Well-known Memphis barbecue chain, Corky’s BBQ, has made its way to Texas – and their first location in the Lone Star State is in Katy on the south side of I-10 near Fry Rd. I can imagine how challenging it will be to compete with all the top-notch Texas barbecue that can be found in the Lone Star state. Katy really has some awesome craft barbecue these days – like Chef Randy Duncan at Daddy Duncan’s BBQ, and Brett Jackson at Brett’s BBQ Shop. I expected to see lots of pork barbecue on the menu – pulled pork and pork ribs. However, I did not expect to see some quintessential Texas BBQ items. They offered brisket (which probably isn’t too surprising). What really surprised me were not one but two different Texas sausages – a pork sausage from Prasek’s Smokehouse (El Campo), and an Akaushi beef & pork jalapeno/cheddar sausage from HeartBrand (Flatonia). This Memphis chain plans to open six branches in the Houston area – they have already announced one in Cypress (at 290 and Skinner), and another one in an undisclosed location in Tomball. And yet others will get announced later. I was sad that when asked if we could get a quick tour of the pit room, the request was declined. They claimed safety concerns – which is understandable, but disappointing just the same. Thankfully we did get to talk with the manager about their pit room and their cooking processes. Everything is smoked over hickory and charcoal. They use a Southern Pride rotisserie pit – which is not a bad thing. However, I was sad to learn they are using natural gas to maintain temperature – and the charcoal and hickory are just to imbue the smokiness to the meat. According to the manager, they also have a barrel grill for direct-heat grilling of their chicken.
Given that this is a chain, and I’m not typically a huge fan of chain restaurants, I was pleasantly surprised by the majority of the food that we got. I was not as pleasantly surprised by their pricing – it felt very high for pretty standard menu offerings. Corky’s BBQ certainly offers a different ordering experience for us folks used to ordering our meat by the pound, as is done as so may Texas barbecue joints, or at least choosing a 1-meat or 2-meat plate. Obviously there are some pretty major differences between Memphis and Texas barbecue in many ways.
On to the food. My barbecue buddy, Matt, and I tried most of the menu, including all four of their main meats — pork ribs, pulled pork, brisket and chicken.
Pork ribs – The St. Louis trim spareribs were generally very good. Their pork ribs come three different ways; 1) dry, 2) wet, and 3) muddy. Dry ribs are a Memphis tradition – the ribs are basted with a barbecue sauce and then covered in a good amount of dry rub. Wet ribs are a more traditional style rib, basted with a barbecue sauce as they cook. Muddy ribs are a combination of wet and dry. As Corky’s describes muddy: “…slowly basted in Corky’s Original BBQ sauce, sprinkled with our dry rub seasoning, then covered in Corky’s Original BBQ sauce.” The flavor was very good on all three different styles of ribs. I wondered about the texture of the muddy ribs, but was not disappointed. The dry rub used in the dry and muddy ribs is very heavy on paprika. The meat was moist, and pulled cleanly away from the bone without falling off.
Pulled pork – The pulled pork had good flavor. It was a little bit dry for my liking, but that was easily remedied by a few squirts of their standard barbecue sauce (they also have a spicy sauce, which was also very good).
Barbecued chicken – The barbecued chicken had great flavor. It did not have a crispy skin. But it was very tasty just the same, covered in their standard barbecue sauce. The meat was moist and flavorful, and was very delicious.
Brisket – I was honestly surprised by how good the brisket was. Happily it had an excellent bark and decent smoke ring. We got some slices of fatty brisket and it was very moist indeed, with well-rendered fat and good smoky flavor.
Sides – We had to try a number of their sides – coleslaw, green bean casserole, southern skillet corn, and twice baked potato salad. The coleslaw was excellent – it just needed a bit of cracked black pepper (but I am a nut for cracked black pepper). The green bean casserole was a disappointment. I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong, but it was definitely not right. The southern skillet corn and twice baked potato were both outstanding. The corn was creamy and delicious mixed together with cream cheese/sour cream and sauteed onions and peppers. Nothing bad about that combination at all. And the twice baked potato was so tasty – it had just the right amount of creaminess, with thinly-sliced potatoes rather than cubed. It just delicious.
All in all, my first-ever experience with Corky’s and Memphis barbecue was great. They had good service and friendly people, and the space is plenty open and comfortable. We even got to talk with marketing director for a few minutes. I’m not sure I’ll drive all the way from Tomball to Katy again for Memphis ‘cue. But once they have a branch open in Tomball, I certainly would not hesitate to go again. And next time I’ll have to try the Texas-based sausage.