Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Miller's Smokehouse in Belton might be the best BBQ north of Austin

Brisket sits on the pit at Miller's Smokehouse

Every now and then you hit the motherlode on the Texas BBQ trail. For every 20 mediocre BBQ joints, there's one good one. For every 50 good ones, there's one great one. You can add Miller's Smokehouse in Belton to the list of great ones.

We first caught wind of Miller's last week during BBQ Snob Daniel Vaughn's trip to south Texas. Miller's has been overshadowed in Belton by the better known Schoepf's BBQ, which I have always heard is average fare.

Daniel, who is knee deep in his book project on the journey of BBQ, always tweets from the BBQ trail about the good and bad he finds out there. He has almost 3,300 Twitter followers who look to him to find the next great joint.

That day Daniel tweeted, "I found a reason to drive right on past Scheopf's in Belton. Take a right on Penelope and go to Miller's Smokehouse. Nothing bad here." In another tweet he described their fatty brisket as "luscious."

We started planning a quick trip to Belton shortly thereafter.

Posse pitmaster Marshall Cooper checks out the pits on the way into Miller's.
Pitmaster Robert Reid, left, and owner Dirk Miller prepare an order of brisket.

The drive from Dallas took a little under two hours. The little joint nestled in downtown Belton was easy to find and parking was ample. As soon as we opened the door of the truck we were engulfed by the sweet smell of post oak and smoked meats. We knew this was going to be good.

We met owner Dirk Miller shortly after arriving at the counter. Since I have the habit of starting to take photos as soon as we hit the ground at a joint, we often attract the attention of the boss pretty quickly. He realized we were serious about BBQ and pulled a fresh brisket off the pit after we ordered.

Our standard order is always brisket and ribs when we first visit a place. However, Miller's only has ribs on Fridays so we subbed puled pork for the ribs. Dirk also insisted we sample three kinds of sausage, which he grinds at his meat processing facility around the corner.

We got to know Dirk during the visit, quizzing him on all things barbecue as usual. He opened Miller's Smokehouse five years ago after several other career incarnations. Besides being a pitmaster, he's a taxidermist, butcher and meat processor. During last season alone, they processed almost 900 deer. He plans to have all his businesses in one place sometime in the future.

The counter and menu at Miller's.
Customers wait for their orders in the front dining room at Miller's.

The meats were nothing short of sensational. The brisket not only looked great, but it was cooked perfectly. We sampled both fatty and lean brisket, both were moist and full of flavor. I would describe the smoke level as flawless and the pepper/garlic salt rub was not overpowering, but well proportioned. The pulled pork wasn't quite as flavorful, but was cooked perfectly as well.

We tried three types of Miller's homemade sausage: regular, hot link and jalapeno cheese. All three had exemplary texture, snap, consistency and taste. I was drawn to the jalapeno cheese though. I've had numerous versions of the sausage around the state, but this is as good as any I've ever had.

Miller's also sells fresh sausage you can take home and cook, as well as other custom meats. We tried the jalapeno cheese summer sausage and the snack sticks, kind of like a homemade Slim Jim. Both products were excellent.

A brisket burnt end sits amid pulled pork.
Sliced Jalapeno sausage and pulled pork. Miller's grinds three types of their own fresh sausage. 

Last but not least, we finished lunch with a couple of home baked deserts. The blueberry-cherry cobbler and coconut carmel cake were from the kitchen of Dirk's wife Lisa. They were a great finish to a perfect lunch. As Daniel had tweeted, everything is good here. We can't wait to try the ribs on a Friday coming up soon.

The other thing we noticed was the sense of community in Miller's. Dirk and his crew seemed to know everyone who came for lunch, greeting customers by name and with handshakes. Not what you usually see in the big city.

As we were out by the smokers, one of the customers and his wife stopped to chat. He was none other than Jerry Grote, former catcher for the New York Mets in the 1960s and 70s. Grote was regarded as one of the best defensive catchers of his era and a master of handling young pitchers, including a wild Texan with a 100 mph fastball named Nolan Ryan.

Jerry and his wife told us they come here to eat every week. "It just keeps getting better and better," they said.

Miller's Smokehouse, 208 N Penelope, Belton, 254-939-5500. Open Tues-Thurs 10:30am-6:30pm, Fri & Sat 10:30am-9pm or until the meat runs out.

Former major leaguer Jerry Grote and his wife visit with Dirk Miller. They eat here every week.
The thermometer on Miller's brisket pit.
Owner Dirk Miller, left, and Posse pitmaster Marshall Cooper swap pit stories after lunch.
Dirk pulls a pork butt out of the smoker for inspection.

Photos ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse

11 comments:

  1. This is a well deserved, long overdue article for Dirk Miller and his crew. If you havent had a chance to eat Miller's BBQ you are missing out on the best! Dont waste your time anywhere else. Get there early on Friday, the Ribs Go Fast!!! BBQ is not a verb, BBQ is not a grill. BBQ is meat, prepared in a very special way. Which varies depending on where you go. Go to Millers, Your promised to leave happy. Well done BBQ posse, well done!

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  2. The new hours (above) do not start until Tuesday, February 6th. No barbecue today.

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  3. The new hours (above) do not start until next Tuesday, March 6th. No barbecue today. Miller's was previously not open on Saturdays.

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  4. I have eaten at most every BBQ place in Dallas and Ft. Worth and I can say Miller's kicks everyones asses! Miller's brisket is the best brisket I've had outside of Austin and CT.

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  5. I eat at Miller's at least once a week. I've always said that they are the best in Bell County, but what do I know... I'm not on the "posse" so I can't speak for every BBQ pit "north of Austin!" A well deserved tribute to Dirk and Robert.

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  6. Just re-read this article from last year and noticed the temp on his smoker, 325 degrees. That's a bit high isn't it?

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  7. I didn't talk specifically about this to Dirk Miller, but a lot of places are cooking hotter these days, including most of the new Austin joints. Thy've figured out a way to cook on higher temps while maintaining quality. Saves a lot of time tending the pits.....

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  8. Adding to my last note, just got this email from longtime pitmaster Marshall Cooper:

    Cooking hot and fast chiefly renderers the fat down. It also cooks the meat fast with less time on the pit, minimizing the meat from drying out. If you cook too low and slow the fat doesn't render and the long smoke time drys the meat.

    There you have it, thanks Marshall......

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  9. Okay so follow up question concerning the smoke created by the heat. Is it more effective to burn wood logs (say post oak) or to use say lump charcoal with (post oak) wood chunks that have been soaked in water?

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  11. I think it's far more effective to use wood logs, though you can always start your fire with lump charcoal. Given how long you are cooking, it's probably cheaper too. The lump charcoal is more expensive than regular charcoal and either cost more than wood logs.

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