Seoul Eats | Texas BBQ at Manimal Smoke House

seoul // manimal texas style barbecue bbq

A Texas BBQ restaurant in Korea? I have to be honest, given the failure of basic “international” foods like pizza and nachos in Korea, we were not convinced a restaurant like Manimal could produce authentic tasting barbecue. We weren’t convinced any place in all of Korea could make good Texas-style barbecue in general. It’s hard enough finding Texas BBQ outside of Texas, let alone in Seoul.  Let’s not forget that not only are we food snobs, but we are food snobs from Texas. We like our barbecue a certain way – dry rubbed, smoked, and served with a bottle of peppery, tomato-based (not sugary molasses N.Carolina), sauce.

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you can’t quite tell but this is the smoker

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When one of Sly’s work buddies invited us to dinner at Manimal, we gave him such a hard time. Even after we agreed to go, there were threats made along the lines of, “This better be good or else we’re never trusting you again,” and “If this sucks, we’re no longer friends.” Poor Work Buddy. He was only trying to help.

I was on the fence about going to dinner because even though this place was highly rated, I couldn’t quite trust those ratings. Even the fact that Manimal imported an oak-burning (no hickory or mesquite?) smoker from Texas did not necessarily convince me. Sometimes, people who have never had good bbq – REAL bbq (and by “real” I mean TEXAS-style, duh) – will rave about a place just because there’s a lot of meat on the table. The point is, even Americans don’t know good barbecue.

Before agreeing to dinner plans, I made sure to scrutinize the menu on the Manimal website. Were their ribs drenched in thick molasses sauce? Did they have brisket? Did the brisket have a char? How did they cook the meat? Were there non-Korean sides? Did they serve ranch dressing with their fries? Obviously, all very important things to concern oneself with given the state of the world.

I’ll cut to the chase – we were pleasantly surprised.

As for the technicalities of it being “Texas BBQ,” there was still some room for improvement, though to be fair, Manimal never claimed to only serve Texas bbq. Yes, it has the TX smoker, but it also served three different types of bbq sauce on the side (which is the correct approach), one of which was the appropriate, Texas, sauce and the others which had no place on the table next to all that glorious meat. A few slices of sliced white bread and plain (not sweet) pickles, as well as the option of extra-moist brisket, Dr. Pepper, and banana cream pie would have taken our meal to the next level. On the other hand, I rarely ever order barbecue chicken at a barbecue joint, but I found it to be surprisingly tasty at Manimal, maybe even over all the other meats.

Overall, it was quite the tasty meal. The bbq was really good. Our friend can remain our friend.  Lucky him.


Manimal Smoke House | CUISINE: American BBQ | NEIGHBORHOOD: Itaewon | COST: Moderately Expensive | DESCRIPTION: There are two popular bbq places in Itaewon: Manimal Smoke House, and Linus’ Bama Style BBQ.  I’ve never been to Linus’ BBQ, but the fact that it claims to be “Bama Style” is enough to make me never want to visit on my own. Texans don’t let other Texans eat bad bbq. The selling point, and perhaps gimmick, of Manimal is that they imported a smoker all the way from Texas (the smoking aspect is not the gimmick, I just question if the smoker needed to travel all the way from TX when many a Texas bbq has been cooked in an inexpensive, tricked out oil drum) and somehow managed to cram it into a tiny Korean restaurant space.  Smoked barbecued meats served with several types of sauces. You can order platters that include your choice of chicken, brisket, pulled pork, and ribs, as well as a choice of Southern style sides like jalapeno mac and cheese. Check the board for daily specials. On the night we visited, they ran out of one of the sausages and subbed in the special of the day, homemade pastrami. We ordered the “Pit Master Platter,” which I don’t see listed on their online menu, but you can see the menu listing in the photo above. For four very hungry people (three guys, and one pig/me), it was a pretty good value considering how much food we got. We were all super stuffed and had to force feed ourselves the last bits. The dining room is rather small and is usually full. Even on a weeknight, you can most likely expect to wait, especially if your group is larger than four people. | VERDICT: When it comes to eating American/Southern food in a foreign country, the big question is always, “Would you eat at this restaurant if it were in your home country/state?” If this restaurant existed in Texas and was maybe a neighborhood spot convenient to where I worked or lived, I would eat there, but otherwise, there are just too many 10/10 mind blowing bbq places to eat at in Texas. Texans are obsessed with bbq in the same way that Japanese are obsessed with ramen – it’s all about the craft. Would I eat at this restaurant if I found it in a state in the US outside of Texas? Most likely. Would I eat at Manimal again the next time we’re in Seoul? Absolutely. Admittedly, I have very specific regional expectations when it comes to eating bbq (see above mention about being a food snob). For people who just want to delicious plate of smoked meats then Manimal is a solid Southern bbq place that I would definitely recommend.

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  • Kevin
    March 24, 2017 at 7:47 pm

    It took me a second to figure out whether that was the outside or the inside of the smoker.

    Banana cream pie…is that the standard go-with dessert?

    Keeping Good Thoughts…

  • veronika
    March 24, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    The smoker was inside a glassed in room that you could view from within the resto.

    Banana creme pie is a staple least what I always choose. Any Southern pie or cake works too. At Manimal, they had banana creme pie ice cream, but I forgot about trying it bc I ate too much. 😐

  • Christine
    April 12, 2017 at 4:13 am

    I have almost given up hope on finding any “real” bbq outside of TX, I have been disappointed way too many times. These pictures actually make the food look quite promising though, much more promising than the “Salt Lick” Taiwan lol! Although at first glance, I thought the brisket in these photos looked very weird, just wrong in fact. I had to do a double-take and re-read your details and only after closer inspection I realized that it was the pastrami I was looking at and the brisket was in the back. The brisket smoke ring does not pass inspection… and where are the raw onions. No banana cream pie??? La BBQ from Austin is teasing that it’s going to open a location in Los Angeles. I’m both excited and sad already because I’m not going to want to drive across town only to wait in a long ass line with a bunch of hipsters. I think I’ve resigned to just flying back to TX a few times a year to get my BBQ fix!

  • veronika
    April 12, 2017 at 6:53 am

    Hahahaha “Salt Lick Taiwan!” That place still cracks me up. I was so excited when I heard/read about it, and then so let down when, after you and I conducted our thorough online investigation , we discovered the owners were from some town not known for bbq. And the bbq looked saucey AF. Hells naw. You can never trust a bbq joint outside of TX (and esp abroad) bc the people reviewing the places aren’t from TX! They are either desperate for anything resembling American food or they don’t know any better. I feel like reviewers of bbq should get a little TX flag icon beside their review so we can be sure it’s legit.

    I totally expected Manimal to be like SLT, but it was as close to TX bbq that I’ve eaten outside of TX so, doable. Definitely needed white bread,pickles, & raw onions (which I’m actually surprised they didn’t have considering Koreans eat pickles on the side with pasta). They had banana cream pie ice cream, so getting warmer, but not quiiiiite there. Could have also used some standard TX beers. The owner said it cost a lot to import American beers but still – they had Fat Tire but not Shiner or RR?

    You could always fly in your bbq tho it’s still not the same. Why is finding a good bbq place so hard? Especially in LA??? And yeah, I wouldn’t do a line either. Maybe you can sneak off on a work day?

  • Christine
    April 13, 2017 at 6:19 am

    LOL yes, I would much rather fly it in before I go sit in traffic for 2 hours only to stand in line for another hour. I know my BBQ standards are way lower after living here! I usually go in with the expectation that I’m going to be disappointed and a few times have been pleasantly surprised, not that it’s the same level of quality AT ALL, but the usual reaction is “oh wow, it’s not bad!” We’ve actually discovered that the Whole Foods near our house has some of the better brisket coming out of their deli on Sundays when they pull it out of their smoker. It’s again, not the same, but actually way better than most of the BBQ restaurants we’ve tried (and cheaper) and they even sell Salt Lick bbq sauce at the store, paired with ribs and sausage we cook at home, it works okay to satisfy the craving.

  • veronika
    April 13, 2017 at 7:29 am

    Oh yes, Whole Foods smoked meats is pretty decent. Not the same…buuttt… These days if the bbq has a smoke, isn’t dried out, and isn’t covered with sauce, then it’s usually “Oh, not bad.” Now to find decent Tex-Mex… There’s actually ONE Texmex place in Seoul that’s decent -salsa is fresh, isnt sweet, and has heat; fresh tortillas, queso…buuuutt the chips are a bit lacking and some of the flavors aren’t *quite* there. Decent but not up to par with even a Taco Cabana. A different Texmex place opened up near us and all the foreigners were going nuts. I looked at the menu and was skeptical. Most people don’t get the diff between Tex-Mex, Baja style, and plain ol Americanized Mexican food. I think this place falls into the latter, but maybe I’ll be curious enough to try it.

    For some reason this convo is making me remember how we used to make our own “McRibs.” Remember that? I’m not sure I could eat a real McRib anymore, but the ones we made were decent. Also, remember the nights of frozen White Castle? Hahaha we were/are pigs!