Local eating club Houston Chowhounds held its second annual BBQ Smackdown this past Saturday afternoon at Pearl Bar, where brisket and ribs from six area restaurants competed to determine the best 'cue in town. Last year's competition saw entries from Swinging Door, Pierson's, Goode Co., Burns BBQ, Luling City Market and Kozy Kitchen. Pierson & Co. walked away with the top brisket prize last year, while Luling captured the ribs crown.
This year, the top three barbecue restaurants in both categories came to defend their status. Pierson's, Luling and Burns BBQ went up against Virgie's, Thelma's and Vincek's. Virgie's would have competed last year had it been open when the pick-up was scheduled, but a miscommunication and family emergency meant it was out of the running. Between Virgie's eagerness to defend its honor this go-around and Thelma's efforts to recapture patrons since reopening after a devastating fire, the group of competitors was fiercely driven.
The dozens of people who attended the event served as judges, grabbing score sheets as they came in and evaluating the ribs and brisket in areas like tenderness, smoke, flavor and moistness. In the end, though, only two restaurants reigned supreme.
In the ribs category, Virgie's easily led the pack with tender pork ribs with a robust smokiness and excellent flavor. This must have come as a surprise to Virgie's pitmaster, Adrian Handsborough, who admitted that his brisket is far more popular at the restaurant. He sells over 100 pounds of it each day, far more than his pork ribs. Second place went to Pierson & Co. and third place to Vincek's.
In the brisket category, Pierson & Co. held onto its crown from last year. Whether it was the burnt ends or a juicy middle piece, Pierson's brisket was the crowd favorite. It narrowly edged out Virgie's and -- again in third place -- Vincek's.
Surprisingly, Burns BBQ didn't do as well this year despite being popular in both categories last year. And perhaps even more stunning was the fact that Thelma's -- a beloved Houston institution -- came in far last place in both the ribs and brisket category. Perhaps Thelma's recovery from the fire will take longer than imagined.
Along with barbecue, everyone noshed on a vast potluck of side items and desserts. Stewed okra, cornbread, potato salad, coleslaw and several pots of beans kept the barbecue company, while desserts ranged from Nutella bread pudding to freshly cut watermelon. As the afternoon wound down and people began comparing side dishes, you could almost hear the wheels turning in their heads for the next big competition.
For more pictures, check out our slideshow from the BBQ Smackdown.