Lots of newcomers to Texas lately, and so I thought I’d sit y’all down and have a serious talk about one of the hottest topics in town: barbecue (aka BBQ aka ‘Q). It’s a timeless source of both happy conversation and heated contention. Now, I’m no expert at making it, and my palate isn’t even that refined when it comes to eating it. But I’ve learned that it’s important to get some facts straight when:
- Someone invites you over for BBQ and you’re about to buy hot dog or hamburger buns for the occasion
- You’re in mixed company and you ask for ketchup when you’re about to take your first bite
- You’re in the middle of an argument about the best BBQ in town
- You’ve moved to Texas (or you’re visiting) and there are rules. RULES, I tell you.
Grilling is NOT the same as barbecue
Yes, both involve meat and maybe a flame but the end result is completely different. If someone in Texas invites you over for GRILLIN’ expect burgers, hot dogs, chicken, veggies and the like on the outdoor gas or charcoal grill cooked for just a few minutes. Think summer backyard party and criss-cross grill lines. I was born in the northeast so I had to learn this the hard way.
Now, if you’re invited over to eat BBQ, these are your real friends. You should expect a slow-cooked, rich meat, such as beef brisket or pork ribs. There’s often (but not always) a tangy/sweet sauce on the side and the meat was probably marinated or rubbed, or even injected. Expect delectable, usually fork-tender meats, heavy with flavor and a smoky infusion. You will never need ketchup, I promise.
Lockhart Smokehouse in Bishop Arts Dallas: BBQ
Straight-up grilled meat: not BBQ
No one forgets their first time…
For some, trying your first plate of ‘Q is a rite of passage, and your new Texas friends and family may bring you into the fold with celebration and song. Or at least get in line with you at the longstanding (and often long-awaited) Pecan Lodge in Deep Ellum.
Everyone has their way of how to make it and whose to choose. EVERYONE HAS THEIR FAVORITE. It’s probably not worth losing friends or getting in a fist-fight over. (Probably.) I also know that we have BBQ restaurant chains too—even though some die-hards talk about the indies like they’re gods, these chains are STILL IN BUSINESS and ticking along just fine down here. (Dickies, Spring Creek, Sonny’s, Soulman’s, etc.)
Just know that in Texas we take our BBQ seriously. How seriously? Well in Austin, a family feud broke out because a brother ate his sister’s BBQ ribs. That sounds mild on the surface but stabbings were reported and 911 was called. So lesson to learn here: Don’t mess with a woman’s plate of bbq.
When it’s time to go get you some BBQ
So maybe you’re from California or New York, or a place where BBQ has its own foothold, like the Carolinas or Memphis, and you’ve decided to partake in Texas style ‘Q—the REAL kind! (Haha, gotcha! Come on, fight me!)
You may show up to a popular BBQ establishment anywhere in Dallas, Fort Worth, Plano, Denton, Carrollton, etc. expecting a hearty lunch. But bad things CAN happen to good people:
- They may already have run out of your favorite meats.
- You may have stood in line for an hour and by the time you get to order they have run out of everything.
- All of the above. When they say they run out, they done. ran. out.
- You’ll go back the next day and get there half an hour before they open, ya newbie.
But for this scenario, let’s say you got lucky and you’ve placed your order. Are you a foodie, or possibly a FOOD SNOB? Well, get ready. You may be served your huge, award-winning, $25 bbq lunch on:
- A cafeteria tray
- Paper plates with all the sides in paper “boats”
- Wax paper in those red baskets
- A sheet of butcher paper, laid out directly in front of you on the table
- And handed to you out of a food truck window
Not only are all of these serving methods acceptable, they are tradition. Forks are optional, so it’s win-win.
Let’s talk about sides, bay-bee…
Potato salad. I remember one of the first times I was going through a line for some catered ‘q and I thought someone had surely ruined a perfectly good batch of potato salad by putting it through a blender. Some places have what seems like mashed potatoes with onions and pickles, served cold. They don’t all do this, but every potato salad recipe is as distinctive to the pitmaster as the meat.
Beans. This is important. I remember being shocked when I had a bite of beans and they were not baked beans in the way you think of Bush’s (distinctly sweet with brown sugar). Nope. Ranch beans in a thin, savory sauce. Some are spicier than others, some are super saucy. But I haven’t yet had sweet beans with my bbq. And with those beans comes…
The bread. I personally LOVE the rolls at Spring Creek (It’s a chain and there’s one close to my house. I know, I’m not making many friends today.) They’re yeasty and chewy. But many of the places serve plain ol’ sliced white bread. The history there is that it was cheap and easy to get and it sops up the BBQ goodness just fine, thank you very much.
Pickles, peppers and onions. I don’t know why some people love these with their BBQ; they might as well eat a salad if they’re going to have all those vegetables. Who has room for this craziness.
Dessert is a very strict trio of options: Peach cobbler, banana pudding, or chocolate cream pie. Yes, these options could rotate in and out, like a coconut pie or maybe pecan, and maybe it’s apple cobbler one day. Just know you won’t go in there and get cheesecake or anything. Deep-south desserts only.
There’s other stuff, too. Some restaurants offer cups of different sauces or spices for dipping. There’s often mac & cheese, yams, okra, cole slaw or green beans. You can get decent BBQ pulled pork on a baked potato or a bun. Heim’s Bacon Burnt Ends are locally famous. Think of them as meat candy.
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After your gut-buster meal, just accept that you’ll smell like a smoke pit all day. The term “meat sweats” will apply to you. You’ll probably get sauce in your hair or on your shirt. This garners compliments from co-workers and friends. The aroma may also attract knowing nods from passers-by who have enjoyed their own bbq lunch. You may get jealous side-eye from strangers who are on a diet. (Losers.) You may be surprised with smiles from those who suddenly find you attractive. You never know how the day will go. Every BBQ experience is an adventure.
Welcome to Texas! If you already live here, bus your own table. You know how this works.
A few more things to remember
Sometimes it’s a rub, and sometimes it’s a sauce. It’s still BBQ either way. There are a thousand ways to get a good ‘q going, and just as many places that have perfected the skill to suit different tastes. WE CAN ALL GET ALONG. ahem.
The Texas original was all beef, but now pork is definitely on the scene. You’ll see turkey, chicken, sausage, goat. If baby got back, you’ll see it come out of the smoker, I’m sure.
You can usually see the “smoke ring” on good sliced, smoked brisket. The wider that pink ring, the longer it’s been smoked over those lovely seasoned hardwoods.
Brief history of Texas BBQ
The history of Texas barbecue goes way, way back. Here’s a quick peek into Texas barbecue’s convergence (thanks for the fun facts, Southern Foodways Alliance):
– The Caddo Indians cooked venison and other game over wood fires in Texas ten thousand years ago.
– Spanish shepherds, who spit-roasted kid goat and lamb al pastor (shepherd style) on the South Texas plains, starting in the 1600s.
– Mexican barbacoa, meat sealed in maguey leaves and buried in hot coals, has been seen along the Rio Grande Valley for a couple hundred years.
– Black slaves recount cooking barbecue to celebrate the harvest on Texas cotton plantations before the Civil War, and for Juneteenth.
What’s your ‘Q I.Q.?
Texas is so big, and the history so diverse, that even WE can’t “pick” just one BBQ style. Here are a few ways that these Texas styles differ, though I’m sure a longtimer Pit Boss would like to have a word with me. (With help from Wikipedia)
– West Texas Style BBQ barbecue is often referred to as “Cowboy BBQ” because it was cooked over a mesquite wood fire in the days of cattle drives and open ranges. Make sure that you know what you are eating when you go West Texan style because they like to throw in a bit of goat here and there.
– Central Texas Style BBQ veers away from the wet. If you are worried about flavor, don’t be—it is what we call a dry rub. This means that the meat is rubbed with spices and then smoked at a long, low heat. If you find yourself eating some of this dry rubbed bbq and miss the wet sauce, just ask for it. It is generally just served on the side. This sauce, when offered at all, leans toward unsweetened and thin, unlike sugary, thick sauces of Memphis BBQ, for example.
– East Texas Style BBQ focuses on meat that’s marinated in a sweet, tomato-based sauce, then chopped up and forked into a sandwich. East Texans don’t tend to favor one meat over the other. If you sit down at a barbecue joint in East Texas expect to see beef and pork treated equally. Sides branch out too: corn on the cob, mac n cheese, and fried okra, tend to make an appearance.
– Barbacoa/South Texas Style BBQ is defined by the cooking style of the cow’s head: cheek, tongue, eyes were all wrapped in burlap or maguey leaves and buried in underground pits to cook low and slow. The tender, silky meat was pulled off for tacos. Only one restaurant in Texas currently still cooks their own, as processing has changed, so barbacoa that’s now served in most restaurants is shipped in from regulated facilities. (From Houston Chronicle)
THE METROPLEX LIST OF GOOD BBQ
In no particular order, our list of ay-mazing ‘Q options around North Texas. (We linked Pecan Lodge and Lockhart above, so don’t freak out, fans.) No doubt I still missed your favorite, so feel free to give me hell in the comments below. I know I can count on you.
Intrinsic Smokehouse & Brewery
Both a BBQ pit and a craft brewery, this Garland mainstay has interesting twists on the traditional: flatbreads, wings, nachos and sides that include fried okra and corn fritters. And beer too. That’s a solid lineup.
Location: 509 West State Street, Garland (972) 272-2400
Baby Back Shak
The Baby Back Shak provides much more than just ribs. Whether it is boudin, smoked drumsticks or bologna, and Cornish hen, this is a dependable bbq lunch.
Location:1800 S Akard St, Dallas (214) 428-7427
— Baby Back Shak (@BabyBackShak) August 9, 2017
The website says the owners call this a hobby, not a business. Only open two days a week plus one Saturday a month, and no catering! Harsh! Yet it’s a top pick for Texas Monthly, Dallas Observer AND Thrillist. Wow, I guess we’ll get in line!
Location: 13628 Gamma Rd, Dallas (972) 805-0999
A Fort Worth favorite, Angelo’s is a smokehouse to get brisket cooked to perfection. It won’t disappoint, which is why it is always full of BBQ lovers!
Location: 2533 White Settlement Rd, Fort Worth, TX 76107 (817) 332-0357
Heim Barbecue & Catering
This husband and wife team has been attracting those BBQ lovers that crave crispy bacon burnt ends, brisket, and more. They started out as a food truck that was selling out at 11 am every day.
Location: 1109 W Magnolia Ave, Fort Worth (817) 882-6970
Cousin’s BBQ has been cooking it up in Fort Worth since 1983, but there are five other Cousin’s locations in the metroplex.
Location: 6262 McCart Ave, Fort Worth (817) 346-2512
Rudy’s Country Store and BBQ
This BBQ restaurant ensures every customer is getting a well-crafted meal. Around since 1989, they use oak wood and a dry spice rub. (They do sell their special “sause” though.) Locations include Frisco, Allen and Arlington also.
Location: 520 Interstate 35 Frontage Rd, Denton (940) 484-7839
This is one of the most consistent BBQ restaurants in the North Dallas area. Whether you are into pull-apart pork or smoked meats, Hutchins will get you in for the real treat.
Location: 9225 Preston Rd, Frisco (also one in McKinney) (972) 377-2046
— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) February 14, 2018
Red Barn BBQ
Whether you are having a lazy day or you want to spend quality time with your family, Red Barn is the place to go, as they will provide you with a pretty great bbq option for the mid-cities. Look for all-you-can-eat catfish on Friday nights.
Location: 4913 Colleyville Blvd, Colleyville (817) 788-4553
Rosako’s Soul Food and BBQ
When great food comes with great deals, it becomes almost irresistible. Moreover, this BBQ restaurant makes sure that every customer goes home with a smile. The Thanksgiving 365 sandwich with the “bread” made of stuffing in a waffle iron is a must-try.
Location: 2816 Brown Trl, Bedford
Phone Number: 817-785-3393
Hard Eight BBQ
From perfectly smoked meats to friendly staff and live music, Hard Eight makes sure every customer stays hooked! Four other locations serving.
Location: 688 Freeport Pkwy, Coppell
Juicy Pig in Denton
Just the sound of the name is mouthwatering. Their meat menu keeps it simple, but JP offers borracho beans, gumbo, slaw and pickled deviled eggs too.
Location: 708 N Locust St, Denton
Okay, that’s our list. So what food truck, restaurant or out-of-the-trunk BBQ is on yours?
For further BBQ reading enjoyment at FunCity Stuff:
Big D BBQ Battle – event info for 2018 coming soon.
Smoked Dallas BBQ Event – coverage from 2016’s event.