Sunday, 1 October 2017

Skinny's Smoke House, Medicine Hat, AB - July 23, 2017

This is my first blog post about a BBQ joint in Alberta.  Now that I have finished documenting my Texas BBQ adventures, it is time to start writing about the scene closer to home.  It was a busy summer and start to fall for our family, so this post has taken a couple of months to move from draft status to published.

I had the opportunity to visit Skinny's last summer and was impressed with the BBQ, so when we were going to be there again on a Sunday afternoon it seemed like a no brainer to go back!  Our kids had been spending the week with their grandparents in Regina and we were meeting them in Medicine Hat to bring them home, so we planned to meet at Skinny's for lunch before everyone went their own ways.

Skinny's Smoke House, Medicine Hat, AB, Canada

Knowing in advance that we would be there and wanting to expand on my blogging experiences, I contacted the restaurant ahead of time to see if they would have a few minutes to talk with me while I was there.  I promptly received a reply from Jeff Brewster, one of the founders, who said he would be happy to visit.  This was going to be my first 'interview', and I'll admit to being a little anxious about it.

Skinny's is located in a small shopping strip in a largely residential neighbourhood, but it is easily accessed off of the TransCanada Highway, just 3 or 4 minutes from the highway.  My in-laws, with our kids in tow, were waiting inside when we arrived.  We joined them inside and since everyone was hungry it made sense to order and eat and then introduce myself to Jeff afterwards.  You order and pay at the counter and then they call you when your order is ready.

The d├ęcor inside Skinny's is very southern BBQ.  It isn't a big place and they have 4 large communal tables that fill the dining area.  Murals painted on the walls along with a pretty decent licence plate collection and some other knick knacks give it a casual and comfortable down home feel.

The license plate collection at Skinny's

The menu here is pretty standard BBQ joint fare; pulled pork, brisket, ribs, sausage and chicken for the meats.  Their regular sides are baked beans, potato salad and slaw and they have different daily special sides that they offer. 

The menu board

We all ordered individual meals and the pulled pork sandwich seemed to be the popular choice, with everyone except myself going that route.  I opted for the 2 meat plate with ribs and brisket, with slaw and the feature side of the day, corn bread topped with honey butter.  My order came accompanied by a dinner roll and some house-made pickles.  The ribs and brisket were served sauce free, with 3 sauce options available on the tables.  The pork rib portion of my order was 3 meaty ribs with a tasty, but not overpowering rub cooked on.  They were very good and came off the bone without too much effort, although I did think they could have used just a little more time in the smoker.  When my 11 year old saw what I had, she asked to try a rib and she also enjoyed it.

My daughter's partially eaten pulled pork sandwich with corn bread

Next up was the brisket.  The serving was two thick slices of meaty goodness.  The slices were probably double the thickness of what I've become used to getting in Texas.  My first thought was that they were trying to hide something, but after one bite I was convinced that it was just how they roll at Skinny's.  I've heard of places slicing their brisket thick when it is overcooked and too crumbly to slice thinner...not the case here.  Even with the extra thickness I was able to pull it apart with my fingers.  It was moist and delicious with a good bark on it.  The fat was nicely rendered and melted in my mouth.  A little dip of the meat in their regular sauce added to the flavour party happening!

My two meat plate with ribs and brisket

The cornbread was really good and the honey butter drizzled over top gave it an awesome sweetness. I really enjoyed the coleslaw and the house made pickles were great.

After we ate I went over and introduced myself to Jeff.  While we sat down to chat he was testing out some smoked chicken wings and offered me one to try.  It was great with a really tasty rub, a little bit of spice and also some brown sugary sweetness.  Definitely something they can consider adding to the regular menu!

Skinny's has been open in Medicine Hat since 2013 and Jeff is the co-owner along with Todd Lindsay.  At the time both men were looking for a change of scenery career wise.  Jeff was on a waterskiing trip in Florida and visited a BBQ spot in Auburndale, FL called Peebles Bar-B-Q; and that is where he caught the BBQ bug!  Soon after, he and Todd took a trip through the southern states doing research that took them through Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  I asked Jeff if there were any stops on their trip that stood out for him.  He mentioned Q39 in Kansas City as having the best pulled pork he had tasted.  They visited LA Barbecue and Stiles Switch in Austin and Riscky's BBQ in Fort Worth.  Jeff mentioned that a couple of places in Danville, KY and Tulsa also stood out, but the names escaped him.  There is a great mural painted on one of the walls inside the restaurant depicting their journey.

Jeff & Todd's Excellent BBQ Adventure!

They cook on an Ole Hickory gas assist smoker using primarily cherry and apple wood, although Jeff mentioned that they had been experimenting with smoking some fish using mesquite.  Jeff also let me in on the fact that construction has started on a new location on the west side of Medicine Hat in a new commercial area just off the highway with a much larger capacity, between 150 and 170.  They are also selling their sauces commercially in area grocery stores.

These guys are making great BBQ out in Medicine Hat and I look forward to visiting them again and checking out the new location once it opens.  If you find yourself around Medicine Hat, definitely go and find Skinny's!  Support your local pit master and eat more BBQ!

Monday, 7 August 2017

Houston 2017 Trip Wrap Up

This will be my final blog entry about my February 2017 trip to Texas.  I have already written about most of the great BBQ experiences I had, and wanted to do up a quick entry on a couple of others places I had the chance to visit while in Houston. 

I was down there for work, which spilled into the evening on a few occasions, so unfortunately I did not have much opportunity to visit Houston area BBQ spots, even though I did have a list of places I hoped to visit while I was there.

One of my Calgary work colleagues happened to be down there at the same time with his wife and we met up at Pizzitola's.  They are famous for their spareribs and have an interesting story.  They have a 70 + year old brick pit in the restaurant that they cook on.  Houston does not allow such pits in restaurants anymore for safety reasons, but Pizzitola's pit has been grandfathered in and is still allowed.  They problem they have is that they cannot do any renovations or expansions because that would void the allowance for the pit, so it puts them in a bit of a tough spot.  That said, it is a neat old place with lots of pictures and historical mementos on the walls.  We all ordered the ribs since that is what they are known for, and also because by dinner time they were out of a couple other meats.  The ribs weren't they best I've had, but they were pretty good.  All in all it was a good BBQ meal shared with some good company!

The other place that I'm not going to dedicate a whole blog entry to is Pappas BBQ.  Pappas is a chain restaurant that is part of a larger group of restaurants and they have a number of locations in Houston, including one in Humble not far from my airport hotel.  I've been there on past trips and while it is a big commercial operation, the BBQ is decent, they always have everything available, the portions are generous with good sides and I love their pecan pie!  I bought a whole pecan pie this trip to bring back home to Calgary for the family.  When I leave the office late and don't feel like exploring some area of Houston away from my hotel, it's nice to have Pappas to fall back on for a good BBQ dinner!

All in all, I had some wonderful BBQ experiences on this trip and really that is what led to this blog.  I have already started making a list of new places I want to get to on my next trip south and I look forward to sharing those stories with you.  Until then, I am going to start writing about some of the joints closer to home that I have had the opportunity to visit.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Roegels Barbecue - last stop on the journey

It was March 4, 2017 and it was my last day in Houston on this work trip.  I had an early evening flight back to Calgary, which left me time for one more BBQ stop before heading to the airport.

Based on my thorough and in-depth social media research I had my sights set on Roegels Barbecue Co. in Houston.  I hoped it would be a fitting finish to what had been a great stretch of gluttony the previous 8 or 9 days!  I got myself checked out of the hotel and headed out.

Roegels is located west of the city centre, so it was a bit of a drive from my airport hotel. Despite my phone's spotty (at best) GPS performance, I made it in reasonable time without any wrong turns, other than driving past the restaurant on my first pass!  A quick turnaround at the shopping centre a block or two up the road and I was pulling into the parking lot. 

Not sure how I missed the sign!

Roegels is located in the building that previously housed a Baker's Ribs location, which was owned and operated by Russell Roegels.  A few years back he decided to cut ties with the chain and open his own joint.  In 2014 Roegels Barbecue Co. opened their doors and the accolades started coming.  They were recently named to the list of the Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas by Texas Monthly magazine.

The interior decor of the restaurant is nice, although fairly typical.  It has a relaxed, casual feel to it, with lots of wood and western style decorations.  The photo on my blog's home page came from inside the restaurant.

I approached the counter and was greeted by a very friendly man named Bruce.  With Bruce's help, I opted for the three meat plate with the Texas trinity of brisket, pork ribs, and sausage, but instead of the usual sausage  I switched it up for a link of their boudin sausage, something I had been wanting to try but that isn't very common in and around Houston (more of a Louisiana and East Texas specialty).  For my 2 sides, I went with coleslaw and Texas Caviar, a salad made with black eyed peas, corn and peppers.

I had tweeted them earlier that I was coming by, and when Bruce asked me if I was on a BBQ tour, I suspected that he had seen the tweet.  My suspicion was heightened when I overheard Bruce telling the meat cutter to make sure he gave me a nice piece of brisket (they did) because I would be taking pictures of it!  Whatever the reason, the tray of BBQ that I received looked outstanding.  I loaded up on pickles and some bread and grabbed a seat.  The place wasn't packed for early on a Saturday afternoon, but there was a steady flow of people coming in. 

The Texas Trinity with slaw and Texas Caviar

Folks, they are serving up some excellent BBQ here.  The ribs were outstanding with a great bite.  The brisket is right up there with anything I've tried and the thick peppery bark was outstanding.  I really enjoyed my first taste of boudin, some different flavours than I'm used to, but really good.  The coleslaw and the house made pickles were great and the Texas Caviar was a nice alternative to the traditional sides.

The only downside to my experience was my choice in dessert, but that is totally on me.  I was full after lunch and decided to get a dessert to go, thinking I would eat it later at the airport while waiting for my flight. The idea was good, but the execution in choosing the bourbon banana pudding was a mistake.  So was not making sure I grabbed a spoon.  By the time I got around to eating it, the pudding had warmed up and was a little runny...especially trying to eat it with a plastic fork.  The pecan cobbler probably would have been a better option.  Live and learn!

Like I said earlier, the food here is top notch.  The restaurant has a great ambience, the service was super friendly and in my opinion they are worthy of their Top 50 ranking. This is by far the best BBQ I have experienced in the Houston area.  Roegels is definitely worth a stop and I will absolutely try and get back there on future trips to Houston.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Kreuz Market in Lockhart

In 1999, the Texas Legislature proclaimed Lockhart, TX the Barbecue Capital of Texas.  The city is home to a number of major barbecue joints and as you can imagine, there are some stories to go with them.

One of the more interesting stories is that of Kreuz Market and Smitty's Market.  Kreuz Market started out as a meat market in 1900 and moved to a new location in Lockhart 24 years later.  Kreuz remained in that location until 1999 when, during a well publicized family feud, owner Rick Schmidt moved the business to its current location and his sister Nina opened Smitty's Market in the existing building.  TV and newspaper crews were on hand as pit master Roy Perez and Lehman Schmidt dragged a metal tub of the coals from the old location to the new Kreuz Market and used them to start the fires in the new pits.  A search of Kreuz on the Texas Monthly website, will provide you with a few different stories by Daniel Vaughn about the family ordeal, along with a great photo of the transfer of the coals.

After my meal at Franklin I drove around Austin a little and then headed south towards Lockhart.  It is a short 35 or 40 minute drive, so when I got there I was still full from lunch.  I made my way to Kreuz Market and headed inside.  It is a large red building with a brick and metal exterior.

Keuz Market exterior

There are 3 separate areas to the interior.  You enter through a foyer into a large dining area and corridor that leads you the pit area.  On the day I was there a band was playing country music in this room.

Sunday afternoon entertainment

The corridor takes you past this dining area through a set of doors into the pit room.  In here you find a number of large, brick pits and an ordering counter.

The Kreuz Market pit room

This is where you order and pay just for your meat and where you will often find the aforementioned Roy Perez tending the pits.  Perez and his mutton chop sideburns are legendary in the Texas BBQ world.  Sadly, he was not there on this day, so my hope for a photo opportunity was foiled!  I kept it light, ordering just one of the sausages that Kreuz is famous for.

From the pit room, you go through another set of doors into the main dining room and another counter where you order your sides and drinks.  I got a soda, some bread and pickles and a cole slaw to go with my sausage.  They also have some souvenirs available, including one featuring Roy Perez and his mutton chops that says 'Love Meat Tender'.  You can check out the selection at  The dining room was busy on this Sunday afternoon.  I found a seat at one of the long tables.

On the wall in the corridor when you first come in, a sign is posted listing their traditions since 1900. The first two are 'No Barbecue Sauce' and 'No Forks'.

The Rules!

This is real Texas barbecue and they don't feel that they have anything to hide by covering it up with sauce.  The lack of forks goes back to the meat market traditions where customers would buy smoked meats from the market along with some bread to use as a vehicle for eating the meat.  Part of what has drawn me to Texas BBQ has been the tradition, so I wrapped my sausage up in my bread, added some pickles and dug in!

While I was in Lockhart, I wish that I had the time, and more importantly, the appetite to check out some of the other great spots in town.  I guess there is always next time!

Kreuz Market is one of the legendary joints that is a must stop if you are in the area.  They are a Texas Monthly Top 50 spot, and even though the current building is relatively new, they managed to transfer some of the historical feeling when they moved.  This is quality barbecue and a great atmosphere, I just hope next time I go Roy Perez will be there!

Saturday, 17 June 2017

My Cooks - Smoked Chicken Wings, May 2017

This is the first time I post about my own smoking efforts.  My current cooker is a cheap, hardware store offset smoker.  It is made of thin metal and is designed for charcoal use.  I decided a while back that I wanted to try cooking by burning just wood and not charcoal.  I was able to find a firewood supplier that sells oak, unfortunately they are located just south of Edmonton.  A few weeks back I found myself up that way on a work trip and I was able to stop in there to stock up.  Of course, the firebox on my smoker is small, so I had to cut down the wood to make it fit.

It took a bit of work to get the fire going, but I was eventually able to get the smoker up to temperature.  I had hoped to maintain a temperature of around 250 degrees.  This cook was also my first opportunity to use the iGrill temperature sensor I got for Christmas.  I picked up an ambient temperature probe for it about a month ago so mounted the probe at the far end of the cooking area and set the iGrill for a temperature range between 225 and 275 degrees.  The iGrill syncs to your smartphone with bluetooth, so you can monitor your temperatures from a distance and also receive warnings when the temperature falls outside the range you set.  You can plug in up to 4 probes at once, allowing me to monitor the temperature inside the smoker as well as up to 3 different pieces of meat.

I wanted to test things out with something fairly simple and quick, so I opted for some chicken wings.  Something else I tried out for the first time was brining.  Austin's favourite Hardcore Carnivore, Jess Pryles, has posted a recipe for some buffalo chicken tenders that she brined in a buttermilk and hot sauce mixture.  I modified the recipe a little, adding just a few dashes of the hot sauce since I'm the only one in my family that likes spicy food.  My schedule only allowed me to have the wings in the brine for a few hours, so I don't know how much it added, but they did stay moist.  An overnight brine the next time should help even more.  I pulled the wings out of the brine, added some seasoning and onto the smoker they went.

Brined, seasoned and ready for some smoke!

I put a foil pan filled with water on the grill, closest to the firebox to keep more moisture in the cooker as well.  The lid on my smoker doesn't seal very tight, but I have found that a couple of paving stones on top of the lid helps keep it closed a little better!
I mentioned that I was trying to cook with just wood for the first time and I did find it quite a challenge to keep the temperature within my desired range and I was constantly having to adjust the dampers.

I let the wings cook for about 2 hours before checking on them.  The ones closer to the firebox were certainly more cooked than the others.  I moved them around a bit and at this point I slid meat probes into a couple of the wings and closed the lid for a while longer.  After another 45 minutes or so I was comfortable that the wings were cooked.  The problem with doing chicken at a lower temperature like this is that the skin doesn't crisp up.  That may be ok on a whole chicken where you can just not eat the skin, but that doesn't really work on wings!

I pulled the wings off the smoker, tossed them in some barbecue sauce and put them in the oven at high heat to crisp them up.

Smoked BBQ Wings

The Outcome: They were tasty.  Good, but not great.  I actually found the smoke flavour to be overpowering.

Next time out I will try a couple of things differently.  As I mentioned earlier, I'll brine them overnight and the other thing I'll try is to just have them on the smoker for about an hour to get some smoke flavour on the meat, but then I will finish them either on the grill or in the oven.

My other takeaway from this cook is that I need to spend more time figuring out how to maintain a steady temperature using strictly wood for fuel as opposed to charcoal.  Hopefully I can find an afternoon soon to just fire up the smoker and play around with holding the temp.  I also have some modifications in mind for it that hopefully will help.

I'll keep you all posted and I'll have some other posts up soon on some previous cooks!

Wednesday, 7 June 2017


The famous Franklin sign

Aaron Franklin.  In just a few short years, the name has become synonymous with barbecue excellence.  His restaurant in Austin is as famous for its brisket as it is for the daily hours long lineup to get a taste of it.  They insist on using only the highest quality meats and smoke that brisket for up to 18 hours.

Reading Franklin's book, Franklin Barbecue - a meat smoking manifesto, you find out that the insistence on using only the best extends to the post oak used to slow smoke that marvellous meat.  Aaron worked tirelessly in his early days of business to find a wood supplier that could consistently provide him with the best possible product.  The attention to detail starts with the wood and the fire and extends to every process of the cook.

The day before, while in Taylor, I bought a cheap folding camp chair at Walmart.  I planned to be in line early Sunday morning and I didn't want to stand or sit on the ground.  The evening before, I had stopped by the Franklin location on my way to Stiles Switch, just to check out the spot and the parking situation.  At that point I noticed that they have a corral full of camp chairs for the guests to use while in line.  Luckily the chair only cost $10, so not a big deal!

I set my alarm for early Sunday morning and grabbed a couple of pastries, a yogurt and an apple from the hotel continental breakfast on my way out the door.  Franklin talks about the daily line up in his book and I had been reading about it on Twitter for months.  The line up has its own Twitter feed and I had heard stories of people paying others to stand in line for them.  It was also a weekend, so the line up would be longer than on a weekday.  From what I had heard and read, I expected the line up to start 4 or 5 hours before the 11:00 am opening.  I pulled into the parking lot about 6:30 am...crickets.  Nobody in sight.  Not another car in the parking lot.  My immediate thought was that I could have slept more.  I stayed in the car and ate my breakfast.  Within 10 or 15 minutes, two other cars pulled, much to my relief!  I finished my yogurt, grabbed a chair from the corral and got into the lineup.  6:45 am and I was the third chair in line!

6:45 a.m. The view of the door from my spot in line

The folks ahead of me were a husband and wife from Connecticut.  She had been to Franklin before but this was his first time.  The other car was a younger couple from a little ways outside Austin.  He was headed off to Arizona for school and wanted to hit Franklin one more time before going away, so he and his girlfriend had made a weekend trip.  You see, the Franklin lineup has kind of become a thing of its own.  I mentioned the Twitter feed.  They have a sign on the wall letting guests know that the line is BYOB friendly.  As the line grew longer and longer that morning, people were making a social event out of it.  A young couple a little ways back from my spot in line were drinking bloody mary's.  They had recently moved to Austin from Florida and spent a good amount of time talking with two guys ahead of them in line about the local bbq scene.  Groups were using their coolers for card games.  It was a really neat scene.  Around 8 o'clock the staff turned on some music and shortly after someone came out to let us know that a door was unlocked and we could go in to use the washroom if needed.  The cash was also open for those wanting to buy souvenirs prior to opening (hat and t-shirt added to the collection!).

Pictures of the growing line up

The great thing that they do is around 9:00 or 9:30, a staff member comes out and starts going person by person through the lineup, taking an inventory of what everyone figures they will be ordering, and how much.  Using this info, they will cut off the line at some point, letting anyone beyond that point know that they will likely not get any food that day.  The downside of low and slow cooked barbecue is that when it is all gone, it is all gone.  There is no throwing a few more steaks on the grill.  Since opening the restaurant around 2010, Franklin Barbecue has sold out of barbecue every day.  The previous day's sold out sign was still up on the door when I got there.  Closer to opening time, someone else came out selling beer and a few times during the line up staff came out, greeting the guests, answering questions and making sure everyone was doing ok.  From a business model standpoint, I would say they have about mastered the whole guest experience thing.  The lineup creates a buzz of its own and their actions help make it a fun, friendly and social experience.

With all of that said however, the lineup and the buzz would not exist without the food.  If the barbecue wasn't any good, none of it would happen.  The lineups started before Franklin had moved into the current building.  The restaurant started out as a trailer that Aaron and his wife Stacy had built into a food truck.  Shortly after opening, Daniel Vaughn gave them a glowing review and the rest is history!

A few minutes before 11:00, the chairs made their way back into the corral and we stood, eagerly awaiting the main door being unlocked.  Finally, it was time.  After almost 4.5 hours in line, I will admit that I was a little bit giddy with anticipation!

Just moments before opening!

The door opened and in we went, along the back wall and past the souvenir display and then down the side wall up to the counter to order.  I placed my order, watching the cutter expertly slice the brisket and pork ribs that I ordered.  A side of baked beans, white bread and pickles on the side along with a mini pecan pie for dessert.

My Franklin spread.

I joined the Connecticut couple at a table and it was time to eat.  The previous day, I had eaten brisket at two of the finest BBQ joints in Texas and it was outstanding.  Somehow, this was just a little bit better.  It is tough to explain just how, but it was.  It is also difficult to explain how a simple piece of bbq meat is worth waiting 4.5 hours in line for, but it was.  The pork ribs were outstanding in their own right, but the brisket was the star of the show.  Franklin uses a 50/50 salt and pepper rub on the brisket and it is elegant in its simplicity.  The beans were good, the pie was excellent (not house made, they bring it in from a local bakery), but the rest of the meal was overshadowed by the fabulousness of the brisket.

I'm happy to say that I have experienced the Franklin line, and I would absolutely eat there again...just not sure I'll wait 4.5 hours in line again. The food was outstanding and the whole experience was first rate.  In 2013, Texas Monthly named them the top BBQ joint in Texas and the new rankings released just a couple of weeks ago have them at number 2.  In my mind, they are undeniably deserving of such lofty status and braving the Franklin line up is a BBQ bucket list item I'm happy to cross off my list!

Thursday, 25 May 2017

My Ultimate Texas BBQ Trip, February 2017 - Day 1, Stop 3, Stiles Switch

After breakfast at Snow's and lunch at Louis Mueller, I rolled into Austin and got myself checked into my hotel.  I crashed for a bit of an afternoon nap before heading out once again.

I had a couple of items on my agenda to take care of on my way to Stiles Switch.  One of the Austinites I follow on Twitter is Jess Pryles.  She is a barbecue aficionado and her website, has some cool swag, and I was hoping to pick up one of her Hardcore Carnivore t-shirts.  The website listed a local store as one of the places carrying her items so I stopped in there.  Unfortunately, all they carry are her rubs, so no luck there.

My next stop was to scout out the location for my next day's adventure, but more on that in the next blog post!  From there I headed for Stiles least that was the plan.  My phone GPS was giving me trouble and I ended up missing my exit...causing me a substantial detour and some frustration.

I finally found my way to the restaurant and headed into Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew.  The restaurant is relatively new, but it is located in one of the oldest shopping centres in Central Austin.  Their website says that the location was used for filming the movie Dazed & Confused back in the 90's.  The decor reminded me of an old roadhouse.  Lots of wood and neon, tv's on the walls.  Simple wooden tables and some larger communal bar height tables.  You enter at one end of the large room and an aisle takes you along the wall up to the counter at the opposite end.  Being my third stop of the day, I decided to go for a lighter option and went with the smoked turkey breast along with pork ribs, coleslaw and potato salad (not really a light option...just lighter!).  The usual white bread and pickles along with a side of sauce and I was good to go.

Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew - smoked turkey & ribs

The ribs were very good, although I did find the bark to be a bit on the peppery side.  The sides were great.  The turkey was good, but a little on the dry side.  Stiles Switch was just named one of the 50 bbq joints in Texas in the new Texas Monthly ranking, so I'm going to assume that either I caught them on an off day or it was the fact that it was my third bbq restaurant of the day, combined with being tired and frustrated at getting lost on the way.  Other than the dry turkey, I can't really point to anything wrong, but I was left wanting more.  Given the circumstances and all the good things I've read about them, I feel like I owe them a second visit.  I'm pretty certain it was just me, so don't hesitate to check them out if you have the opportunity.

I had planned to check out some of the Austin nightlife, but after eating I just made my way back to the hotel (with another brief faulty GPS related detour) and crashed for the night.