Day Trips: Mike Cotten's BBQ, Calallen

Barbecue dynasty continues with third generation of pitmasters

Photos by Gerald McLeod

Cotten's BBQ is again a culinary force in the Coastal Bend area of the Texas coast. A descendant of the legendary Joe Cotten's Barbecue, formerly of Robstown, Michael Cotten is carrying on the family tradition.

The original Cotten's burned down in 2011 after 43 years on U.S. 77 north of Corpus Christi. The institution began as a beer joint in 1947, and became known statewide for its smoked meats and waiters wearing maroon vests and bow ties. The joint was visited by presidents and celebrities, and made Texas Monthly's list of top 50 Texas barbecue places in 1997.

Joe's sons, Cecil and Kenneth, hoped the family business would be rebuilt at the location, but it never was. For a short period, Kenneth, the former manager of the destroyed establishment, operated an offshoot in San Antonio, but not enough customers recognized the name.

In 2012, Cecil's nephew, Michael, started building his own mesquite-scented barbecue reputation up the road from Robstown in Calallen. A loyal clientele has helped expand the smoke shop from a "to-go only" food trailer, to a dining room, and now a second location in Portland on the north side of Corpus.

Mike Cotten's BBQ's smoking stations are at 15013 Northwest Blvd. in Calallen and 1702 U.S. 181 in Portland across the Harbor Bridge from Corpus Christi. With a nod to his grandfather's traditions, the waiters wear red aprons and bow ties, and the tables are covered in red checkered tablecloths.

1,320th in a series. Collect them all. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips," is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 40312, South Austin, TX 78704.

Follow "Day Trips & Beyond," a weekly travel blog, at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Day Trips
Day Trips: Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, Alto
Day Trips: Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, Alto
Mystery mounds of the Caddo

Gerald E. McLeod, Nov. 27, 2020

Day Trips: Ellis County
Day Trips: Ellis County
Funny faces on the courthouse wall

Gerald E. McLeod, Nov. 20, 2020


Cotten's BBQ, Michael Cotten, Coastal Bend, Calallen Texas

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle