The long-awaited Lewis Barbecue of Charleston has finally opened its doors! Or should I say screen doors…
People have been oohing and aahing over this new Charleston establishment since they opened last month. The masters of Texas heat and meat are quickly becoming a city favorite in the booming NoMo area of Downtown.
The famous John Lewis of Lewis Barbecue built his cult following in Austin, Texas where he dabbled in creating his signature flavor profile. He then took what he learned from helping his friend Aaron Franklin (Franklin Barbecue) and formed La Barbecue in Austin, TX in 2012. Then in March 2015, Lewis moved to the Holy City to impart his Texan barbecue wisdom on the humble Charlestonians.
So what makes Texas barbecue “TEXAS” barbecue?
Well, I can’t really give you a definitive answer. Texas barbecue is what you’d call the mutt of the barbecue family. The half breed. The amalgamation of many years of history, legends, and traditions. Every region of Texas has a different take on what makes it quintessentially different from the rest. That being said, I’ve found this article to be particularly helpful in answering this question (via Southern Foodways Alliance). What I’ve gathered from scouring the internet: beef cuts are paramount in Texas style barbecue and each region of the state is choosy about their wood smoking techniques.
Like any good barbecue menu, Lewis’ is simple, straightforward, and heavy with the meats. Beef brisket, beef short ribs, pork spare ribs, pulled pork, turkey breast, and Texas “hot guts” (sausage) are just a few of his meaty offerings. Naturally, I wanted to taste a little bit of everything to say I’d had the full Texas barbecue experience. So my fellow foodie friend and I asked for “one of everything”. I wish I was kidding, but Charlotte and I ate the biggest plate of meat and sides I’ve ever seen and it was everything we’d hoped for and more.
My definitive ranking of…
1. Pulled pork
2. Hot guts
3. Beef brisket
4. Beef short ribs
1. Green Chile Corn Pudding
2. Cowboy Pinto Beans
3. Creamy Lemon Slaw
4. Buttermilk Potato Salad
1. Green Chile
The pulled pork was hands down the favorite of all the meats. Tender and juicy bursting with fatty flavor. No sauce necessary, however I did still try each of their three sauces on the pulled pork. The hot guts (aka sausage) was a close second because of just how spicy it was. I love spicy sausage, but most barbecue places don’t make it nearly spicy enough for my taste. The green chile corn pudding and cowboy pinto beans tied for my two favorite sides essentially because they were different. In my South Carolina family, no one ever made corn pudding at Sunday lunch or Thanksgiving dinner. However if corn pudding is a traditional side item in Texas, I’m moving there ASAP. Moist, rich, and comforting. I’m coming for you, John Lewis, because I need your pudding recipe!
The sauces were incredible, even though they say quality cooked meats don’t require sauce. I loved the Green Chile sauce because once again it was different. It gave the meat that Tex-Mex flavor I expected from Texas barbecue.
The pit crew who helped us choose the best meats and sides were energetic and hospitable. We were never in want of water since their wait staff was constantly refilling our cups. We even had prime indoor seating before the mad dinner rush and got to chat up everyone waiting in line. The decor inside was what I’d call rodeo minimalism with lassos and horseshoes adorning the walls and Mexican tile flanking the main meat counter.
Expect to wait a while for your meats. All their meats are ordered by the pound. Disregard their shouts of how much their meats are costing you. It will all be worth it in the end. If you are only ordering a sandwich and sides, you can cut the line (or just order at the bar).
If you are a Charleston native, this is going to be unlike any other barbecue experience you’ve had before. I’m already looking forward to my next trip to Lewis Barbecue so I can sample their cocktails and try their Green Bean Salad, the one side item I missed. Welcome to the neighborhood, Lewis!