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.

Backroads and BBQ: John Mueller Interview

If you ever get a chance to sit down with legendary BBQ “cook” John Mueller, take it. He drinks Bud Light – take a 12-pack of cold cans. He’s irascible and interesting with a depth of knowledge and opinions about Texas barbecue that you won’t get anywhere else. And, be sure to ask him about his grandmother’s squash casserole recipe.

The Mueller family is BBQ royalty in Texas:

  • Louie Mueller BBQ In Taylor was started by John’s grandfather;
  • Father Bobby Mueller, James Beard award winner and widely known as the greatest pitmaster in Texas history, took over the family’s barbecue empire and taught John to cook;
  • Brother Wayne Mueller now runs the Taylor establishment;
  • Sister LeAnne Mueller owns renowned la Barbecue in Austin.
Chef John O’Neil, John Mueller, and Jack Crouch

Dubbed the “Dark Prince of Barbecue” by Texas Monthly Magazine, enshrined by Anthony Bourdain, and also named one of America’s most influential pitmasters by Fox News, John Mueller does things differently. Traditional barbecue pitmasters in Texas, including the Mueller family, cook brisket slow over low heat and usually post oak wood. Out of necessity, John Mueller rejected his family ways because he hated running out and not being able to serve hungry customers. He developed a method of cooking brisket quickly that is still moist and terrific over high heat. This way he was able to turn out more product to feed the lines of people that frequent his establishments.

Chef John O’Neil chatting with John Mueller over Bud Light.

One sunny Sunday in June, cousin Jack Crouch and his wife Belle took me to the alter of the Dark Prince, where I got the opportunity to sit down with Mueller for a chat. At that time, Mueller set up shop with his smoker in a trailer, some picnic tables, and his pickup truck on a lot just off the square in downtown Georgetown. Since then, Mueller relocated to Granger City Brewing Company where he serves “the whole thing”, meaning brisket, sausage, pork ribs, smoked turkey, and his signature beef ribs.

That day in Georgetown, we talked to John about giving Aaron Franklin his first job and teaching him how to work the pits. He reminisced about learning to “cook” barbecue from his father and grandfather. He insists that he is not a chef, but just a cook. He showed me his pit as he was adding wood, insisting that I notice the temperature gauge at 375. He says over 400 is where he likes it. He told me about his grandmother’s cheesy squash casserole with a tear in his eye. We evaluated the different methods of cooking barbecue, from the low-and-slow-over-post-oak traditional method of Franklin, to the rotisserie smokers of Blacks in Lockhart, to the wrap-technique employed at Snow’s BBQ in Lexington. It was like getting a Master’s Degree in Barbecue – John Muller accurately and precisely described the effects of each method on the ultimate product.

The barbecue John served was far-and-away the finest, melt-in-your-mouth brisket I have ever had the privilege of consuming. In all of our travels around Texas and beyond, nothing compares!

There’s not a finer day in Texas than one spent sitting at a picnic table, drinking Bud Light with John Mueller and talking barbecue. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity.

When you think of Texas and oil you don’t think of olive oil, do you? But did you know that Texas has a booming olive oil industry? Texana Brands is leading the way with their extra virgin olive oil and line of infused oils.

In 2012, Stephen Coffman, sister Mary Rose, and brother-in-law Michael Paz wanted to put their family’s 150-acre ranch between San Antonio and Laredo into production, but they didn’t want to do anything typical. the land has been in the family for 125 years and they wanted to leave a legacy for their children and grandchildren. The land was previously used for watermelons and beef cattle.

Olive trees, they decided. Stephen and Michael and crew planted their first olive trees in 2012, not expecting a harvest for 8 years or so. Instead, by 2018 they had the third harvest and the largest olive oil crop that Texas has ever seen. What started with 7,000 trees has grown to over 200,000 trees producing 30-50 gallons of oil per ton of olives.

The location of the ranch helps — cool winters without too many extremes provides almost perfect growing conditions.

The olives are harvested and pressed at the ranch within 8 hours of picking in an onsight mobile olive mill. The oil gets transported to the production facility in Kyle, Texas, just south of Austin where it sits for 30 days in steel tanks to remove sediment. From there, some of the oil is infused to make the flavors that Texana is known all across the state for.

The family is commited to the olive industry in Texas as a whole. Michael has served as the president of the Texas Association of Olive OIl where he helped to create a research platform for the industry in collaboration ith state agencies and other growers. The association has more than 60 members and represents about 150 growers over 4,000 acres of land across the state.

Texana oils are old through H-E-B grocery store. They also make the rounds at fairs, trade shows and stock shows around the state. Online sales and restaurant customers account for a small portion of business. Gary Bounds, long-time family friend, came on to handle the production facility in Kyle and helps with marketing. Gary gave us the tour of the production facility in Kyle.

Keeping the business family-focused, the company was named after great, great grandmother Texana Ramsey Henrichson.

The Meyer’s Sausage story began in the late 1800s when founder Henry Meyer immigrated from Germany to the United States. With him, he brought the family recipe for smoked sausage. Henry taught the secret recipe to his son R.G. Meyer.

During the depression era, R.G. began smoking his family recipe sausage at home and feeding the neighbors. In 1949, R.G. opened the storefront of Meyer’s Sausage in the home it still occupies now. Their website is Why cuetopia? Because R.G. said, “Cue-topia is the perfect state of barbecue!”

In 2005, Meyer’s began shipping their sausages and sauces nationwide. Now you can get their entire line of barbecue shipped straight to your door.

Meyer’s Texas Original Sausage is the one-and-same recipe brought over from Germany. It is a pork sausage with minimal seasonings. Because it is a German recipe, the seasonings are a mild black pepper base. Order some here: Their Texas Sausage won 3rd place at the 1996 Texas Sausage Championship in Halletsville, Texas. In grocery store sales, Meyers’ ranks #2.

On the day of our visit, I loved seeing the old sausage stuffing machine that greets you when you enter. The parts all still move, so it would probably be able to stuff some sausage if one were inclined to use the manual method instead of the modern machine stuffer that is now most common. It would be fun one day, if they would let me, to actually crank that thing up and see if it still works.

The town of Elgin is known as the Sausage Capital of Texas. It also boasts the first – or one of the first, depending on who you ask – barbecue joints in Texas.

Of course, when in the neighborhood near Elgin, no barbecue tour would be complete without a stop at the home of Elgin sausage – Southside Market. Understanding the difference between the German-recipe (where black pepper and cayenne are the main spices) and the Czech-version (containing garlic) that are both popular in central Texas provides a glimpse into the history of the area.

William Moon began making German sausage in 1882. Moon would sell his butchered meats door-to-door, but what was left over at the end of the day had to be preserved or spoil. He made sausage out of course-ground beef with the traditional German recipe of spices including cayenne, salt, and black pepper, then stuffed in a pork casing. The sausage was smoked for preservation.

Moon opened his first brick and mortar store in 1886 in town, where folks riding on the train could grab a bite to eat during a water stop. The reputation of Elgin’s “hot guts” sausage spread far and wide.

Lee Wilson bought the business from Moon in 1908, where he continued to serve the Elgin community as the small-town butcher shop that sold BBQ in the back. Rumor tells that Wilson lost and won the restaurant many times over poker bets.

In 1968, the Bracewell’s bought Southside Market and began to sell the traditional Elgin Hot Guts Sausage to a small H. E. Butt Grocery Co. The legend of Elgin sausage began to grow. Southside Market moved to its current location in 1991, adding a pit room, kitchen, meat market, and meat plant.

Southside’s sausage has a delicious beef flavor with the perfect snap of the casing.  The spices provide a great background for the beef flavor without overpowering. Just because the sausage is beef and not pork does not mean it is dry. In fact, the juices from Southside’s all-beef sausage run down to your elbow if you let them.

Southside Market gives recipes on their website and I found this one that sounds great!

Southside Country Sausage Breakfast Muffins

  • 4 links Southside Country Style Sausage – remove casings and dice sausage
  • 10 eggs
  • 1/3 cup diced white onion
  • 1/3 cup diced green onion
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp Southside Oak Smoked Black Pepper (or, to taste)
  • Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350F. Liberally coat muffin tin with cooking spray and set aside. Cook Southside Country Style Sausage in skillet over medium high heat for approximately 5 minutes. Add diced white onion and continue cooking for 5 more minutes until sausage has browned and onions are translucent. Remove from heat and allow the sausage and onions to cool slightly. Meanwhile, beat eggs in a large bowl. Add salt and pepper, cheese, and green onion to eggs and mix. Add cooled sausage and onions to eggs and mix. Pour mixture into muffin tin, dividing evenly (about a ¼ cup for each muffin). Bake 15 – 20 minutes at 350F just until set. Allow muffins to cool about 10 minutes and then remove from muffin tin. Serve warm or freeze and store for later use!

Make these your own with different cheeses, mushrooms, or other veggies. Spice these up with cayenne if you like more heat!

Makes 12 muffins.

By far the most beautiful barbecue restaurant that we’ve seen is Switch BBQ in Dripping Springs. The main dining room is 6,200 square feet plus the patio and pit room and features beautiful post oak wood floors.

The bar… man-oh-man … the bar is beautiful. Made out of high-end Sinker Cypress wood, it forms the center of the entire dining room and just makes you want to cozy up there and sit a while. My favorite design feature is the smoking bull – a big bull head smoking a large pipe – over the entrance.

Switch BBQ also features a window into the sausage room where customers can literally watch the sausage be made while standing in line.

The pit room features four giant, beautiful 1000 gallon offset Moberg smokers and an interesting cabinet Moberg smoker that is used for sausage. The pitworkers begged for a large screen tv, and their wish was granted. Now they can watch football and make brisket – which may be the most perfect situation ever.

The most notable difference between Switch BBQ and most other barbecue joints is that Switch is a sit-down restaurant. Instead of ordering and watching your meat be sliced and chopped, Switch has you order from a menu with a waiter. This deviation feels strange and less like a place that should have great ‘cue.

The menu has a definite Cajun feel, including boudin sausage. The brisket was what you would expect from a low-and-slow, central-Texas-oak smoking.

Nathaniel’s Custom Hats in Georgetown, Texas has been one of my favorite stops out of all of the places that we’ve visited on the Backroads and BBQ tour. Cousin Jack Crouch has apprenticed for Nate and took me there to meet Nate.

Cousin Jack Crouch, Chef John O’Neil, and owner Nathaniel Funmaker

While I was there, Nate hand-fitted me with a palm straw cowboy hat. Watching his method and precision inspired me. That hat fits my head like no hat I’ve ever owned – like a sock on my head. Nathaniel Funmaker is hands-down one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. His craftmanship knows no equal. He makes his hats on vintage equipment using centuries-old, hands-on craftsmanship techniques. 

Nate has been handcrafting hats for nearly twenty years. His skills can be readily seen and felt in the finished product. Nate makes his hats from the highest qualify fur felts, and they are renowned for their durability. Celebrities like Josh Bernstein in “Digging For The Truth” and Will Smith in “Wild, Wild, West” love Nate’s hats, but they are also valued by ranchers and just plain “hat folks”. 

Nathaniel’s is not just any hat shop. Using 60 to 100-year-old equipment and maintaining centuries old techniques, Nate’s fine fur felt hats are renowned and treasured for their quality and timeless style. Nate’s hats are proudly worn by people from all walks of life, including businesspeople, cowboys, ranchers, celebrities and politicians, to name a few.

Born in Wisconsin to the Ho-Chunk tribe, Nate was the 10th of 11 children born to Adam and Doris Funmaker. To his knowledge, Nate is the only Native American Master Hatter.

Miller’s Smokehouse in Belton – where barbecue, pie, coffee, and brunch all get together for a Saturday morning hang out. The Miller family started out in the taxidermy business. Then, when Dusty Miller was in college, he suggested using the family’s business property to make barbecue during the off-season. Over time, the barbecue business grew so that in 2008 the family moved the business into its current location in downtown Belton.

In 2018, Dusty Miller recognized that Belton could use some good coffee, so he added a professional espresso machine. If you have an espresso machine, you should roast coffee. So, the Miller family added a coffee roasting machine in a warehouse and started roasting the coffee to serve in the restaurant. Interestingly, the acidity of coffee pairs well with smoked meat, so it really makes sense.

One day Momma Miller made pie to serve in the restaurant, which grew into a full-time bakeshop. When we visited Miller’s we had the sopaipilla cheesecake pie. I can tell you I have never had anything so decadent and delicious in all my life. What a treat that pie is! And now, desserts make up 10% of total sales for the restaurant. Pretty fine stats for a bakeshop in a barbecue place.

Most recently, the Miller family added brunch to the menu. If you go for brunch, you have to get the pimento cheese grits with coffee-rubbed, smoked pork belly. Man, that shit was good! Oh, and the wakin’ bacon – homemade bacon with an espresso rub. The biscuits were so good too. But that pimento grits with pork belly is a dish to dream about.

Miller’s is so good, we’ve been twice. It’s the only place we’ve gone more than once in our Backroads and BBQ Jeep tour. If you’re driving southbound on I-35, pull on off in Belton and get some of their food at Miller’s. You will be so glad you did!

Luckenbach, Texas was made famous in the 1977 song performed by Waylon Jennings. It talks about leaving the big city life by trading in the coat and tie for some boots and faded jeans to get back to the basics of love.

Let me tell you, Luckenbach is one special place and one of my favorite places on the entire planet! Whether you show up on a Friday afternoon for a cold beer and some music in the pickers circle or you go for one of the festivals that bring in thousands of folks, Luckenbach is a place that you cannot miss in any tour of Texas.

Little history… Luckenbach started in 1849 as a trading post with the Comanche Indians back then and reportedly Luckenbach’s owners were one of the few who never broke their treaty with the Indians. Later, a general store and saloon was established on the property. Population of Luckenbach got as high as 492 in 1904, but in the 1960’s, it became a ghost town and put up for sale. Famous Texas folklorist Hondo Crouch with two other investors bought Luckenbach for $30,000 in 1970.

Luckenbach’s association with country music began in the summer of 1973 when Jerry Jeff Walker and the Lost Gonzo Band recorded the live album Viva Terlingua at the Luckenbach dance hall. Then in 1977, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson vaulted Luckenbach in the national spotlight with the #1 country and #25 Pop charting song “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)”.

Female pitmaster Socorro Tanner gives Chef John a pittour

“Pickin’ for the Record” was a fundraiser held in Luckenbach on August 23, 2009, for the organization Voices of a Grateful Nation, where the Guinness world record was broken for the most guitar players gathered at one time to play (continuously for at least five minutes), with the official count at 1868.

Most people don’t realize that Luckenbach has a barbecue joint built in there called the Luckenbach Feedlot. They serve a really great pulled pork sandwich with homemade barbecue sauce (vinegar and mustard based) and cole slaw. Richard and Socorro Tanner have run the pit at Luckenbach for a long time, then when Richard passed away, Socorro took over the reins with the help of her son.

But they do BBQ a little differently here in Luckenbach than at other traditional Texas joints. You don’t get the low-and-slow-over-post-oak here in Luckenbach. Nope, hot and fast over green mesquite is their secret. In fact, Socorro still goes to cut and collect the wood herself on a friend’s ranch every week.

In this episode of Backroads and BBQ, Socorro Tanner tells us the secret of using green, wet mesquite wood to smoke her brisket and pork and impart a unique sweet flavor. Coming from Mexico, she never knew about the Texas tradition of using post oak. She knew that in Mexico they use freshly cut mesquite wood, so that’s what she continues to use to this day.

Dried mesquite used in barbecue can cause the meat to taste bitter. However, using the green mesquite gives a sweeter flavor to the meat and allows the meat to have a gorgeous dark pink tint that you don’t get with oak. I’ve never had barbecue made with mesquite that gives that sweet of a smoke flavor to the meat. You would have to use fruit wood to get that. Socorro definitely taught me something during our visit.

Socorro smokes everything she needs on Thursday for the weekend’s business, implementing the cook once, eat multiple times theory that I subscribe to.

Everyone may go to Luckenbach for the laid-back feeling, the music, and the cold beer, but now I know the secret – you gotta have a pulled pork sandwich by Socorro when you get there.

While we were on the road in Dripping Springs, Texas, we had to stop and see the Deep Eddy Vodka Distillery. Cousin Jack Crouch and I ran into Jason Ducharme, the head distiller for Deep Eddy’s who leads the crazy research and development experiments to try to find the next “out of the box” thing. What an interesting guy!

While Jason is in charge of the day-to-day making of the vodkas, like the best-selling Lemon Vodka or my personal favorite the Red Ruby Grapefruit Vodka, he also gets to play a little with science experiments to see what he can dream up. He’s self-taught and loves his job!

Jason shared with us a taste of a concoction he was playing with, aging vodka in a coconut shell in the sun for a week. He also shared another concoction he was again in the back.

If you ever get to Dripping Springs, head on over to the Deep Eddy’s Distillery. Just be careful… their drinks are so yummy that you might not want to drive home.

The current flavors sold by Deep Eddy’s include original, peach, cranberry, lemon, ruby red, orange and sweet tea. They are all wonderful when mixed with a little soda water or Sprite. Here’s a couple of recipes from Deep Eddy’s website just in case you want to get fancier:

Peach Iced Tea

2 oz Deep Eddy Peach Vodka
Top with Unsweetened Ice Tea
Lemon Wedge

Amarillo By Morning

1.5 oz Deep Eddy Cranberry Vodka
.5 oz Lemon Juice
.5 oz Averna Amaro
.5 oz Honey Syrup
(Combine equal parts honey and warm water. Stir until mixed.)
Combine all ingredients into ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake hard and strain into ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

Marfa Lights

2 oz Deep Eddy Original Vodka
3 oz Grapefruit Juice
1 oz Simple Syrup
.5 oz Fresh Lime Juice
Pinch of Salt
Grapefruit Wedge
Fill Collins glass with ice. Add first five ingredients to shaker tin with ice and give a quick two second shake to dilute and blend the salt. Strain over fresh ice and garnish with a wedge of grapefruit.

Sea Breeze

2 oz Deep Eddy Cranberry Vodka
4 oz Grapefruit Juice
Lime Wheel
Combine all ingredients and serve over ice. Garnish with a lime wheel.