Ribs on pancakes? The latest Texas trend is barbecue for breakfast

Morning options at barbecue joints across the state have gotten “brunch-ified,” says Daniel Vaughn of Texas Monthly.

By Casey Cheek & Elisabeth JimenezFebruary 19, 2024 11:49 am, ,

Texans love their barbecue and their breakfast tacos, but is barbecue for breakfast taking it too far?

Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor at Texas Monthly, doesn’t think so. Vaughn joined the Standard to talk about the latest barbecue trend and if it really lives up to the hype.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Barbecue for breakfast. For real?

Daniel Vaughn: Barbecue for breakfast has been around a while with breakfast tacos, biscuits and such. What’s more interesting these days is how they’ve gotten “brunch-ified.” The dishes that we’re seeing these days for breakfast hours at some of these barbecue joints is quite surprising.

What do you mean, “brunch-ified?” Are we talking about buffet style, or what exactly? 

Let’s go all the way to 100 miles an hour here and go on down to Belton, Texas, at Miller’s Smokehouse. They are taking baby back ribs and they brine them just like you would bacon, smoke them, cut them, deep fry them and coat them in maple syrup and put them on cinnamon roll pancakes. So we’re talking bacon baby back ribs for breakfast on cinnamon roll pancakes.

I’m laughing because there was a skit on “Saturday Night Live.” It was the “Taco Town” skit where they basically take a taco and they keep adding stuff to it like a lot of places sometimes want to do. You know, it’s wrapped in waffles —

Then you put a large pizza inside.

Right. “Now that’s a taco,” the guy says at the end. 

Now that is a barbecue brunch right there.

How far are we removed from a “Saturday Night Live” skit here? Did I hear you say “syrup?” 

Yeah. There’s a little maple syrup that they’re doused in. Because they’re hot out of the deep fryer, they don’t hold on to a whole lot of that maple syrup. It’s really just there for a little bit of sweet effect. But as over-the-top as they sound, they are just absolutely incredible.

The way they break off of the bone and you get that bacon flavor, you get that crunchiness from the deep fried – I sat there and ate far more of those ribs than I should have to kick off a barbecue road trip.

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This is taking barbecue for breakfast way beyond the usual breakfast taco, I would think. Is it a trend, or are we talking about just one or two places going the brunch route?

No, I wrote an article recently that covered 13 different spots around the state. It was one of those statewide lists that takes you all the way out to Desert Oak Barbecue in El Paso. They make their own spam out of pulled pork and then they put that into a frittata. [It’s] on their brunch menu. Housemade spam frittata — I didn’t think you’d get that in El Paso.

What was the best breakfast combo that you encountered?

The best one — that’s tough to come up with. If you’re anywhere near Austin at The Switch, they have the most incredible breakfast buffet that I have ever seen. They have all your breakfast favorites. Plenty of brisket in all kinds of different dishes, poached eggs.

Then you really get to the end of it and they have a big block of a carving station with smoked prime rib and pork ribs, as many as you’d like. You can actually order some pancakes and eggs any way you like them from the kitchen if you haven’t found enough on that brunch buffet, which is only $35. So it’s quite a deal as well.

What do you think this says about the state of barbecue in Texas, if anything? 

I think just like any restaurants, these barbecue joints need to find a way to set themselves apart. If they’re already there early in the morning cooking barbecue, then they might as well be there early serving barbecue. The fact that they can serve it in a different way and really gain some attention, I think it’s better for all of us.

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