Hitting the BBQ Trail with Robb Walsh

Somewhere around the fifth brisket of the day, our stomach gave out. It had held up through endless links of sausage, a bowl of peach cobbler, several batches of ribs, lemonade, three varieties of potato salad and even a turkey leg. But the brisket finally did us in.

Robb Walsh, however, was still going strong. And this is just one of the reasons that he's heading up the Houston BBQ Trail culinary tour, sponsored by the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau and Whole Foods. The inaugural public tour took place this past Saturday, February 27, in two back-to-back trips around town that left us wondering where Walsh gets his stamina (we're guessing in part from all the protein consumed that day).

The first public tour saw 16 people pay $180 each to tour Houston's best barbecue establishments with Walsh, the food critic for the Houston Press and the author of smoking classics like The Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook. The tour included food at every stop as well as all the Saint Arnold's beer they could drink and admission to the Club No Minors tent at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo's World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest. The public tour ended around the same time we met up with Walsh at the Rodeo, which began the second leg of his journey that day: running the same route again, but with a retinue of food and travel writers (and me) accompanying him.

The writers (especially the ones from up north) peppered Walsh with questions all afternoon as he patiently explained the difference between German sausage links and African-American sausage links, grilling and smoking, and why Texans don't generally barbecue chicken (think about it). Halfway through our tour, Lennie Ambrose -- marketing manager at Saint Arnold's Brewery -- joined the group to explain Texas microbrews to the group, who were all completely unfamiliar with the beer, as it's not sold at all outside of the state.

The first stop outside of the Club No Minors tent, where Jonathan Jones and Dusty Sagasser of Beaver's were smoking ribs and brisket, was a barbecue trailer on Laura Koppe at Homestead in the Fifth Ward. The Bar-B-Que Done Right trailer is run by Gregory Carter, who smokes his brisket for at least 12 hours. As there was nowhere to eat in the parking lot itself, the group retreated to nearby Tidwell Park to enjoy Carter's brisket and sausage. Walsh pointed out the difference in taste and appearance between the sweet and fatty African-American sausage from Bar-B-Que Done Right and the mustard-infused sausage from Guy's Meat Market as we chowed down on both.

The afternoon from that point on was a dizzying trip through town from Pierson's to Pizzitola's, finally ending up at El Hidalguense for Mexican-style barbacoa. This last stop seemed to fascinate the out-of-towners the most, with lamb and goat cooked over an open pit, wrapped in maguey leaves. Joselyne Gonzalez, daughter of the owners, cheerfully heaped fluffy rice onto our plates alongside chicarrones and cabrito cooked in mole, as we were entertained by what are possibly the best mariachis in Houston on the restaurant's small stage.

As the tour guests and writers happily washed down the last of the day's food with cups of jamaica and tamarindo, Walsh answered a few final questions before retreating for a well-deserved break from barbecue -- if only for a day. The public tour was such a success (and sold out so quickly) that the GHCVB tells us they plan on adding another date in June, alongside their other culinary tours that are currently on offer -- all of which are also sold out.

If you're interested in touring the Houston barbecue trail with Walsh himself, keep your eyes peeled for the new tour dates to be revealed later this summer. We recommend registering at the GHCVB's website to be notified, so you'll be among the first to know.

For more photos from the tour, check out our slideshow.

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Katharine Shilcutt