Brett’s BBQ Shop Sets a High Bar for Katy and Houston
For years, my dad, who lives in Katy, would drive 30 miles to pick up barbecue at Hinze’s in Sealy. However, as Katy has grown, so have its barbecue options. Now, my dad and the rest of Katy can frequent craft barbecue purveyors such as Daddy Ducan’s, Los Muetros and a joint Houston Food Finder named one of the best new restaurants of 2019 — Brett’s BBQ Shop at 606 South Mason.
Though my dad and I have lunched at Houston barbecue establishments such as The Pit Room, Pinkerton’s, Truth and Roegels, we had never met at Brett’s, which is practically in his backyard. We recently rectified this when my daughter and I joined him at this cozy, shotgun strip-center space wedged between a tire shop and a tailor.
The day we went the parking lot was nearly full and there was a line out the door. But it’s a short distance from the door to the counter and the line moved fast, thanks to the staff’s efficient and friendly service.
Once through the door, we were greeted by the wafting scent of wood smoke and a bare-bones, corrugated tin-and-wood counter topped with a classic chalkboard menu, listing a handful of meats, sides and daily specials. The archetypal décor is not just for show. Brett’s is serving some of the area’s best renditions of central Texas barbecue.
Bretts’s juicy, fork-tender brisket (both lean and moist) is as good as any prepared by the experts at Foodways Texas’s Camp Brisket, which I recently attended, or served by the inside-the-Loop places mentioned above. In some cases, it’s better. It balances oaky smokiness with salt, pepper and protein slow-cooked into a bark that crackles with flavor.
The results aren’t surprising, since pitmaster and owner Brett Jackson learned to smoke brisket at Louie Mueller Barbecue, the famous, gold standard in Taylor, Texas. On a recent Friday, Jackson told me:
“I feel super blessed to have learned at one of the greatest barbecue places in the world. I learned brisket is done when it’s done. It’s one of the strangest meats to cook. Most meats are ready to be pulled at a certain temperature. With brisket, the rule of thumb is about 195 to 205, but I’ve pulled brisket at 175. Brisket can be ready anywhere between 175 to 210. That’s why at Louie Mueller, we didn’t use temperature gauges. We used our senses. We learned to see the fire and know how hot it was by the flame. Same thing with brisket, you knew when to pull them by feel.”
Jackson didn’t learn all of Louie Mueller’s secrets, so he taught himself how to make very good beef sausage. His is a harmonious blend of brisket trimmings, fat, and spices, and was my daughter’s favorite meat of the day. To round out the Texas Trinity, my dad and I both tried the pork ribs. The ribs’ delicate texture, assertive smokiness and lush bark make it a worthy contender for best in the area.
As more and more high-quality barbecue restaurants open across Texas, good sides have become almost as important as well-smoked meats. Though Brett’s sides might not be as innovative as those served at Feges BBQ or Blood Bros. BBQ, its four classics — mac & cheese, pinto beans, potato salad and coleslaw — are excellent counterpoints to its carnivorous delights — especially the mayonnaise-based potato salad, which is creamy not cloying, and the pinto beans, which are hearty and flavorful.
In addition to the trinity and traditional sides, Brett’s serves pulled pork, chopped brisket, smoked turkey breast and, Friday through Sunday, a beef rib that Texas Monthly’s barbecue editor, Daniel Vaughn, named one of the Best Texas BBQ Bites of 2019.
Brett’s also offers a couple of popular loaded baked potato options and an an array of sandwiches featuring various meats — including The Butcher Sandwich that’s stuffed with a half-pound’s worth.
In addition, Jackson gets creative with his daily specials. On Thursdays he makes around 10 pans of Brisket Enchiladas, which he says is more than was sold per day at a Mexican restaurant he once worked at. Saturdays are reserved for the other special that his customers insist stays on the menu, the Pork Belly Burnt Ends.
On Fridays and Sundays, he likes to “mix it up” and says the creative, spontaneous choices keep him “sharp.” On a recent Friday, he offered Brisket Lasagna (a couple of customers wanted to order whole pans). Other rotating specials have included pork steaks, jalapeños stuffed with brisket and cream cheese and wrapped in bacon, beef cheek tacos and specialty sausages such as garlic and cheese and jalapeño and cheese.
Though Brett’s is just over a year old, it already feels like a comfortable classic — a pair of well-worn Levi’s or a song played on Willie Nelson’s guitar, Trigger. That may be due to the space having previously been home to Nonmacher’s Bar-B-Q, which was in business for 40 years. It was the place were Jackson, who grew up in Katy, first experienced Texas barbecue. He even cooks on its old pit. “It’s about a 40-year-old pit. It’s a beast,” Jackson said. “It’s got some holes in it [just like Willie’s guitar]. The firebox has no insulation. A couple of the guys who have worked for me say, ‘If you can learn to cook on this pit, you can cook on anything.’ It eats a lot of wood but it cooks some great barbecue. Being 40 years old, it’s well seasoned and smokes brisket as good as any pit I’ve ever cooked on.”
Brett’s BBQ Shop’s comfortable vibe probably has as much to do with the genial service and value as the well-worn pit. On my most recent visit, we slid in with a raucous lunchtime crowd that, judging by the number of people addressed by their first names, included several regulars. Even though Brett’s is in the country’s fifth largest metropolitan area, in the center of a sprawling suburban area that has grown to be larger than Pittsburg, Brett’s maintains an affable small-town atmosphere.
Brett’s prices also maintain a small-town feel, especially in context of craft barbecue. Good barbecue requires quality meats, the prices of which are rising as demand increases, and it is labor intensive. Jackson starts work between 12 and 2 a.m. and doesn’t leave until 2 or 3 p.m.
As Central Texas-style barbecue’s popularity has grown not just in Texas but also around the country, brisket has become the third-most expensive cut of beef. This past Memorial Day, brisket prices were 19.4 percent higher than the same time period the previous year. Despite that, Brett’s prices are reasonable for high-quality barbecue, especially the meat plates (one, two, or three meats, plus a side), which you don’t always find at the newer by-the-pound spots. Brett’s two-meat plate, which is a half pound of meat plus a side, is only $13.50, which is just $1.25 more than a two-meat plate at Hinze’s out in Sealey and around 50 cents less than the equivalents at Red River Bar-B-Que and Goode Company.
Jackson credits his reasonable prices in part to affordable rent, good negotiating skills and constantly keeping an eye on his bottom line. That said, his brisket prices may have to ease up as the market continues to adjust to higher demand and costs.
Reflecting on his first year in business, Jackson said, “It’s gone amazing. I always hoped to get this point but I didn’t expect to get to this point as quickly as we have. Every week seems to get better. People in Katy have really embraced us.”
Jackson estimates that about 80% of his customers are from the Katy area, but he is noticing an increasing number of out-of-towners as well as folks from Sugar Land and Houston stopping by. It’s not surprising. Brett’s is serving destination-worthy barbecue that enthusiasts should add to their smoked-meats rotation.
On our last visit, as Brett’s emptied out and we were about to leave, my dad walked up to the counter to compliment Jackson and his crew on our excellent lunch. They offered him a sausage sample. He bought a half pound to take home and was already planning to come back to try the smoked turkey and the beef ribs.
Brett’s BBQ Shop is located at 606 South Mason, Katy, Texas and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. until sold out.