BBQ Safari: Mad Dog’s BBQ in River Oaks

Mad Dog’s BBQ

5155 River Oaks Blvd., River Oaks


Posted 11:38am on Monday, Jun. 17, 2013

I’ve been driving past this joint since January, and I guess I kind of blocked it out of my mind. Yeah, there was a sign out there that said “BBQ,” but this was the location of Bay Ray’s Bistro, and there is no such thing as real barbecue served in anything called a “bistro.” It took a while for it to dawn on me that this was a new barbecue joint in the old Bay Ray’s location. The giveaway was when I noticed the monster barbecue trailer parked out front. Considering my quest for the Holy Grail of Texas BBQ dispensaries, I had to swing in and check it out.

Mad Dog’s is in sort of a strip mall (which would normally mean a deduction in points for not being located in an old shack), but it’s an old ’50s-era strip center, and the rather spartan interior has lots of wood grain and simple furniture. So the decor is appropriate. The owners are exceptionally nice, which worried me a little, but I was willing to overlook that when they served me a massive Mason jar of soda while I waited for the meat. Just the thing on a hot day.

I ordered the brisket, ribs and sausage with potato salad and fried okra on the side. The potato salad was good, although pretty much the standard variety, and the fried okra (the only way to eat okra) was great. Don’t pass it by.

The brisket, well, let’s talk about that. Brisket is Texas barbecue; everything else is a bonus. Brisket should have a serious smoke ring – a pink layer along the edge of a brisket slice that is a result of the smoke interacting with the meat. There is good ’cue without a smoke ring, but if there is one, it’s a sign that you are getting the real deal.

Mad Dog’s brisket had an excellent smoke ring.

Brisket is a tough, cheap cut of meat, and the whole point of barbecue is to cook this meat at low heat for many hours so that it is tender and flavorful. Don’t cook it long enough, and it’s tough. Too long and it starts to fall apart in strings like pot roast. When it gets to this point it’s only good for sandwiches, and lots of places cut it thick so it holds together on the plate.

Mad Dog’s brisket was sliced very thin; you can pick it up with your fingers and it stays intact. But the slightest pressure and it practically melts away. I have not seen a more perfect slice of brisket anywhere, texture-wise, and I eat an absurd amount of brisket. The brisket also packed an excellent flavor: not overly spiced, nothing to hide, just wonderful bovine taste. It would be a sin to sauce this meat.

The sausage had a nice, mildly spicy flavor. The sauce provided (served in a squeeze bottle) was good, but not necessary. It was a nice contrast to the brisket.

The ribs had nice flavor, but fell apart a little more than I would prefer. I like ribs to have a bit more substance, and these are spare ribs rather than St. Louis-cut, so you get some of the chunks of bone that run perpendicular to the rib bones. Still, these are some mighty decent pigsicles, and I would not hesitate to order them again.

Mad Dog’s uses hickory to smoke the meat initially, then foils the meat and switches to oak for a longer lasting, more even heat. Nearly all barbecue joints have switched to gas-fired, Southern Pride commercial smokers for consistency and ease of use. They turn out a good product, but there is something to be said for purity and tradition. Mad Dog’s uses a wood-fired, trailer-mounted smoker that’s manned by a pitmaster who not only knows what he is doing, but cares enough to do it right. You can taste the difference.

Is Mad Dog’s the Holy Grail? Not quite, but for my taste, it has possibly the best barbecue you are going to find on the west side of town. We’re still looking for new places to try on our quest, so if you know of a place, leave us a comment on

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