Monday, August 11, 2014
Zimmerhanzel's Bar-B-Que (Smithville, TX)
About two months ago I left my native Texas behind and moved to Tennessee. I've been having brisket withdrawals ever since. Even the brisket I do find is often trimmed of its delicious bark and fat, although I can't figure out why. When I had the opportunity to come home for a visit, the first item on my list was some old fashioned Czech-style 'que. Today was my grandmother's 90th birthday, which is an amazing accomplishment. She's still quite the spring chicken at her age and seemed rather pleased at the prospect of celebratory barbecue from Zimmerhanzel's in Smithville. Done and done.
Zimmerhanzel's has been serving up delicious meat since 1980 (with only a brief hiatus), but finally made the Texas Monthly Top 50 list in 2013. They also got honorable mention nods in 2003 and 2008. Personally, I think their spot on the actual list was way overdue.
I had called in my order three days early just to be safe. Since there were eighteen mouths to feed, we grabbed quite a bit of everything: five pounds of brisket, four pounds of sausage, three slabs of ribs, and, against my better judgment, three barbecue chickens (quartered). Hopefully twenty or so pounds of meat would be enough, but you can't be too careful. We also added on some potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni salad, and pinto beans for good measure.
Their parking lot was packed at 11:45 when I arrived, and there was a line 15 deep between me and the counter. Zimmerhanzel's is a pretty no-frills establishment, unless you count all the deer mounts that is. The older gentleman six spots ahead of me asked for ribs, but sadly was denied because of a "large order" they had to fill. I felt bad for him, though not bad enough to give up any of my ribs. Good thing I planned ahead. The folks here were nice enough to help carry everything out to my vehicle, which was much appreciated.
Even though we weren't officially eating barbecue until dinner, it all looked and smelled too good to resist an advance lunch-size "sample" for myself. Ok, so maybe it was a large sample. Don't judge.
The potato salad was creamy, though not whipped or mashed. It had a great crunch and a great taste. I'm not usually a fan of coleslaw, but this was pretty tasty. I liked the finely-shredded veggies, as well as the pleasant sweetness. The macaroni salad came in the form of unpretentious elbow mac and was also interestingly sweet. My two-year-old niece absolutely inhaled it (seriously, she almost choked), so clearly it was good. The pinto beans had a nice flavor, with just the right amount of salt. All in all, this fearsome foursome of side dishes was terrific.
Sides thoroughly sampled, it was time for the meat. I started with the brisket, which looked fantastic. Naturally I helped myself to the fattier slices. Each one had a quarter-inch smoke ring, as well as a great smoky taste. The fat was rendered beautifully and melted in my mouth. Each bite was very tender. I could have easily eaten another ten or twelve slices, but decided against it.
The individual links of sausage weighed in at about 1/6 of a pound each, give or take. Zimmerhanzel's homemade all-beef links had big chunks of black pepper scattered throughout, which I could definitely taste in each bite. I loved the coarse grind on the meat. It reminds me of home. The casings also had a great snap, further evidencing the perfect cooking time.
Barbecue chicken isn't generally my favorite. I thoroughly enjoy the skin (who doesn't?), but I find that the meat is often way too dry. This chicken, however, was really juicy. The dark meat was especially tender. The skin was delicious, as expected, and had soaked up plenty of smoke. I might have to rethink my aversion to barbecue chicken after this.
The thick, meaty spare ribs were coated with a nice salt and pepper rub, which made them look extra delicious. Sometimes the simplest seasoning blends turn out the best. The red smoky hue went almost all the way to the core. Each bite of tender rib meat came away cleanly and was packed with smoke. It was hard to stop eating once I had built up some inertia.
Everything we had from Zimmerhanzel's was absolutely amazing. As happy as I was with our meal, the birthday girl was even happier. I'm glad that I (and Zimmerhanzel's) could help give her the special day she deserved.
UPDATE (March 10, 2016): It is with a heavy heart that I must report the closing of Zimmerhanzel's. After 36 years of serving some absolutely stellar barbecue with a side of small town charm, family health issues and the arrival of new grandchildren understandably took priority over the business. In its place now stands Smithville Pit BBQ, run by Zimmerhanzel's longtime neighbor and sausage supplier Cliff Burns, of Smithville Food Lockers. I wish them all the best of luck.
UPDATE (February 13, 2017): They're back! I have just seen confirmation that Zimmerhanzel's has re-opened, and from all accounts their barbecue is as good as ever. Whew, crisis averted.
307 Royston St - Loop 230
Smithville, TX 78957