Out here in the Woodlands, we're fortunate enough to have some very good BBQ. Pits like Corkscrew BBQ and BBQ Godfather serve up excellent renditions of their respective styles; Corkscrew having been named amongst the Best in Texas (and thus the world) by many BBQ aficionados (us included).
But an older BBQ place repeatedly gets "Best BBQ" accolades from a local publication, even ahead of the much-honored Corkscrew. Its name is Pitmaster BBQ, and it's got a checkered reputation out in these parts, largely because of management's fetish for calling the health department out on its competitors, and after that failed, filing repeated complaints to other regulatory bodies trying to get them shut down.
If you've got "The Best BBQ in The Woodlands" why would you resort to such underhanded tactics to thwart your competition? Shouldn't you just let your superior brisket do the talking?
As a food writer who writes a lot about the Woodlands area, I have to admit that I'd not visited Pitmaster in years. My last visit was a dim memory of unremarkable BBQ served in an anachronistic setting... and not anachronistic in a good way.
But fair is fair. I needed to return to Pitmaster, and to determine firsthand if BBQ lovers were right about Pitmaster, or if those who voted in the no doubt scientific polls were right. So when some members of our local Woodlands Area Foodies group mentioned lunch at Pitmaster, I decided to join in.
Service was friendly, if a touch slow at first. On a Monday, with the top BBQ pits in town closed, Pitmaster had some business, but wasn't packed.
I ordered the Pitmaster special; brisket, pork ribs, and sausage, along with two sides. After a longer-than-expected wait, the 'Q came out.
At the waiter's suggestion, I chose the spicy sausage. Texture was generic, heat was mainly black pepper with a touch of jalepeno. Flavor wasn't bad, but it wasn't memorable. You can get sausage like this at any number of exceedingly average BBQ places.
Next up were the pork ribs. They're the greyish mass in the middle of the photo. Nicely meaty, but with little or no rub, and little or no seasoning. Tender, but with plenty of unrendered fat. They tasted more like poorly trimmed pork roast than like BBQ pork ribs. Again, unmemorable. 4/10
Finally was the meat that defines Texas BBQ, the brisket. Pitmaster's was unlike any I've had in years. Dry, thinly sliced (as if by machine) and pre-slathered in sweet BBQ sauce, this may be the worst brisket I can remember. It had an odd, off-putting, slightly chemical flavor, no actual smokiness that we could discern, and any moisture present was from the overly sweet sauce, not the brisket. 0/10
Pitmaster has a reputation amongst foodies for being a place to avoid. Apparently that reputation is well deserved. Between the dreadful brisket and the questionable business tactics, this isn't a place we'd recommend visiting.
The fact that a local publication repeatedly names them "Best BBQ" has to be based on something other than the BBQ. I'd eat at Dickey's before I returned to Pitmaster. And I am not a fan of Dickey's.
(As an aside, we don't make it a habit of reviewing substandard mom & pop restaurants; we just ignore them. But Pitmaster's constant promoting as "Best BBQ" and their unseemly actions towards competitors made them fair game.)
UPDATE: Other writers who are members of WAF were in attendance, and shared their reviews. Worth reading.
Pitmaster BBQ | 343 Sawdust Rd., The Woodlands, TX | 281-419-3644
Are you ready for a disaster? The next hurricane to hit the Houston area, or some other event?
Today we have a review from a guest reviewer, Hirotoshi Mugen. Hiro is a BBQ enthusiast and member of Woodlands Area Foodies, and he recently took the plunge and tried the new, smaller beef ribs (and other meats) at Corkscrew BBQ. He also makes an interesting discovery about the brisket Will Buckman is creating in his new Oyler pit.
Update: Corkscrew BBQ reports that the Dino Rib is back.
In Hiro's words:
Corkscrew BBQ (Woodlands). Review of the mighty riblet. Everything is supposed to be bigger in Texas.
I was absolutely dismayed when I heard about the shrinking beef ribs here. Killen's used to offer the smaller beef ribs . They wisely upgraded to the dino rib. Between the Mueller brothers, Wayne at Louie Mueller BBQ uses the dino-rib and John at John Mueller Meat Co uses the smaller beef ribs.
While the best beef rib I've encountered was from John, that instance was an anomaly as every other time the riblets pale in comparison to the dino rib at Louie Mueller. Many of the little ribs I've had simply lacked meat for one.
Between Killen's and Corkscrew, the beef ribs are both on par with each other even though there's different rubs. Both are well rendered and superb. Second only to Louie Mueller. Better than heavyweights Pecan Lodge, Black's, and La Barbecue.
With the new riblet at Corkscrew, I breathed a sigh of relief to find that the meat ratio was still excellent unlike others I've had before. My riblet was well-rendered, but not quite as rich as it's dino rib predecessor. Has a great crusty peppery bark. Very tender and moist although not quite as pot-roast tender as the dino rib. Still an excellent tasty beef rib overall, but I can't help but yearn for the dino rib.
Yes, beef prices are through the roof. Considering I paid nearly $40 for ONE beef rib at Louie Mueller BBQ a few weeks ago, I would gladly pay a premium for a Corkscrew dino rib.
Since the new Oyler pit went in, something magical happened to the meats there. Before, the brisket has always been great. But it was never on the same tier as Franklin's, Pecan Lodge, or La Barbecue. I usually don't eat much of it when ordered with the dino rib. But this time (actually 2 days in a row here), it was tender, moist, smoky, flavored, and expertly well-rendered.
Reminds me of La Barbecue.
Better than Killen's.
I ate more of it than the beef rib. This was not the same brisket I had a month ago before the hiatus. Sausage has been a bit weak in the past, but there's so much more flavor and spices now. It's still a little dense and would be nice if it was a bit more coarse. I almost never order sausages. Now it's must here (ask for a whole unsliced link).
Does Corkscrew have what it takes to be Top 5 BBQ in Texas? I laughed at that seemingly impossible notion in the past. Dunno if Daniel Vaughn would see it that way, but they're definitely in the same league as the heavy hitters. Bring back the dino rib!