For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2012 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.
Just yesterday, Anthony Bourdain told us all about how he'd become a recent convert to Texas barbecue while eating with barbecue blogger Daniel Vaughn in Central Texas. "I'd previously taken sort of a dim view of Texas barbecue," the chef said, "but Franklin and J. Mueller showed me how good it really was. I had a religious experience there."
Now, Franklin Barbecue and J. Mueller BBQ are both a bit of a drive from Houston. And while both are arguably some of the absolute, all-time best barbecue you can get in Texas, what we have in our own backyard isn't too shabby.
Note: Many entries are excerpted from previous Best of Houston® entries, as many previous award winners have maintained the same standards of quality that garnered them awards in the first place. Go 'cue.
True, most people (including Tony Vallone himself) go to Blake's for the burgers (and the catfish, and the smoked turkeys at Thanksgiving, and the veggie burgers). But the barbecue -- especially the tender ribs -- shouldn't be dismissed entirely, unless you (like Bourdain) aren't a fan of sauced meat. The sauce at Blake's is sweet and there's a lot of it, but it's a nostalgic kind of sweet that may remind you of the barbecue sauce your mom made for your dad's brisket, with plenty of ketchup and brown sugar. Save room for dessert, because you'll want a slice of one of Blake's homemade cakes or a milkshake made with none other than Hank's ice cream.
On Saturday afternoon, Burns Bar BQ is party central in Acres Homes. The crowds line up when the place opens, and they never let up until the ribs are gone. Burns Bar BQ serves their ribs well done under a sweet and subtle glaze of sauce and smoke. Burns' brisket falls apart on the way to your mouth; it's as soft and wet as pot roast. If you judge it by the standards of white barbecue, then you won't get it. Beef that isn't falling apart simply isn't done enough according to the black East Texas aesthetic. Carolina barbecue is whole-hog, slow-smoked to stringy mush; the black East Texas style does the same thing with beef, which was always cheaper and more plentiful in Texas. Put some of Burns's falling-apart brisket on a bun with barbecue sauce, pickles and onions, and think of it as Texas's answer to a Carolina pulled-pork sandwich. Suddenly, you'll understand. Its new location on 7117 N. Shepherd isn't as good as the original (see: Thelma's, for the same story), but it's still a Houston institution.
Like both Thelma's and Burns before it, Triple J's is now on its second location at 6715 Homestead Road, just north of Kashmere Gardens and right outside the Loop. Triple J's isn't just popular for its East Texas-style barbecue, though, as good as it is. This joint also serves some pretty fine links of spicy Cajun boudin and smoked turkey. Around Thanksgiving time, orders for that juicy turkey -- which Triple J's will also deep-fry for you -- keep the joint busy around the clock.