When it comes to great barbecue, San Antonio has never had the reputation of Lockhart and Luling, two hallowed havens of smoked meat places.
Yet, it isn’t for lack of trying on our part.
Yet no two people can seem to agree on what great barbecue is. Some prefer smoking the meat with certain woods. Others argue it’s about the amount of heat and the length of time you leave it in the smoker. Or the rubs. Or the sauce.
So many options, and I love the unique ways so many pitmasters come up with their special creations.
I wanted to find to some fine ‘cue, so I set out Saturday morning for the city’s east side. I was looking for new places (a habit with me), but just driving past Ed’s Smok-N-Q on W.W. White Road planted a big smile on my face. Plenty of cars were parked around Ed’s, which has some excellent mesquite-smoked ribs, sausage, brisket and more.
Before I knew it, I had driven right to Gonzales Food Market BBQ & Sausage at 2530 S. W.W. White Road. I had been to the original in Gonzales and it was going to be hard to live up to that. And it didn’t, but not because the meats were any less wonderful. It was just that they didn’t have a lot ready by 11:30 in the morning. No lamb ribs, no pork steak. Oh well, I guessed I would have to settle for pork ribs and sausage, which is like asking a wine lover to settle for Silver Oak.
The sausage was loose and full of spice. The ribs were meaty and not overcooked. No, the meat did not fall off the bone, and that isn’t what real rib lovers want. They want something they can hold in their hands as they indulge some primordial drive that makes them clean every last lick of meat off that bone.
I opted for green beans and coleslaw, yet neither was prepared in a traditional manner. The green beans were loaded with tomatoes and bacon, giving them some added substance. The creamy slaw was on the sweet side, because it featured raisins in it, but it was satisfying because the flavors worked together.
I got back in the car to head back to Rigsby. That’s when I noticed Big Lou’s would soon be opening a burgers and barbecue joint near their pizza place. Great news. Another destination along W.W. White.
As I was driving down Roland Avenue, I spied a giant yellow sign with a black arrow pointing me to Chit Chat’s Barbecue, 1130 Hampton St. The place has only been open for about three months now, the owner told me, and she’s generally open only on weekdays. But because she had a private party to cater, she decided to do a little business beforehand. My luck!
Because of the party, I decided to get my order to go, though the cozy dining room, with plenty of antique Texana on the walls and the bracing aroma of mesquite in the air, seemed inviting.
More ribs but with brisket this time. They arrived in a Styrofoam container with sauce already poured over it. I know some would find that heretical, but the sauce added flavor to the meats, which had been smoked to the point that the wood imparted flavor without dominating.
Green beans again, but these were toothsome with a touch of vinegar adding a slight tang. There also seemed to be vinegar in the potato salad, rather than an overload of mayonnaise with the piquant addition of pimentos.
I was on a roll and ready to head home with two new additions to my list when I passed the Sausage Hauze at 734 N. New Braunfels Ave. It has only been open for about three weeks, in a space that once housed the Grandview Food Market.
The menu is fairly limited with hot or cold sausage rings, brisket and chopped barbecue — and the cook’s special seafood gumbo on occasion, according to a flyer for the restaurant. This was not a gumbo day. In fact, all the owner had was sausage, but it was from Luling, so I was more than happy with the result. Yes, it was wonderful sausage, with just the right amount of garlic to give it heft.
And just the right note to end the trip on before heading back home.
But that makes me curious about all the other great barbecues in San Antonio. What are you favorites? What makes great ‘cue? Post your answers below, because I know I’ll want to hit the trail soon and explore some more.