Truth BBQ's beef rib in all its glory

Image: Jenn Duncan

Over Christmas 2012, on my first visit to Texas, my Austin in-laws drove me a half-hour southwest into the night skies of the Hill Country. Our destination was Driftwood’s Salt Lick BBQ. As we got in line, my brother-in-law opened a cooler packed with ice-cold beer. I had yet to try the trinity of brisket, ribs, and sausage, but standing in the chilly December air, I was already in love with the Texas barbecue experience.

There’s real romance in driving out to the country to wait in line for two hours, just for lunch. In fact, that used to be a necessity for Houston ’cue hounds, whose options were limited to Killen’s, Gatlin’s, and a few other stalwarts until recently, when things began to pick up. In 2016 Pinkerton’s and The Pit Room opened inside the Loop, followed by Feges BBQ, Willow’s Texas BBQ, and a host of other options. Today, with two more high-profile arrivals, Truth BBQ and Blood Bros. BBQ, the Bayou City barbecue scene is positively scorching.

Ours is the second outpost of Truth. The first is a tiny but terrific Brenham joint run by Houston native Leonard Botello IV that opened in 2015 and, after two years, won a coveted top-10 spot on Texas Monthly’s top-50 barbecue list. The location at Heights and Washington opened in January in a 6,200-square-foot space, formerly a J. Black’s, with a hip atmosphere—think Instagram-friendly signs and Edison bulbs inside a spacious dining room. But some things don’t change: When you step out of the car, you’re hit with an alluring waft of smoke.

The imposing El Jefe sandwich

Image: Jenn Duncan

Truth has five horizontal smokers inside its pit room, which you can see into from the line outside. On weekends the place sells cans of Karbach, Saint Arnold, Lone Star, and Shiner, along with various sodas to the patrons waiting patiently in line. Just don’t fill up on the brews. You’ll regret it.

I’m a huge fan of Truth’s sausages, available in garlic, jalapeño cheddar, and Texas hot guts—spicy German-style links made here with a secret spice blend. The best is the garlic, snappy and earthy. I also recommend the succulent, meaty pork ribs, which have a beautiful, peppery bark and just enough fat to give them awesome texture. Saturdays only, the place offers beef ribs, worthy opposition for Killen’s famous version. Mine was punchily juicy and salty, with an excellent bark and clear smoke ring. I’d return weekly for this experience.

I had a turbulent relationship with Truth’s brisket, sourced from 44 Farms. I wasn’t asked whether I wanted the lean or moist end during my first two visits, leaving me with relatively dry cuts. On my third visit, however, I was among the first in line, and the man slicing asked how I wanted my meat. The moist brisket was miles ahead of my previous experiences, showcasing a near-perfect fat-to-meat ratio.

The cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese is exceptional here, so thick it will coat your plastic spoon. Corn pudding is another winner, as are the collard greens in a garlicky, smoky tomato-and-pork broth. I was dismayed, however, by the bland potato salad. Luckily Truth offers house-made spicy mustard, which I mixed in for some badly needed zing.

The heavenly banana-caramel cake

Image: Jenn Duncan

Among the sandwiches, there’s standard chopped brisket; the Whole Truth with brisket and garlic sausage; and El Jefe with brisket, sausage, and coleslaw. I got the El Jefe, which is so huge, multiple other guests stopped to ask whether I planned on eating the whole thing in one sitting (there was no way). It was sloppy and delicious.

If you don’t have room for a slice of cake, get one to go. All of them, baked by Botello’s mother, are phenomenal, but my favorites are the rich banana-caramel topped with Heath toffee, and the pecan-packed Italian cream with coconut-cream frosting.

A quarter-pound of trinity meats runs about $15 here. Add a few sides—$4 for single portions—and your meal gets a bit expensive, but it’s in line with what most Inner Loop pits are charging. That’s the price you pay for exceptional ’cue without the road trip.

Image: Jenn Duncan

Just outside the Loop is a joint that is writing its own rules. In 2013 brothers Robin and Terry Wong of Glitter Karaoke established Blood Bros. BBQ with their high school friend, home cook Quy Hoang. The team did pop-ups across the city, often incorporating DJ booths and a dance-party atmosphere while showcasing both traditional barbecue and items—say, gochujang beef belly burnt ends—that nodded to the trio’s upbringing in diverse Alief, and Houston as a whole. In December they opened their brick-and-mortar space in Bellaire. Appropriately, the walls are Astros orange.

The meats here, generously rubbed with salt and pepper for a nice kick, are smoked over oak and pecan. The pork ribs are a little tough for my liking, but the 44 Farms brisket is tender, with just enough fat to satisfy; the jalapeño cheddar sausage is packed with heat and generous globs of cheese; and the turkey breast is well spiced and juicy in the center. For added excitement, top your ’cue with the wickedly spicy homemade barbecue sauce.

The sides showcase the ways the pals from Alief deftly take traditional dishes and make them their own. That starts with the brisket-fried rice, an irresistible take on Chinese street grub featuring smoky beef along with scrambled eggs and chopped carrot. The charred creamed corn and the jalapeño-spiked coleslaw are also solid, but my favorite is the creamy pepper jack and gouda mac ‘n’ cheese, worth a trip in itself.

Quy Hoang spraying his brisket with apple cider vinegar at Blood Bros.

Image: Jenn Duncan

There are sandwiches—chopped brisket, sliced brisket, turkey—along with creative regular specials such as Thai green curry boudin and barbecue turkey banh mi with pâté, Vietnamese butter, pickled daikon, carrots, jalapeño, cucumber, and cilantro. As at Truth, Saturdays mean beef ribs, and mine was too fatty, though I enjoyed its flavorful, peppery bark.

A quarter-pound of the trinity meats runs about $13.50, while single sides are $3 and sandwiches are mostly under $10—again, right in line with the rest of the city’s quality barbecue joints. My suggestion is to follow Blood Bros. on social media accounts and visit when a special catches your eye. Get it with a couple of killer sides, a quarter-pound of sausage or brisket, and—definitely—a refillable fountain drink. Considering how much Blood Bros. is spicing up the barbecue game, you’re going to need it to cool down.

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