Nothing is more annoying than when a midwesterner gets all up in your face, declaring Texas barbecue vastly inferior to the version served in Kansas City/Memphis/South Carolina/whatever.
What's worse is that it's a hard charge to defend, because though I can name the Hill Country barbecue institutions and several historic smokehouses in and around Fort Worth, really outstanding Houston barbecue has always been somewhat elusive to me.
Luckily there's J.C. Reid and his new Houston Barbecue Project. Opening with a manifesto asking "What's wrong with Houston barbecue?" Reid argues that Houston's barbecue inferiority complex is both real and unfair.
For years I’ve lamented the state of barbecue in Houston. Compared to the barbecue shrines of Central Texas, the 'cue in Houston just never seemed to match up. But I kept going to different barbecue joints in Houston, hoping I’d find something worth eating. After all, every place I go to in Houston is packed with customers — surely they must be doing something right?"
Perhaps I’d been seduced by the myth and lore of Central Texas barbecue. I’ve spent many weekends bouncing along the back roads of Central Texas searching for the best barbecue in Texas. I came to realize that I’d visited more barbecue joints located hundreds of miles away than those barbecue joints located right in my own backyard. How could I claim that Houston barbecue was inferior to Central Texas barbecue, or even that Houston barbecue did not rise to a general standard of good barbecue, if I’d only visited a small percentage of barbecue joints in Houston? With that in mind, the Houston Barbecue Project was born."
Reid has laid out a color-coded map of Houston barbecue joints, with a rating system that assesses the style of barbecue (Central Texas, East Texas, or even a hybrid that Reid terms 'contemporary East Texas'), application of sauce, and the type of wood and smoker.
So far he's scored just over a dozen places, with the highest marks — four out of five stars — going to Gatlin's BBQ, Rudy's Country Store & Barbecue, Virgie's BBQ and Lenox Barbecue. Early scores indicate that while there's plenty of mediocrity out there, Houston does indeed have good barbecue for those willing to look.
Whether you are a lover or a hater of Houston barbecue, Reid's work is a good place to start when trying to find your favorite kind of 'cue. Do you agree with his rankings? What's your favorite barbecue in Houston?