:

    Love this project. I have been very dissapointed in the barbecue offerings here in houston. The majority of the places I have tried are overpriced and really uninspired. That being said, none have been bad, Just no “Ill be back” places.

  9. Bill Gross says:

    I agree with your position for Luling City BBQ as above average. I do not like the owners’ attitude when I questioned the price per lb., which I thought was a little out of line with other BBQ houses, and was told “If you don’t like the price, then go eat somewhere else.” Too bad his short temper cost him all my future business.

  10. John Scardino says:

    Ate at Bill’s Barbecue Trailer on Brittmoore North of Tanner. He sells wood and advertises he smokes with pecan. Not much taste. I asked for some fatty, crusty, juicy brisket and he said all of that goes into the chopped. His customers only want the lean stuff. Before it came out the window I heard the dreaded “ding” of the microwave. I have had worse.

  11. Jonathan says:

    Maybe you guys should come back and try us again.
    My dad took me to a place call Reids BBQ in Sunnyside when I was a teenager.
    Years later he bought it from the Reids and insist on making homemade links.
    It is the same place where some good politicians made a start and young adults hung out after school back in the day.
    Come see us!

    Chop Beef Wednesday! Sandwich + Chips + Drinks $4.25
    Free Drink with purchase of any Dinner Plate on Thursday or Friday. (Mention before order)
    2 Free Dessert with the purchase of two Dinner Plate on Saturday. (Mention before order)

    Please sign up for Powell’s Bar B Q coupons and weekly specials.

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