Don’t mess with Texas

Waiters Sarah Gillespie and Jake Shepherd toast to the success of Brothers Barbecue’s new restaurant.

Waiters Sarah Gillespie and Jake Shepherd toast to the success of Brothers Barbecue’s new restaurant.

Photo/Allison Young

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Barbecue. The primal nature of barbecued meat sparks something deep inside, perhaps a genetic memory of prehistoric grill masters who discovered that “low and slow” roasting combined with wood smoke is pure, delectable wizardry. A vegetarian friend once said the only thing she missed about eating meat was her dad’s 12-hour, hickory-smoked baby back ribs. It was as if confessing a mortal sin, the desire to fall off the wagon and dig into some pig. I felt a brief twinge of omnivorous guilt, but a stop for smoked brisket on my way home cleared that right up.

There are literally hundreds—if not thousands—of barbecue styles and methods in practice around the globe, and just within the U.S., there are dozens of regional varieties. Brothers Barbecue claims to be serving “Texas style,” and I’d say it’s akin to that of Central Texas: dry-rub spice blends (with finishing sauce on the side), plenty of hardwood smoke, chopped rather than sliced meats, and simple, minimal side dishes. I’m a big fan of Deep South sides—collard greens, fried okra, hush puppies, oh my!—but Central Texas is all about the meat. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Brothers Barbecue is a family affair, drawing on two generations of grilling and smoking expertise. Having operated a catering and food truck business for several years, the family recently decided to take the plunge and open a sit-down smoke shack. Taking over a converted house previously home to a couple less-than-amazing barbecue operations, they’ve completely remodeled the joint and it’s never looked better. The ambiance isn’t fancy, just basic tables and chairs with paper towel dispensers in easy reach, and plenty of down-home Texas kitsch for decoration. The service is friendly and efficient, and they’ve got both Lone Star and (my favorite) Shiner Bock in the cooler.

Sandwiches and mixed bowls are available, but my wife and I went with a couple of plate meals ($7-$13, including two sides and a roll), as well as a couple of orders of “barbecue by the pound” ($5-$24) to sample and take home. The barbecue pit beans were simple, savory, and the mustard-based potato salad was fair enough. The “kicked-up slaw” had a slightly spicy, seasoned dressing I really liked, even though I’m not a huge fan of coleslaw (usually too sweet). The “traditional slaw” was something of a puzzle in that it appeared to be chopped cabbage and little else. Not a lot of flavor, but it worked OK as a garnish for the brisket. Speaking of which, Brothers’ beef brisket is among the best I’ve had from a Reno smokehouse. Chopped and moist, with just enough bark to add flavored texture, and plenty of smoke.

The pulled pork was less dramatic, with little bark and less smoke, yet perfectly pulled, moist, and with plenty of porky goodness. The St. Louis-cut pork ribs were just plain perfect, at least in my book. Great dry-rub bark, and though totally tender had just enough hang-on-the-bone to provide nice “bite and pull” action. Some folks think ribs should slide off the bone, but I think they’re best when they have just a bit of fight left in them. All three of the meats we sampled were perfectly delicious as-is, but the two house-made finishing sauces sent them over the top. The milder sauce was tangy without being too sweet, full of flavor, yet the habanero sauce was something special. I’ve been told my homemade barbecue sauce is pretty good, but Brothers’ spicy sauce is damned near perfect. Hot, but not too hot. Complex flavors that match just right with the dry spice rub cooked into the meat. If Brothers’ bottles and sells that sauce retail, I may quit making my own.