In this weekly series we're visiting the many smokehouses that call Houston and its surrounding suburbs home, along the way testing their mettle and judging their brisket (among other things). This column aims to highlight both the restaurants and pitmasters that define Houston barbecue.
Russell Roegels has been starting fires and smoking meat for over two decades. The Texas native started his career in the barbecue business washing dishes and working pit duty at the original Bodacious BBQ in Longview (now ranked the 4th best cue joint in the state by Texas Monthly) and began his entrepreneurial career by opening the lone Houston location of Baker's Ribs back in 2003.
After more than a decade of running that franchise, and differentiating it enough from the rest of the company's Dallas locations to receive high praise from Daniel Vaughn, Roegels changed gears in 2014 and renamed the cafeteria-style country smokehouse Roegels Barbeuce Co Since then he's been a respected member of the Houston's BBQ elite, celebrated for smoking one of the best cuts of brisket in the state.
One of the best parts about eating at Roegels (apart from the barbecue) is the authentic country aesthetic that wafts over the place like an invisible veil concealing it from its bustling city surroundings. Despite being a stone's throw from the absolute hellscape that is Westheimer west of the loop, the red barn with an interior like a lakeside cabin feels like a country summer day. The combination of a covered patio lined with picnic tables and dimly-lit cafeteria dining room offer the best of both worlds when it comes to barbecue dining. On smokehouse aesthetics, Roegels Barbecue scores a 10/10.
If the decor puts you at ease, the brisket will put you to sleep. Unlike most of the state's best brisket minds (including some of Houston's finest pit masters) Roegels' BBQ pedigree is all East-Tex. From his time in Longview to his nearly two decades in Houston, he's living proof that it don't take the Hill Country to make a world class brisket. A pepper-forward bark stacks on thick, leaving plenty of smoky burnt flavor around the edges. Underneath, super fatty brisket glistens in the low light letting you know you won't be needing a fork. Our only complaint is that the extremely moist quality if this mouth-watering briskest may leave some beef lovers disappointed in the fat to muscle ratio, a quandary that just comes down to personal taste. On quality of brisket, Roegels scores a 9/10.
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For a joint with brisket this good, you'd think they would take it easy on other proteins. Perhaps "stick to what they know". But that's just the point — Roegels has spent enough time around pits, cooking other people's menus and learning the ropes of East Texas barbecue that pork ribs, pulled pork, smoked turkey and chicken come as natural to him as that peppery black brisket. The pork ribs carry over a bit of that Baker's Ribs magic Roegels was once known for, as does the pulled pork. The smoked turkey is some of the most tender and moist this writer's ever tasted. And most recently, Roegels has joined the handful of Texas pit masters offering a southern smokehouse take on pastrami beef. The daily special is available on Thursdays as a traditional Ruben sandwich or on Fridays as a whole pastrami beef rib. On non-brisket proteins Roegels scores a 9/10.
It's been noted in other reviews that while Russell and his crew man the pits, the sides and dessert menu can largely be attributed to his wife and co-owner, Misty Roegels. In this way the two make one hell of a culinary team, as Misty's sides have been raved about by reviewers both amateur and awarded. While the loaded mashed potatoes, pinto beans and bourbon banana pudding are noted fan favorites, this writer opted for mac n' cheese and potato salad. The former satisfied sure enough, with a creamy and cheesy consistency that fell in the perfect range between too thick and too watery. The potato salad unfortunately needed flavor, perhaps in the form of a mustard base or simply more seasoning. It was nicely textured but seriously bland. On quality of sides Roegels scores a 7/10.
We've heard it before and we'll say it again, the Texas barbecue renaissance is going strong in Houston. While we love to see what's happening at the latest openings and trendiest pop-ups, it's always good to swing by and patron one of the Houston pit masters that have been making headlines since before the rebirth. Whether under a different name or his own, Russell Roegel's has been local BBQ royalty for quite some time. With an ever improving menu and innovative daily specials, it's a title he won't be losing any time soon.