On the side of a busy stretch of 281, Ronnie’s is easy to spot. If the big sign out front isn’t enough, just look for the smoke billowing up from the right side of the restaurant. Here, Ronnie Weiershausen burns his logs down to coals—the “old fashioned” way—as opposed to using an off-set smoker or rotisserie. He uses direct-heat cooking, a Hill Country method that’s become more rare. Probably because it’s so very hot in Texas.
We walk into the cafeteria-like dining room, lined with wood-paneled walls and glossy wooden tables. Stacks of styrofoam cups wait next to the soda machine. At the check-out, shelves filled with chips and a tall case of bottled drinks are all that remains of Ronnie’s original market for beer and snacks, which he opened in 1976 with his wife Cindy.
After he added barbecue in 1985, it was immediately obvious there was no turning back. Everything in here is affordable, and when we order the $22 sampler plate, Cindy is aghast. “You must be hungry!” Yes, and we also want to try everything. Ronnie himself cuts our ribs, slices regular and jalapeño sausages, then asks if we want light or dark chicken meat. Dark, of course. Add to that some turkey, pork, and “sliced beef,” two sides, and white bread. It’s a feast for at least four.
Everything is good, but the turkey is the immediate standout. You’d think it might be dry out sitting on direct heat, but it’s super flavorful. It has been sitting next to the ribs, after all, and tastes as if it’s soaked up some of that smoky goodness. The “sliced beef” is cooked for 12-hours; it’s juicy if a bit tough, with layers of fat around the edge. It’s better than brisket, in my opinion.
Sausage has a satisfying snap; both the regular and jalapeño versions are delicious. Sausage is the one thing that isn’t done here: They’re from City Market in Schulenburg, about 120 miles southeast.
The ample ribs are chewy and thick, best with a touch of the sweet-and-tangy barbecue sauce that sits in red squeeze bottles on each table.
Beans are simmered with bacon, salt, butter, and garlic. Corn salad is cool and refreshing. Both are simple and good.
We manage to sneak in a few bites of the Nilla wafer-topped banana pudding with thick slices of banana and a creamy filling. It’s served in a small styrofoam cup with a convenient take-home lid.
The entire time we’re eating, there’s a steady stream of locals coming in for take-out. They know Ronnie and Cindy by name, and catch up on family news. One of the waitresses tells me that Ronnie learned most of his techniques from his father. He’s hoping to pass them down to his son (though that’s not set in stone, yet).
After clearing our own plastic silverware and packing up our very heavy Styrofoam to-go box, we receive a kind goodbye from the group, but Ronnie is nowhere to be found. I spot him outside, where he opens up the grill so I can see the huge slabs of meat inside. He shakes my hand and wishes me safe travels, then turns back to the business of barbecue.