In competitive barbecue culture, Pit Master stands alone
In Texas, barbecue is more than a food. It is a culture, a way of life, often part of one's family and history. It is also a cause for heated discussion. The argument of "Who makes the best barbecue" is as old as barbecue itself.
For Tommie Battles, owner of Pit Master BBQ Cafe, and apparently residents of The Woodlands area, there is no argument. Battles often talks about the owners of competing barbecue chain restaurants who drop in to sample his creations.
"They said they come here to check out the competition," Battles said with a laugh. "It's no competition."
Local citizens seem to agree. Pit Master BBQ was voted "Best Barbecue in The Woodlands" for 2010 and 2011 in The Woodlands Online's "Best of The Woodlands" survey.
Pit Master has its roots in some of the Meccas of barbecue: in Memphis, from where Battles hails and where his father worked as a pit master, and from Missouri, where Battles opened his first barbecue restaurant in St. Louis in 1996.
"We won every year, best barbecue in St. Louis," he said.
But according to Battles, his was just about the only good barbecue in St. Louis.
"I kept coming back to Houston once or twice a year to get barbecue because I couldn't stand their barbecue," he said.
He also used his trips back to Texas to stock his restaurant. Battles would bring Blue Bell Ice Cream, Lone Star Beer and mesquite wood back to his restaurant in Missouri.
"Immediately we became jammed packed with people wanting Texas barbecue," he said. "But we wanted to get back to Texas."
Battles moved to Houston with his wife, Sue. He opened Pit Master in The Woodlands in 2003 on Sawdust Road. Last year, he opened a second location on the other side of I-45 down Rayford Road.
"I built that one to take the pressure off this one," he said of the new location.
There are slight differences in the two, mostly in their menu items. Battles said the Rayford Road location serves jambalaya and ranch style beans. Their macaroni and cheese was so popular, he opted to serve in the original location, as well.
"That was our biggest request from families," Battles said.
His own family has had as much influence on Pit Master's success as his barbecue. Battles learned many of his recipes from his father, who was a pit master in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
"I more or less cook what I like and my wife, my daughter, my sons, whatever they like I make," Battles said. "I just grew up on the pits."
Each member of the Battles family works at one of the two locations, making Pit Master a true family enterprise.
Battles' eldest son, Todd, operates the Rayford Road location. Youngest son, Tyler, along with daughter, Sissy, work at the Sawdust Road restaurant. Sue and Battles oversee the operations for both locations.
As popular as his restaurants have become, the catering side of the operation has proven to be just as successful.
"We feed almost as many people outside of here as we do in here," Battles said.
Pit Master caters an average of five events per day, including events for some of The Woodlands' highest profile companies such as CB&I, Anadarko and Tetra Technologies.
"And weddings," Battles said. "We do a lot of weddings."
Pit Master BBQ Cafe, 343 Sawdust Road, The Woodlands, 281-419-3644, www.pitmasterbbq.net
Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–9 p.m.