My quest for the Holy Grail of Texas BBQ led me north to Saginaw, where our readers have been insisting there is real 'cue to be found. We're talking Texas Pit BBQ, on 287.
The first thing you notice is this giant smiley-face sign on the main road, with a big log cabin at the back of a fairly full parking lot. The building isn't particularly old, but it's rustic, and there was a pretty good line at the serving counter.
Now, the perfect barbecue joint is going to be in a building that would be condemned if the city inspector didn't like smoked meats so much, or in an old Dairy Queen. Texas Pit loses a couple of points for structural integrity, but it at least had the right look.
The line moved fast; the servers were efficient but rather friendly. A bit too friendly. The staff at a barbecue joint should act as if they are doing you a favor by letting you eat there.
I started to get worried, but then as one employee was filling my to-go order of cobbler, another one decided I had been given too much and insisted on scooping some back into the serving pan. Hot damn, that's the attitude I'm looking for!
I got the usual: brisket, ribs and sausage, along with potato salad and fried okra for $12.99. For dessert, I got the aforementioned apple cobbler.
The place was packed, and we scrambled to grab the last table. The brisket had a good pink smoke ring around the outside edge (which means it spent some time in real smoke), and so did the ribs.
I picked up a piece of brisket and it fell apart in strings like pot roast. Kind of tasted like a smoky pot roast as well, which is a sign it had been cooked just a touch too long. The brisket should be cooked just to the point where the collagen breaks down and not so long that it dries out and falls apart. With sauce, it was OK, and for chopped beef sandwiches it would be fine, but not for sliced brisket.
The ribs were a different story. These tasted just like pig-sicles should. Texas Pit nailed the texture -- not quite falling off the bone, yet tender and meaty. The ribs were even St. Louis cut (a must), and didn't require a drop of sauce. I wish I had skipped the brisket and got a double order of ribs.
The sausage was a cheddar/jalapeño link, and it was excellent. Mrs. BBQ Critic is Norwegian (by way of North Dakota) and has no tolerance for jalapeños, yet she kept stealing some of the sausage when I wasn't looking. You can't go wrong ordering the sausage.
The potato salad was a standard mustard-based affair, and we got some Texas toast, but then I got to the fried okra. Oh, my.
Fried okra is either great or terrible, and this is the good stuff. Nearly as good as my mom makes, in fact, so forget the slaw and 'tater salad and just get a double order of the okra. I don't often feel this strongly about eating something that never had a face.
The apple cobbler was an apple cobbler, and you really can't give something more praise than that. I can see why they were so protective of portion sizes.
So Texas Pit BBQ gets some high marks, and I'll be eating here again, but we are still looking for that Holy Grail of Texas BBQ joints.
If you know of such a place, let us know.