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