By Shannon Lowry and Rose Luna
Killeen Daily Herald
What starts with a B, ends with a Q, and is the one thing most folks will drive halfway across the state of Texas to find? Never mind those Texans who have quite obviously lost their marbles and moved out of state only to have it FedExed to their Yankee-doodle doors.
Yep, buckeroos, it's BBQ, not barbecue, and Texans may have settled for shorthand to describe it, but making the quintessential melt-in-your-mouth brisket, steaks you can cut with a butter knife, hot spicy sausages and pork ribs that taste like slow-smoked mesquite blanketed in a 007-secret sauce, well, that is one long, arduous, love-it-so-much-you-can't-leave-the-firepit-unattended process.
It takes about 20 hours in the smoker to make a brisket properly – 20 hours! Ten hours on one side, then the flip turn for 10 hours on the other. The word "tender" was likely first spoken by a patient Texas BBQ king over a smokin' grill.
There's no better way to start up a lively conversation or a highly heated argument than to bring up the subject of BBQ among tried-and-true Texans. You may as well have dropped a green flag at a NASCAR race. It's a matter of pride, mind you, Lone Star pride, and even though the whole subject is, well, utterly subjective, no one with half an ounce of gray matter will ever back down from defending their favorite BBQ hole-in-the-wall.
No, they aren't restaurants or cafes, eateries or bistros. BBQ places are joints, slapped-together four-walls with screen doors and plastic trays, butcher block paper and soaked paper plates, not fine china and hoity-toity stemware. Silverware? Get real. Plastic forks and knives will do just dandy, and some joints don't even supply those.
So where do Central Texans go when they get a hankering for smoked meat and red sauce? Here's a round-up of some of the best lil' BBQ spots in the region. We'll leave it to you to decide which is up to being your taste-bud buddy.
Clem Mikeska's, 1217 South 57th Street in Temple and 11824 West Adams in Belton, has been serving up BBQ since 1965. His son Stephen and daughters, Anna and Angela, along with son-in-law Troy are all involved in the business, and they call it "Bar-B-Q." Homebaked bread, homemade sausage, and Clem's homemade seasoning make this a family joint, and a popular one for folks in this region. Clem is one of five Mikeska brothers who have become known far and wide as the "first family of BBQ" in Texas, according to Texas Monthly. They richly deserve the honor. Whether Clem or one of his brothers are catering for 18,000 (we kid you not) or a family gathering, it's no big deal: They know their way around a smoker.
Ribs, brisket, chicken, homemade sausage and a plethora of side dishes, from cole slaw and potato salad to fruit cobblers, makes this the spot to head on a lazy weekend afternoon or when you get the urge for a big plate lunch.
Schoepf's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, 702 East Central in Belton, is someplace you can get to just by the enticing smell of crackling mesquite wood wafting through the downtown air. This family, who has been doing BBQ since 1993, has an inside line on just how slow, slow cooking really should be conducted.
A friendly staff, along with a mind-blowing array of side dishes, from cheesy potatoes, green beans, cole slaw, potato salad, stuffed baked potatoes and bread, rolls, cornbread, and jalapeno cornbread, doesn't overpower the real draw here – it's in the meat, the way it is slow-smoked, and the thin sauce with coarse black pepper.
The ribs and pork chops are on many "favorites" lists, but don't miss out on the steak. For under $8 you can get yourself a slab of sirloin that would make a cow proud of itself.
Still got room for one more bite? Try the peach cobbler, pecan pie, carrot cake or strawberry cake. Like everything else in Schoepf's, it's all homemade.
Maurice's Pit B-B-Q at 129 West Veterans Memorial Blvd. in Harker Heights is a second-generation family BBQ spot that is on some folks' best-bets list, particularly for pork spare ribs. They've been serving them up since 1951. Some may not like the fat being served with the meat but this family believes that the fat must be left on the meat for the meat to come out moist and tender.
Beans, potato salad and an excellent sweet/sour coleslaw are just the beginning of their generous sides: rice, cornbread, collard greens, cabbage and macaroni and cheese are all on the menu, too.
Maurice's, which is now run by his son Roy, has always showcased two sauces, both thin and vinegar-based, but one is hot and brown, the other mild and red although neither has any tomato content.
Louis Mueller's BBQ, 201 West Second Street in Taylor, is one of those places that people will get in the car and drive 100 or 1,000 miles just to get there. It's safe to say people dream of Mueller's brisket. Coated with a pepper-based rub, wrapped in butcher paper to seal in the juices and slow-smoked, this is meat that begs to be devoured, no sauce needed.
Forget the plates, just grab a tray and watch one of the Mueller gang slap a piece of butcher block paper on the tray and then load it up with good eats. This family, which is into its third generation of pit people, has been in business more than 50 years.
Little has changed at the old funeral parlor turned BBQ pit, and if you leave your business card on the bulletin board, it will be smoked an antique brown by your very next visit. Grab yourself an RC Cola, a moon pie and let them pile up a plate with BBQ and their awesome potato salad. We promise, you'll come back for more.
Donn's Smokehouse BBQ (one at State Highway 29 and U.S. Highway 183 in Liberty Hill, one at 8624 Research in north Austin and the other just past the "Y" in Oakhill on U.S. Highway 290 West) is one of those traditional BBQ spots that features great cuts of meat, tons of sides including flavor-filled baked beans and one of our favorite potato salads.
Best of all, they do ham, turkey and pork loin – and they are all so moist they practically slide down your throat by themselves. We've called Donn's many times to cater big parties and family reunions: they do it up so well you needn't ever have to fire up a pit yourself.
And the iced tea, even the sweet southern tea, which isn't thankfully made so sweet it will send you into a serious sugar rush, is just about the best there is – ever, anywhere.
Mungia's BBQ Catering Services in Temple knows how to do a true home-cooked meal. From the decor inside the restaurant to the delictable food, you leave Mungia's with the essence of a true Texan. The barbeque restaurant started out with three tables that could hold as many as 15 customers.
After seven successful years in the barbeque business, owner Thomas Mungia decided to sell his restaurant at the red building in Heidenheimer. But as the requests for catering began to pour in, Mungia decided to reopen his beloved BBQ joint.
"I still did weddings and receptions," said Mungia of Temple. "People kept calling me. They loved the food, and I think that speaks for itself. You get the best Texas BBQ in the whole state." Mungia will celebrate 11 years at the new location in 2007, but doesn't intend on slowing down anytime soon. "We have regular customers coming in and we always love the new ones. A lot of it is word of mouth. The BBQ is a fulltime job."
The restaurant serves brisket, sausage, pork ribs and chicken. For sides, there's corn-on-the cob, peach cobbler with ice cream, coleslaw, potato salad, beans, pickles and a one-of-a-kind homemade bread. Soft drinks, beer and wine coolers are offered.
Mungia's is open Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m.
Although the mailing address is technically in Temple, Mungia's is located on Heidenheimer Road, on the east Highway 36 towards Heidenheimer. For more information, call (254) 983-4031.
With nearly 40 years in the barbecue business in Temple, Al's BBQ Barn in Temple has got it right. The restaurant cooks their brisket for 18 hours over wood and uses dry seasoning – not sauce.
"When we opened, 31st Street was two lanes," said Joyce Martinec, who owns the restuarant with her husband, Al Martinec. "We've really seen Temple grow."
Helga Hilliard has been with the restaurant since it opened in 1967, and keeps the customers streaming in the door just as much as the BBQ. "She manages the place and keeps all of us straight," Martinec said. "If you've been in here, you've seen her."
The restaurant serves brisket, sausage, ribs, chicken, ham, turkey and are notorious for their catfish. They serve a all-you-can-eat buffet every Friday for $8.95 a person. But if you're looking for a good chopped beef sandwich without breaking the bank, Al's sells theirs for a dollar. Al's Bar-B-Q is located at the corner of W. Avenue M and South 23rd Street in Temple. For more information, call (254) 778-4621.
Fat Boy's BBQ in Temple claims they serve the finest cooked BBQ in all of Texas. They also say it's not bragging, it's just a fact. The Texas-style barbecue served at Fat Boy's has won owners Danny and Amy Mikes eight Texas State Championships, four national championships and the Jack Daniels World Championship in 1998
The family-style restaurant began when Danny's employer, WilsonArt International, needed a place to bring customers from around the world. "It's always been my dream to own my own restaurant," Danny said. "The business has just taken off and gone crazy."
The Mikes' five sons and in-laws run the business as well as the couple. But Danny says their favorite part of the day is when their regular customers walk through the door.
"We look forward to seeing them every day," Danny said. "We have the same customers that will come in at least three times a week."
Being so close to Scott & White Hospital and King's Daughters Hospital, the Mikes are also in the business of feeding hungry healthcare employees. Fat Boy's serves brisket, sausage, ribs, turkey, pork loins, chicken and chopped meat. beans, green beans, pot salad, cole slaw, banana pudding, peach, apple, blackberry, pecan and cherry pie.
The restaurant is on the corner of 57th Street and Scott Boulevard in Temple. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call (254) 774-9906 or visit www.fatboysbarbq.com