The Barbecue Station has long been the place in San Antonio to go for consistently dependable smoked meat, whether you’re looking for juicy brisket or sausage bursting with flavor. Two recent visits to the restaurant housed in a former Exxon station have largely borne this out, though a couple of questions about consistency did arise.
The first visit was all about that Texas staple: brisket. Slices of the toothsome beef with a slight touch of fat conveyed both smoke — from oak, if the cords of wood at the back are to be believed—and earthy beef flavor with a savory rub that ringed the meat beautifully. It was tender enough to cut with a fork, yet solid enough so that it wasn’t overcooked. A dab of the tangy barbecue sauce, thankfully a lot less sweet than most of its competitors’, just added to the pleasure that came with bite after bite. And there was no belch-inducing aftertaste that can result from oversmoked ‘cue.
That brisket, served on butcher paper, was what made me return to the Barbecue Station a few days’ later. But lightning did not strike twice. Blame the difference in time of day, the time the brisket had been in the warmer vs. the smoker, the different in the two cuts of meat. Whatever the reason, it just wasn’t the same. A friend with several generations of history in Texas barbecue aptly commented that the meat that day was too dry and lacked in flavor from both meat and rub.
But he and I were both taken with the the chicken leg and thigh quarter, which was moist and delicious. The smoke, while prevalent, was not so overwhelming as to obliterate the natural flavor of the meat. Even better, at least in my book, the skin was crisp yet almost buttery and well-seasoned. I don’t often eat chicken at restaurants, but this is a version I’ll order again.
Pork ribs were succulent, sizzling to the touch and loaded with pork goodness, but the pork loin relied a little too much on the sauce to make it sing.
Among the side dishes, the green beans proved a good choice, while the coleslaw was too sweet on one occasion and just right on the other.
But the big question on both visits concerned the pintos. This is another dish that, like brisket, Texans treat with utmost seriousness. At the Barbecue Station, if you order the beans, you can have all you can eat from the pot that sits next to the containers of forks, knives, pickles and onions. But why would you eat any, when the beans’ texture is mealy and the broth is thin and vapid, as if not even the smallest amount of salt had been used to enliven the dish? Compare these dull, little nothings with the full-flavored, jalapeño-laced beans you get at Fatty’s Burgers, also freely given, and you’ll understand how disappointing the version at the Barbecue Station really is.
I’d rather focus on that crackling chicken skin or those meaty pork ribs. Pure comfort food, Texas style.
The Barbecue Station has been around since 1992. Since its opening, the owners and staff have learned quite a few ways to keep customers coming back, whether it’s for the loaded baked potatoes or the chopped beef sandwiches. One is that, after an hour-long meal, I left the Barbecue Station without smelling like a smoke pit. Yet another reason to return for more.
1610 N.E. Loop 410
Lunch and dinner daily.