Recalling some good old Texas barbecue joints
Texas is filled with good barbecue joints. Texas Monthly Magazine does a special issue on the 50 best every five years or so.
Over the years, being a trueblue, native Texan I have eaten a lot of barbecue. My first was that cooked by my mother and though it was made in the home kitchen, her process made it so fall-apart tender that it was hard to beat.
Another early experience was at fox hunter camp cook-out with my father. In addition to beef brisket, you might get a smorgasbord of smoky "treats" such as goat, armadillo, possum and anything else the cooks could catch — except fox.
Texas Monthly may never find the very best barbecue simply because there are a lot of joints that are still under the radar, some by choice.
Retirement has put us in the "Central Texas barbecue corridor" and close to one of Texas Monthly's Top 50 — Schoepf's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in Belton.
In the early 1980s, we lived in Lockhart and the big debate was whether the best barbecue was there — either Kreuz Market or Black's Barbecue — or just a ways south in Luling at City Market.
Kreuz has always been ranked highly by barbecue aficionados from all around the country. A few years back, there was a family split and one group maintained ownership of the Kreuz name and another opened Smitty's Market in competition. Both rank highly in most assessments, as does Luling's City Market.
Years earlier, I enjoyed another of these highly touted palaces at Goode Company Texas Barbecue in Houston. It was then I began to learn that most barbecue joints, good or bad, could have genuine characters either associated with or owning them.
Jim Goode looked the part with his very black, bushy beard. Jim was a commercial artist who dabbled in barbecue until enough people convinced him how good it was, so he took it up full time and didn't even dabble in commercial art any more.
In 1991, a move to Jasper revealed two notable barbecue joints — one in Jasper and one 25 minutes away on US 96 south of Kirbyville.
The US 96 establishment made Texas Monthly's Top 50 list in 1997. Lazy H Smokehouse was run by Velma Willett. Her homemade sausage was wonderful, but one of the greatest attractions was the Sunday buffet with all the locally grown, fresh vegetables. Hurricane Rita did in the old pine building in 2005, so Ms. Willett moved into a brand new metal building in Kirbyville. We moved away to retirement in early 2007, so I don't know how Lazy H fared with Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Jasper had Texas Charlie's Bar- B-Que Company whose original spot — a small frame building on US 96 — produced Charlie Nicholson's overall claim to fame with excellent barbecue and even better homemade pies. But, the real great draw at Charlie's was the atmosphere due in no small part to the character for which the restaurant was named, a Wilford Brimley look-alike. Charlie's banter and teasing of customers from his spot at the head of the "conference" table, punctuated with his loud chuckles, were extra-added attractions.
Jim Goode, Charlie Nicholson and a guy named Casey Jones are my all time favorite barbecue joint characters. Casey, a cousin of country singing legend George Jones, had a joint between Conroe and Cleveland.
Upon entering the front door of Casey's Barbecue, you faced an Lshaped steam table arrangement usually manned by Casey in his apron and chef hat. A constant banter came from Casey and you felt like he knew you, because he called you "Bud" and your wife "Sis" or some other nickname that rolled familiarly off his tongue.
Casey's "dining stations" were the old school desk chairs with the wrap-around arm desktop. A meal's banter tickled your funny bone. It appeared Casey had a straight man who constantly fed him lines and the result was something like: "Doctor, Doctor. I got my arm broken in three places." "Well, don't go in those kind of places."
And, the barbecue was pretty good, too.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org