Each slice of brisket at Killen’s TexasBarbecue, just outside Houston, oozes buttery rendered fat and sports a black racing stripe of crunchy bark along the top edge—it’s a fattier, spicier version of traditional Texas barbecue. Killen’s is a prime example of the new breed of barbecue joints cropping up across the Lone Star State, where fat-loving pit masters are cooking a remarkably luscious style of ’cue.
Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin is the most recognizable ambassador of the trend, thanks to his many TV appearances. (That’s him in the Chase Sapphire commercial with sushi master Nobu Matsuhisa.) His Austin meat mecca was named best barbecue spot in the country by Bon Appétit—and for good reason. Franklin starts with high-quality brisket and slow-smokes it to the unusually high internal temperature of 203 or 204 degrees, at which point the fat melts into a succulent brisket butter, producing pure barbecue bliss.
Justin and Diane Fourton at Pecan Lodge, in Dallas, are charging more than $30 for one Flintstone-size order of beef ribs, and customers are clamoring to strip them to the bone. Many of the new spots are housed in food trucks or trailers, such as La Barbecue, in Austin, famous for its El Sancho Loco sandwich, piled high with chopped beef, pulled pork, and house-made beef sausage called Texas hotguts. The CorkScrew BBQ trailer in Houston sells 600 pounds of ’cue a day—including bark-encrusted, red-oak-smoked brisket, and wonderfully porky spareribs.
What all these places have in common, besides juicier, fattier meat, are long lines of ’cue hounds snaking outside the front door hours before opening time. Most start serving about 11 a.m. and close when they sell out—so every bit of meat is sliced as it’s ordered, fresh out of the smoker.
Here’s a primer on the new Texas ’cue: For decades, local pit masters cooked brisket with the fat cap attached and then cut off the fat and threw it away as they sliced. But nowadays barbecue masters are trimming the fat cap before cooking and rubbing it with spices to create that telltale “bark.”
At Killen’s, the dry rub is made with salt and three grinds of black pepper (fine, medium, and half-cracked) and applied to the outside of a USDA prime brisket. The resulting black crust gives each beefy bite a peppery flavor and crunchy texture.
Remember, there are two sections of a brisket: the flat and the point. The flat yields the beautiful slices of lean meat most often associated with barbecued brisket. The meat from the point, known as the fatty end, is messier-looking but juicier. Old-style Texas barbecue eateries cut up this stuff to make chopped-beef sandwiches, but not the new school. It’s the fatty-end brisket that discerning barbecue aficionados desire most.
Who’s willing to wait in line for hours for a plate of extra-lardy smoked meat? The same obsessive young carnivores who made porcine-powered chashu ramen, and all manner of unctuous pork-belly dishes, wildly popular nationwide. According to the increasingly prevalent “fat means flavor” philosophy, fatty barbecue tastes better, too.
This newfangled ’cue hasn’t quite caught fire yet in small-town Texas, but it’s already spreading to food-crazy urban centers, from Brooklyn to Seattle. Be sure to get in line early.