When news of the barbecue closing at the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville was announced in late 2019, reverberations were felt from afar among American barbecue enthusiasts. The “Church BBQ,” as it was called, was the cornerstone of rural barbecue in Texas for over 50 years.

Then Church BBQ was resurrected in 2020.

Tameka Edison, daughter of longtime pitmaster Clinton Edison, and her husband Jerry Greathouse have reopened as Holy Smoke BBQ. The company’s proceeds still help support the nearby New Zion Baptist Missionary Church.

Even with the continued growth of Huntsville proper – Holy Smoke BBQ is realistically described as more suburban now – the barbecue itself still maintains the look, feel and menu of classic East Texas rural joints from the pass.

Unfortunately, those classic rural barbecue joints are on the decline. While there have been a few examples of contemporary rural barbecue openings, the majority of new places are choosing urban venues.

This migration of barbecues from rural to urban areas reflects demographic trends. Large metropolitan areas such as Houston, Austin-San Antonio, and Dallas-Fort Worth continue to expand. Newly created restaurateurs just go where the people are.

Pat Gee’s barbecue

17547 County Road 26, Tyler

Open Fri-Sun 903-530-1872.

Holy Smoke BBQ (formerly New Zion BBQ)

2601 Montgomery Road, Huntsville

Open from Thursday to Saturday. 936-295-2349.

The traditions of rural barbecue are not completely lost, however. If you know where to go, you can still get a taste of the Texan barbecue of the past.

One stop would be Pat Gee’s barbecue just outside Tyler. It is important to classify rural joints as more or less rural. Of course, there are plenty of old-fashioned barbecue grills along Texas state highways. But it’s quite rare to find a place literally in the middle of a forest. Pat Gee’s is one such place, located on a county road in a clearing in the pine woods of East Texas.

Enclosed in the weathered, unpainted planks of the same pine trees that surround it, Pat Gee’s is a low-slung cabin that takes visitors back to the early days of Texan barbecue. There is a screen door you enter and screened openings in the walls that let the breeze, as it is, into the non-air conditioned dining area. You will also have a puff of scorching hickory wood in the adjoining pit room.

The dining room consists of long folding tables placed end to end. When Pat Gee’s is full of locals and regulars, prepare to visit your dinner mates and politely ask where you’re from.

But first, go up to the counter and place your order with the cutter on the chopping block right in front of you. Then the blow-kick of the meat cleaver hitting the decades-old block of wood signals that your order is being prepared.

The prices are more than reasonable. On a recent visit, a pound of sliced ​​brisket was listed at $ 12.50. Since most joints in big cities are over $ 30 a pound, you must be wondering what their secret is.

And be prepared to pay in cash – Pat Gee’s doesn’t accept credit cards and there’s no ATM in sight.

Of course, the smoked meats you get at Pat Gee won’t make any contemporary list of the best Texas barbecue. It’s an old-fashioned joint serving an old-fashioned barbecue. The pork ribs are thin and crisp, the sausage is neon red.

But oh, that cornbread. Crumble some in the ranch-style beans that accompany it, drizzle with the sweet sauce, and you’ve got a barbecue taste that takes you back to rural Texas.

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