CorkScrew BBQ: Solid 'Cue in Spring

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Although "spring" is right around the corner (more like summer at this rate), the solid barbecue at Corkscrew BBQ at 24930 Budde Road is actually to be found in Spring, just south of The Woodlands.

There, in a gravel lot off a quiet side road, Will and Nichole Buckman have set up a simple shop with only a smoker, a trailer for order-taking and a few scattered picnic tables. But even though it's tucked away, the CorkScrew caravan is hard to miss thanks to its black and bright-pink paint job.

CorkScrew has been a hit almost since the first day it opened this past November. Corkscrew warns fans on its website that it sells out every day: "We cook as much as we can fit on the pit daily, when we're out we're out..." And even though I arrived with a friend at 11:30 a.m. one Saturday afternoon, the Buckmans were already out of smoked chicken. Nichole explained that it's one of the most popular meats on the menu, and suggested the turkey as a replacement.

I rarely find a piece of turkey I enjoy that doesn't come in a club sandwich, topped with plenty of mayonnaise and bacon to give the bird some moistness and flavor. So I was charmed to find myself enjoying the smoked turkey at Corkscrew in spite of myself, infused with a woodsy aroma and remarkably tender.

The fatty, soft brisket was the star of the afternoon, however, with a wonderfully charred exterior and smoke ring that spoke to hours spent in the hot confines of Corkscrew's big, black smoker. It had a flavor that I couldn't quite place, though -- a sweet smokiness that was entirely unlike the mesquite- or hickory- or even pecan-smoked 'cues you find so often in Texas.

I contemplated the mystery flavor while demolishing two of CorkScrew's sides: a rather average if passable cole slaw and a black pepper-spotted potato salad that tasted of salty Parmesan cheese and tangy sour cream, by far the best of the two.

Finally, I went back to the window to find out what wood the Buckmans were using for their smoker -- the same basic, perfunctory question you ask at every barbecue joint -- and was astounded by the answer.

"Red oak," Will answered with a grin. "We just like it best." It was the answer to what had been driving me crazy about the brisket and turkey, too -- the sweet, nutty source of that maddening flavor. Unusual, to say the least. But it's what will ultimately set CorkScrew apart and -- I predict -- is what will draw serious 'cue hounds to the spot as more people learn of the Buckmans' talent at the smoker.

As we were leaving, I saw a kid fresh out of Little League practice chowing down on one of CorkScrew's sandwiches. I scanned the menu when I got home and found two more items that will guarantee I'm one of those people making a return visit and buying out Corkscrew's 'cue each day: Pancho & Lefty, a brisket sandwich covered with pico de gallo and mayo; and The Whole Hog, a pulled pork sandwich topped with sausage and two fat pork ribs.

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