Jim Buchanan's road to opening his very own brick and mortar barbecue joint was, as all entrepreneurial journeys are, long and full of unexpected detours. The owner and pitmaster of Buck's Barbeque Co. in Galveston began his public barbecue life as partner and general manager of the original Pappa Charlie's BBQ in EaDo. When he left Pappa Charlie's to make his own name, the plan was to open in the Heights, in a shared space with White Oak Biergarten — until Harvey filled the building with 15 feet of water and put those plans on indefinite hold.
Buck's did eventually find a home in the back of Lucky's Lounge, a downtown pub where Buchanan slung his highly underrated brisket and ribs in relative obscurity. More than a year later, the company finally relocated to a dedicated brick and mortar, one slightly further out than the Heights. In April of 2019, Buck's Barbeque Co. opened in a space still shared with Farley Girls Cafe in east Galveston. The new and unexpected digs are in a historic looking building some half mile from the water.
The inside of 801 Postoffice Street, near the far east end of Galveston Island, is flooded with natural light. Its wide open kitchen is separated from the dining area by a low white counter. The decor inside is modern and bright, while the exterior seating on the covered patio feels like old Galveston. While unconventional for a central Texas smokehouse, the old-school beach town vibe is kind of a perfect fit for an unconventional barbecue joint with a creative bent. On smokehouse aesthetics Buck's Barbeque scores an 8/10.
Buchanan made a name for himself in the Texas barbecue scene with outside the box beef concoctions like Butterfinger Brisket (brisket literally topped with a crumble of Butterfinger candy bars) and Brisket Debris Po'boys (po'boys stuffed full of leftover bits of crispy, greasy brisket pieces). He also breaks the cardinal rule of central Texas meat smoking — slow-and-low. At Buck's Barbeque smokers run hot, cooking meat in less than half the time of some more meticulous smokehouses. The results vary. Our generous slices of fatty brisket looked quite moist to the eye, but fell flat on the palate. Though fork tender and heavily smoked, the beef came out dry, too much fat lost to high heat. Bark, however, was dark black and peppery, supplementing the beef's lack of fat flavor. On quality of brisket, Buck's Barbeque scores a 6.8/10.
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If the high temps hurt the brisket, they do some strange black magic to the pork ribs. Buck's spare pork ribs are coated in a heavy black pepper rub. The rub forms a thick crust that holds in slabs of decadently tender pork meat. Not exactly fall-off-the-bone tender; the hearty ribs take some gnawing, but their flavor and smoke saturation are unrivaled. Also unrivaled is the Buck's Barbeque specialty, the brisket grilled cheese. A massive and greasy monstrosity, this sandwich packed a lot of brisket and housemade pimento cheddar between two buttered pieces of garlic toast. A heart stopper for sure; it's a top ten Houston area sandwich in my book. On quality of non-brisket proteins (and brisket-centric specials) Buck's Barbeque scores a 9/10.
After all that time and energy is spent pumping out great hits like bacon wrapped meatloaf and candy coated brisket, Buck's does leave some room for inspired sides. Sides like bacon potato salad and cheesy squash. Our servings of squash, potato salad and mac and cheese didn't disappoint. The mac was thick and rich, full of real cheddar flavor on al dente pasta. The potato salad refreshed with a hint of smoky bacon. The squash was creative and well cooked, though the "cheesy" element was moot thanks to the watery and virtually nonexistent sauce. On quality of sides Buck's Barbeque scores a 7/10.
It's both poetic and telling that, within the same 18 month period, Jim Buchanan's old stomping grounds (Pappa Charlies) relocated to a new home in Cypress while Buchanan's restaurant relocated to Galveston. The exodus of two of the city's best smokehouses to the far reaches of Houston's suburban outskirts tells a story of rising property costs and the increasing struggles of independent restaurants. While its exit was a loss for inner Loopers, Buck's opening in Galveston was a great boon to the island — now a recognized barbecue destination in its own right.