I met Stephen Joseph at the Meat Fight 2019 event. We served as judges of the BBQ competition and sat together. He is one amazing guy! So, of course, I had to go for a visit. You can’t get more “backroads” than Jefferson, Texas. I asked my good friend Chris Wickliffe to go with us out there and try it out.

Chef John O’Neil and Stephen Joseph at Meat Fight 2019

Stephen started working at Riverport BBQ in 1991 as a cook. His first day on the job, he chopped cabbage for cole slaw. Over the next 2 years, he learned the business, then bought the whole place in 1993 with help of his dad. Riverport has been a family affair the whole time. Now, it’s knows as Joseph’s Riverport BBQ.

Joseph’s Riverport BBQ — platter of food

Stephen says his earliest recollection of eating barbeque was when he and his dad would travel to Longview and eat at the original Bodacious BBQ after going to model train shows.

Touring the pits at Joseph’s Riverport BBQ

In 2012, the place suffered a devastating fire. In 3 hours, the whole place burned to the ground except for the brick veneer in the front of the building. Stephen set about to rebuild and come back better than ever. He decided to go with the same style of offset smoker box from Dallas’ A.N. Bewley that he learned on. But, Stephen also set out to do some things differently with the food. He didn’t want to taste just like everyone else. He began using all natural ingredients, changed his sausage provider (now he uses Waco Beef and Pork Processors), and approach barbeque from a new angle. He says the customers complained when he quit using Eckrich sausage, but he thought the change was important.

Chris Wickliffe, Stephen Joseph, and Chef John O’Neil

Joseph’s Riverport has been named one of Texas Monthly’s Top 100 BBQ joints in the state. I have to say I wholeheartedly agree with this! In fact, I’d put Stephen and his brisket in the top 2 of anything we’ve had all across Texas. It is definitely worth the drive to East Texas for a visit. Also, you have to try the swamp fries — I’d love some of those on a Sunday afternoon for the Cowboys’ game… with a beer of course.

Written by Chef John O'Neil