The first in what we hope are many posts by Scott Sandlin with Texas Pit Quest
This weekend’s Pit Quest takes us to a little place on Loop 494 just south of Kingwood Drive where Alberto Martinez has been cooking up what has been reported to be some good quality, local BBQ in the Central Texas style. I’ve been told by several people over the past year that this place is worth a visit, so I decided to stop in to see for myself on this cool, gray, stuck-between-winter-and-spring afternoon in southeast Texas.
Luling Smoke House BBQ operates out of a food truck on the roadside, with a separate, detached permanent smokehouse. Alberto Martinez, owner and pitmaster, has been occupying this spot on Loop 494 for more than two years (“three years this July,” he points out). He went out on his own in the BBQ business after having spent 30+ years honing his skills at the Luling City Market* in Houston. Its obvious Mr. Martinez knows his craft; he keeps a well-used, large offset pit in an enclosed shed near the parking spot for his food truck. Proudly offering a tour of his operations, he gave me a peek at the afternoon’s product resting in the warmth of the pit for the remaining hours of the day. Plenty of well-seasoned stacks of brisket, pork ribs, and sausage were there, even at about 2:30 pm. “Business has been slow,” he says, despite the milder weather, and even on weekends. He’s definitely challenged by the restrictions and limitations imposed on the food truck business by the City, not being able to have even picnic table seating without the facilities required for restaurants. So if you’re planning to go, be prepared for take-out BBQ and what that means (eating in your car or taking it home.) I couldn’t wait, eager to get at it while it was still hot. I carefully unfolded my foil-wrapped sampling of moist brisket, sausage, turkey and rib and picnicked on my tailgate, challenged a little bit by the breeze, but still a pleasant experience for a leisurely Saturday afternoon.
They say one of the first signs you’re probably on to a pretty good BBQ spot is the size of the woodpile, and this one was big. Mr. Martinez tells me he uses a combination of white oak and red oak in his pit, saying he thinks the combination is closest to the flavor he would get from smoking with post oak, which he prefers. But post oak has to be shipped in from Central Texas, and is expensive to get in this part of the state. Since we were on the subject of expenses, I asked Mr. Martinez how he was affected by the rising cost of beef, especially brisket. He said brisket was a little over $2.00/lb about a year ago, and he paid $3.78 for today’s briskets. That’s quite a jump, and just like everyone else he’s had to pass some of that on to the customers. But you would still be hard-pressed to find a better value for the quality in this area; he offers meat by the pound at a flat rate of $14.00 (up only $2.00/lb from last year), and sausages at $4.25 per link.