Texas is home to many things: big hair, armadillos, the two-step, J.J. Watt, Beyoncé and, most importantly, barbecue. And as a nine-year Houston denizen, trust me when I tell you I know (and love) good Texas barbecue. It’s truly food for the soul, and for the passionate eaters out there. You eat barbecue to feel something, and walk away from your empty plate fulfilled, redeemed and five pounds heavier.
We know how to barbecue down in the Lone Star State, and we barbecue every chance we get. So naturally, when I found out about Roots N Blues N BBQ, I had to go — not for the music, but for the barbecue, solely. I went in with moderate expectations, and was pleasantly surprised with two barbecue vendors in particular.
I went to four vendors at the festival that sold strictly barbecue: Big Daddy’s BBQ, Sugarfire Smokehouse, Smokin’ Chick’s BBQ, and Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. I sampled pulled pork from each, and tried every sauce offered.
Big Daddy’s BBQ
My first sample was from Big Daddy’s BBQ, and it surely started my day of barbecue on a high note. The pork was hot (as in temperature), and wispy strands of smoke floated from it, curling around my face as I inhaled the glorious fumes; a great first impression, no doubt. My sample was served to me lathered in sauce, which was exciting. The sauce was a house-made sweet barbecue, with a hint of spice, and a slightly tangy aftertaste. It was delicious, and original, but overpowering (in a good way). I tasted much more of that heavenly sauce than of the meat’s seasoning, but what I did taste was beautifully smoked, tender pig. The pork was truly pulled — shredded, rather — and was absolutely divine. My mouth waters as I sit here, writing this review.
After Big Daddy’s, I went several vendors down to Sugarfire Smokehouse. I was served a full pulled pork sandwich for free, instead of a meager sample. But to keep things fair, I tried the pulled pork sans carbs. Sugarfire had not one, not two, but seven house-made sauces. I was crying inside, and readily tried each and every one. STL Sweet BBQ was everything the title implied: sweet and sugary. It was thick in consistency, and is a great sauce, in my opinion.
White BBQ sauce was not my favorite. It was very creamy, with seasoning particles throughout, and reminded me of tartar sauce in both appearance and flavor. #47 sauce was a basic mild barbecue sauce. Not spicy, too sweet, or memorable. I found it mediocre, at best.
Carolina Mustard was a typical Carolina barbecue sauce, kind of like a tangy dirty mustard, and while marketed appropriately, was not my favorite. I am not a huge Carolina barbecue fan, and generally hate mustard. These are obviously personal reservations, so the brand is not to be blamed.
Texas Hot Sauce was quite disappointing, because I know, understand, and crave the unparalleled heat in Texas cooking, and this sauce captured absolutely none of that flavor, that essence. The sauce wasn’t even remotely spicy, hot, or Texas-esque. It lacked the merciless and ungodly Texas “burn,” and flavor all-around, so it goes without saying that I was not happy.
However, my dissatisfaction suddenly switched to awe and amazement, as I tasted the last and best sauce (in my humble opinion), the coffee bbq sauce. Yes, you read correctly, a coffee barbecue sauce. I was hesitant — actually I wasn’t at all — so I slathered some on the pork, and dove in head-first. And man, was it good. The sauce had finely-ground coffee grounds in it, not in a gross way, and a thick consistency and a brown hue. The initial taste was that of coffee, but only for a second; then the flavor transitioned into one of a sweet barbecue sauce, but not sugary.
This sauce is everything a barbecue sauce should be, with rich, distinctive flavors that are fleeting, and an aftertaste that leaves you craving more. I adore this sauce, and appreciate the originality of it. The pork was hot in temperature (a sure-fire “gold star,” if you will), but the “pulling” of the pork was different than my preference. The pieces of meat were in chunks, or strips, rather than fine long filaments, but the flavor and seasoning was excellent. However, the meat slathered in that heavenly coffee sauce made for a delicious and unique barbecue dish, and had me walking away completely satisfied and impressed.
Smokin’ Chick’s BBQ
My next barbecue sample was from Smokin Chick’s BBQ. The pulled pork was finely shredded the way I like it, and rubbed in Pig In A Polka seasoning prior to smoking. It was flavorful even before a sauce touched it. My sample of the meat was relatively hot, but not searing hot or smoking hot when I received it, a non-negotiable “no-no” in my book. A server told me that the sauces weren’t house-made, but were house mixed. Basically, Smokin’ Chick’s takes other pre-made sauces and mixes them in a unique house recipe to create their two sauces, a wing-ding and hot. However, the two sauces available to self-apply onto your barbecue were labeled “Classic” and “Hickory,” so who even knows what I was eating.
The classic sauce was a basic barbecue: sweet and flavorful. It was good, but lacked unique properties. That sauce has been tasted time and time before, and separates the good barbecue from the great barbecue. The hickory sauce was tangier and spicier, and definitely more flavorful. I enjoyed that sauce much more than the first one, but still wasn’t mind-blown. The pork was fine, but “fine” is inadequate when describing soul food. All-in-all, Smokin’ Chick’s doesn’t leave any lasting impression on the carnivore at its mercy.
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
Lastly, I made my way to Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. Unlike the other three, it is a nation-spanning franchise with roots in Dallas, Texas, and over locations, rather than a local, Columbia-specific establishment. I’ve had Dickey’s barbecue at home, but have always put a different sauce on it.
Dickey’s serves three house-made sauces: an original, a sweet and a spicy. The original is delicious. It was on the sweeter side, with some hints of spice. It was delicious, and I would eat that sauce again. The sweet sauce lived up to the title, and was undoubtedly sweet. It was basic, generic, even; safe. The spicy sauce was spiciest in the aftertaste, and was good, but not great. If they were targeting people who prefer mild spiciness, they nailed it. But if you’re going to label something as spicy, make it truly spicy, dammit! I want to feel the heat, the burn, rather than your delicate hints of heat. This sauce is not for the jalapeño pepper-loving or for those who like it hot. The pork was delightful, however; smoked to perfection and hot to the touch.
Overall, Big Daddy’s BBQ was my favorite of the four vendors. It was near-perfect barbecue, (because I believe there is always room for improvement), with exceptional heat, flavors, sauce, and meat. Best sauce has to go to Sugarfire Smoke House’s coffee barbecue sauce. That sauce is a delightful rollercoaster of unique flavors, and could make cardboard taste like a five-star meal. Smokin’ Chick’s and Dickey’s are honorable mentions, but just didn’t bring the heat in the battle of the pulled pork at Saturday’s festival.
All receive high marks for their Southern hospitality. I had one hell of a time (and meal), and enjoyed a taste of Houston in Columbia. It goes to show that you can take the girl out of Texas, but you can’t take the Texas out of the girl.