A rating system for great barbecue (in Texas and elsewhere)

Davis mutton barbecue

Mutton barbecue from Davis’ Grocery in Taylor, TX

It’s been a while since I published my list of factors I consider in rating barbecue, and we’ve got a bunch of new readers, so let’s take a fresh look. Especially because I will be in Austin over Memorial Day and hope to visit at least one establishment while there. List is from most to least important.

  1. Tenderness. Good brisket should have the consistency of pudding. Good ribs are falling off the bone. A knife should always be optional. Like they say, you should “need no teef to eat this beef”.

  2. Smoke ring. This is the caramelization which occurs when the meat is exposed to slow heat in the smoker. The outside is crisped (see below) and the meat just below that turns a delicious pink. Smoke ring is not considered in professional BBQ judging (I think because it can be faked) but for me it’s the surest sign of proper preparation by a skilled and loving cook.

  3. Bark (also known as char or crust). Given the choice, I’ll always request burnt ends which provide maximum flavor by concentrating the rub, caramelized meat and juices that leach out. Some meats don’t have bark because of their method of preparation but it’s a huge plus if available.

  4. Surface taste, appearance and texture. A place that serves meat pre-sauced gets an immediate zero for me. A marinated cut that is not thoroughly dried so it develops a crust also will be marked down. The simplest rub is also the one used by my favorite place, Snow’s in Lexington TX: lots of salt and a little pepper.

  5. Side dishes. I’m probably the only one who cares about this, but so what. Cole slaw is such a perfect accompaniment to barbecue that it should be served automatically. An eggy potato salad is close behind. I often eschew the beans because I’m so often disappointed, but when they’re good they’re great. One more thing about sides: by eating more sides you eat less meat, so there’s more left over for a future meal. You also may live longer.

There are a few more things I consider which you can read about on my original post. One thing I don’t consider: popularity.

Folks not from Texas may not be aware that getting barbecue at Franklin’s or another brisket Valhalla can be a feat on the order of getting tickets to Hamilton. I think a lot of these people are in line just for the experience and don’t even like barbecue (and they don’t have to buy it because, by the time they get to the head of the line, it’s sold out).

Some of the best barbecue I’ve had is from places like Davis Grocery & BBQ in Taylor, TX, which have a smoker out in back and serve brisket (or in this case, mutton) as a sideline to another business. I am looking forward to celebrating at this or an equivalent temple in the next few days.

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