Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Posse favorites: Chopped beef sandwich at Meshacks's BBQ

The secret is now out about the little BBQ joint on Avenue B in old downtown Garland. Meshack's Bar-B-Que Shack has gone from obscurity to stardom over the past year.

Their chopped brisket sandwich, on the menu at a cool $2.75, may very well be the best BBQ bargain in the DFW area. You can also buy a pound of chopped beef for $7.00.

Travis and Donna Mayes opened Meshack's in May 2009. They had been in the business 15 years earlier and wanted to make another run at BBQ greatness. Donna said they prayed about it and decided to give the new business three months to gain momentum. Full Custom Gospel BBQ blogger Daniel Vaughn came along in August with his first review and the rest is history, as they say.

In July 2010, D Magazine awarded Meshack's with the "Best Barbecue" award in their Best of Big D 2010: Food & Drink rankings. Donna says their lives have been a whirlwind since then. Business has tripled and people are coming from near and far to order at the small take-out window.

On the breaking news front, Travis and Donna are expanding to a second location in east Dallas. More details to come, but they promise the same great food and low prices. The new joint will have ample parking and seating, but no need to be alarmed. They will keep the original location running as well, for all you BBQ purists who have come to appreciate to skills of one of the top pitmasters in Texas!

Meshack's Bar-B-Que Shack, 240 E. Ave. B, Garland, TX, (214) 227-4748. Open Tues 10:30 am-5 pm, Wed-Sat 10:30am-7pm.

(Photos by Chris Wilkins)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Visiting friends in East Texas- Pat Gee's & Hickory Hill BBQ

We took a slight detour Saturday afternoon on the ride back to Dallas from Jefferson, exiting from I-20 on to Hwy. 31 west at Kilgore. The plan was to check in on a couple of friends on the east Texas BBQ trail, one old and one new.

Our first stop was Hickory Hill BBQ, a fun little joint east of Kilgore on Hwy. 31. We got to know the husband and wife team of Kerry and Kelly Shaw during our East Texas BBQ Tour last February.

Kelly greeted my wife Michele and I with her 100-watt smile, which can light up a room. She caught us up on the past six months at Hickory Hill as we ordered some chopped brisket and hot links. On the Sunday our tour story ran in The Dallas Morning News, people were lined up at the door with the newspaper under their arm, ready to sample the brisket, ribs and sausage at Hickory Hill. Business has been booming in the past six months and Kelly and Kerry recently completed their first year in business.

The second stop of the day was Pat Gee's Barbecue, a joint east of Tyler that I've been visiting since my high school days in the late 1970s. In those days legendary east Texas pitmaster Pat Gee ran the smokers. He passed away in 1999 and his sons have kept the tradition of Pat Gee's alive. On our visit, Arthur Gee was manning the chopping block and brother Billy Walker was on sauce and counter duty. Arthur said they are still getting traffic from our tour story and blogs, including a group last weekend from Dallas that was following our February trip.

When you're on the road, there's nothing better than dropping in on friends to say hello and sample some great smoked meats......

Hickory Hill BBQ, 20101 Highway 31, (903) 566-7923, Tyler. Open Fri-Sun 11am until the meat runs out

Pat Gee's Barbecue, 17547 Jamestown Rd., (903) 534-0265, Tyler, TX. Open Fri-Sun 11am-until the meat runs out.
(Photos by Chris Wilkins)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Born to be a great pitmaster? Mark Cooper, 6, of Dallas makes the case.....

Can genetics contribute to the making of a great pitmaster? It worked for Tiger Woods, who began golfing as soon as he started to walk. As we know, the rest is history.

Mark's dad is Marshall Cooper, the lead cook of the Texas BBQ Posse, who has over 25 years of smoker experience under his belt. Marshall led the posse to first and second place finishes at last weekend's Blues, Bandits & BBQ cookoff in Oak Cliff. Similar to Tiger, Mark has been observing his dad at the smoker since he could walk. Marshall reports he ate his first baby back rib in his high chair at 18 months!

If Mark was a quarterback, the college scouts would already be circling the Cooper home in north Dallas. This kid loves BBQ. He loves to prep it, loves to cook it and loves to eat it. And he knows exactly what he's doing.......

During the BBB cookoff, Mark proved his mettle doing everything from unloading wood to cutting sausage, and all things in between. After all that, we named him as the first official junior Texas BBQ Posse member.

He may just be one of the great ones down the road......

(Photos by R.J. Hinkle, top, and Chris WIlkins)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Amazing photos from the Blues, Bandits & BBQ cookoff

Here's a great set of photos from the Blues, Bandits & BBQ cookoff by Texas BBQ Posse member R.J. Hinkle. R.J. joined us on Sunday to document the madness that invaded the OC last weekend. He's the manager of Quad/Photo—Dallas and one of the premier visual storytellers working the Texas BQQ trail. Enjoy......!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Barbecue Chronicles: Blues, Bandits & BBQ festival, the Posse's first cookoff

As the Texas BBQ Posse, a small group of us from the The Dallas Morning News, and friends, have traveled much of the state in search of the best smoked meats we can find.

Then we tell readers what we think of the joints we visit.

Anyone can talk a good game, some readers have gently reminded us since we began our Barbecue Chronicles in late 2009.

So we decided to see if we could also walk the barbecue walk. Last September, we entered our first competition, the Blues, Bandits & BBQ festival in Oak Cliff.

It was an exhausting, but totally fun time as we camped near the corner of Davis and Clinton for two hot, sweaty days and one largely sleepless night.

During the day, two popup canopies protected us from the brutal sun, but our close proximity to our two smokers, which we steadily stoked for nearly 30 hours, magnified the mid-90s temperatures and our sweat.

Thankfully, as Sheilagh Cooper observed afterwards, “hickory smoke masks any and all other odors.”  Sheilagh is married to Marshall Cooper, our head pitmaster.

“Not one of you stunk! At least not from the distance I tried to keep,” added Martha Gooding, wife of Posse member Bryan Gooding.

Over the two days, we cooked 250 pounds of brisket, ribs, chicken and sausage for friends, family, judges and festival goers, who numbered at least 2,000, by our estimate, and probably more.

Most of what we cooked was regular meat, with plenty of fat, from grain fed animals. “Raised on Cheetos and day-time TV,” cracked Bryan Gooding.

For the judges, however, we had to cook organic meat, much of it grass fed. It was provided by Urban Acres, a store located across Davis Street from the festival site.

Generally, organic meat is very lean and can have a gamey taste. One of the racks of ribs we were issued looked, with only a little imagination, like strips of bacon connected by bones.

We had done several test runs before the competition with different kinds of organics. We knew we would have to cook the brisket and ribs much longer than normal to achieve tenderness, and that we would have to spice up the rubs to boost taste.

Cooper added extra kosher salt, black pepper, granulated garlic and cayenne to the brisket rub. Gooding brined the chicken in a mixture of water, vinegar, salt and sugar.

We used a spicy hot rub on the ribs and, in a departure from our normal practice, wrapped then in foil halfway through their six hours in the smoker. During one test run, we didn’t wrap the ribs. Mistake. They were dry and tasted awful. We threw them away.

Internal meat temperatures are also critical. The chicken had to hit 160 degrees. The brisket, which weighed 16.5 pounds and was wrapped in foil after about five hours of heavy smoke, had to reach 205 degrees. After nearly 20 hours, it hit 203. We pulled it from the smoker and put it in a warmer, where it rested another 5 hours.

During down time, we talked to, and learned from, competitors on many of the other 21 teams, both pros and backyard barbecue kings, like ourselves. It was especially fun talking to some of the professional cooks, like Justin Fourton from the Pecan Lodge at the Dallas Farmers’ Market, who won for ribs, and Rick Fairchild at Lagarto Catering in Highland Park, who won for sausage and was Grand Champ.

Big Rick described how he cooks brisket for ranch hands during round-up. He digs a pit and puts in a bed of hot coals. On top of that he puts a layer of rocks and then the meat, wrapped in foil.

“We used to wrap it in burlap,” he said.

Then comes another layer of rocks and more coals. He covers everything with dirt.

We also learned a valuable tip from Oak Cliff’s Heavy Metal Cookin’ Team, which won for brisket. They were directly across the street from us and their hammock sure looked inviting at 3 a.m. It would be a good addition to many backyard setups, too.

The judges, generally, didn’t care for much of the organic barbecue they scored. In comparison to regular meat, it fell short on all counts: taste, tenderness and look. They thought the chicken and sausage entries were better, on the whole, than the brisket and ribs.

We would agree. Many of us thought Bryan’s chicken was the best we had ever eaten, organic or otherwise.

In the end, we placed first in chicken and second in brisket. Not bad for a maiden voyage. And it was fun. That's why we’re planning to do a few more cookoffs this year.

Story by Gary Jacobson
Photos by R.J. Hinkle & Chris Wilkins

Monday, September 13, 2010

Texas BBQ Posse! "Converting the vegetarian, one diner at a time!"

One of the Posse's proudest accomplishments this weekend was converting not ONE, but TWO vegetarians at the Blues, Bandits & BBQ cook off in Oak Cliff. After a taste of Bryan Gooding's award-winning chicken, they could not help but join the ranks of carnivores again.

The photo below, shot by competition organizer Rob Shearer, shows the decisive moment as our first convert, in the center wearing a dark red jacket, bites into sample of Bryan's chicken at the Posse's Saturday night dinner party on Clinton Avenue. On Sunday, a second meat-free person rejoined the ranks of meat lovers after sampling Bryan's tasty pollo.

Posse member R.J. Hinkle then coined our new motto: Texas BBQ Posse! "Converting the vegetarian, one diner at a time!"

Posse founding member Gary Barber's girlfriend is a vegan and offered this observation, "Anne said they were posers if we were able to convert them so easy." Gary says, "I do like the slogan though."

Photos by Chris Wilkins, top, & Rob Shearer

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Victory in the OC: The Posse wins for chicken and brisket

What an incredible two days camped out at the corner of Clinton Ave. & Seventh St. in Oak Cliff! The Blues, Bandits & BBQ cook off was our first competition and the Posse rose to the occasion.

Posse cook team member Bryan "Chicken a la KIng" Gooding, below, won first place for his chicken. He had perfected a rub and cooking technique for organic chicken and executed his plan to perfection on Sunday.

Our lead cook Marshall Cooper also nailed second place with a 15-pound monster organic brisket, smoking it for a full 24 hours at 220 degrees. After five test cooks, Marshall had determined the organics need far more cook time than a conventional brisket, due to the decrease in fat, which makes a brisket tender as it smokes.

Huge congrats to our team of Marshall, Bryan, Gary Jacobson, Gary Barber and myself. We also named Marshall's son Mark as an official junior posse member, he was a huge help for the weekend. Also thanks to our support crew of Sheilagh, Libby and Mike.

Lastly, a huge shout out to Rob Shearer and his crew, who made Blues, Bandits & BBQ happen. It was great to make so many new friends, all of whom share a common love of great BBQ.....

(Photos by R.J. Hinkle, top, & Chris Wilkins)

Blues, Bandits & BBQ cook off: The end is near

Well, the judging is done and the smokers are cooling down at the Blues, Bandits & BBQ cook off. Who will finish in the money? Stay tuned.......

Also, a bonus photo of the Sunset High School Bisonettes dancing to Boot Scootin' Boogie, they might have been the highlight of the entire weekend!

(Photos Chris Wilkins)

The party has begun: Hangin' at the Blues, Bandits & BBQ cook off

Amazing scene in the OC, there must be 5,000 people here for the Blues, Bandits & BBQ cook off! Pure greatness, a festival honoring the best smoked meats in Dallas.....

(Photos by Chris Wilkins)

3:30am at the Blues, Bandits & BBQ cook off, only the strong survive.

Can't believe I'm still standing. It's 3:30am and it's finally cooled down, after a pretty strong little thunderstorm over the OC at the Blues, Bandits & BBQ cook off.

Below is a photo I shot at sunset, right before the rain moved in. What an awesome night, looking forward to a glorious Sunday amongst the smoke & BBQ pits.

(Photos by Chris WIlkins)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Amazing dinner at the Blues, Bandits & BBQ cook off

An awesome spread of food was laid out by the Posse at our spot outside the Kessler Theater in the OC tonight. We invited the public to join in.

Posse member Bryan Gooding dished up his famous smoked chicken tacos and Marshall Cooper laid out smoked spareribs, joined by sides and a cold fruit salad, which really hit the spot after being in the heat, humidity and smoke all day.

Bryan's chicken was so excellent that he even converted a vegetarian to come back to meat, shown in the bottom photo! Truly amazing, believe me folks, we can convert them one by one!

(Photos by Chris Wilkins)

Video: Checking in with the Posse at the Blues, Bandits & BBQ competition

We check in on the Texas BBQ Posse to see how it's going on Saturday afternoon at the Blues, Bandits & BBQ competition. So far, so good says lead pitmaster Marshall Cooper.....

The Posse is blogging live from the Blues, Bandits & BBQ competition

The meat is on the smoker and the trash talking has begun at the the Blues, Bandits & BBQ competition! We have well over 200 pounds of meat to smoke, so come on by & see us, just look for the Posse Texas flag banner.

Click here for a link to our live blogging on our Texas BBQ Posse Facebook page. Party on my friends......

(Photos by Chris Wilkins)

Video: Blues, Bandits & BBQ competition favorite is revealed

Blues, Bandits & BBQ competition coordinator Rob Shearer names the favorite for the competition. Hint: He's cooking on a Green Egg.......

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Posse heading to Oak Cliff for the Blues, Bandits and BBQ Competition

Come by and say hi to the Texas BBQ Posse cook team on Saturday and Sunday at the first annual Blues, Bandits and BBQ Sustainable BBQ Competition in Oak Cliff. Sustainable means organic, or grass fed, meaning you don't have near as much fat to help flavor and smoke your brisket or ribs. This should be interesting!

Lead cook Marshall Cooper and others on the competition team have had several test cooks trying to perfect our organic meat smoking technique for our first BBQ cook off. Come on by the OC and look for the posse banner flying proudly. This is going to be a heck of a party. We might even have a taste of brisket for you......

(Photos by Chris Wilkins)

Friday, September 3, 2010

The RibShack, a little old place, where we can get together

The last stop on our recent Brazos & Beyond BBQ Tour was RibShack BBQ in Granbury. We had gotten several emails from readers urging us to visit the joint following several of our tour stories in The Dallas Morning News.

Posse member Marshal Cooper observed, "The RibShack appeared to be a great BBQ haven from the outside, especially seeing a huge pit outside the front door."

The food we sampled was as good as the hospitality, We were greeted like old friends by Barbara Watts, who's a dead ringer for Sarah Palin when she puts her glasses on.

We visited with owner Bob Wherry, who took advantage of hungry Barnett Shale drilling crews when launching his business three years ago. It's a classic looking BBQ joint, made of corrugated metal with a major party area and stage out back.

The ribs and brisket were cooked very well but needed more smoke, according to several members of the posse. However, we loved the Shack Attack sandwich, made of brisket and sausage.

As Barbara promised, the desserts were amazing, a great ending to a great day. The banana pudding, pecan cobbler and blackberry cobbler, topped by Blue Bell vanilla ice cream, gave us the sugar buzz needed for the ride home to Dallas.

A B-52s song was stuck in my head before we ever pulled in the gravel parking lot east of Granbury.

"The Rib Shack is a little old place, where we can get together."

5:00 p.m.: RibShack BBQ, 4021 Acton Hwy, Granbury, (817) 326-4752. Open Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

(Photos by R.J. Hinkle)