Wednesday, June 15, 2011

We read a label on a Cookshack smoker oven -- this ain't real Texas BBQ, folks

Normally, we don't like piling on. But some opportunities can't be resisted, especially when it involves a topic important to us: real wood-fired barbecue.

A couple months ago, we got a good debate going here about wood vs. gas, and even ran highlights of a Southern Pride recipe for Texas-style brisket that we thought supported our point of view.

Now, our attention turns to commercial pellet machines.

Posse pitmaster Marshall Cooper found the above photo of labels attached to a Fast Eddy's by Cookshack Model FEC100 "smoker oven."

The company says on its Web site that the machine is "100% wood-burning" and touts its success in major barbecue competitions. The machine automatically feeds wood pellets -- "available in a variety of flavors" -- into the burn chamber. Cooks just load the hopper, set the electronic temperature controls and walk away.

But take a close look at those labels, especially the one on the left.

"The Cookshack Smoker is NOT a traditional wood burning smoker," it says. "It is a modern electric oven."

A few sentences later: "DO NOT USE EXCESSIVE WOOD."

In the court of real Texas barbecue, Cookshack should have taken the Fifth.

The Pecan Lodge gets some advice from a pro on its new pulled pork sandwich

We were about to leave the Pecan Lodge during our impromptu Best-of-Dallas barbecue tour Saturday when owner Diane Fourton popped the question.

"Do you guys want to sample the pulled pork?"

We felt a little sheepish. BBQ Snob Daniel Vaughn had raved about the dish when he stopped by our table earlier. But none of us had ordered it. We had been committed to the hard core staples of Texas barbecue. Nothing but brisket, ribs and sausage. (All right, a couple of us also got the fried chicken.)

Pulled pork is a new menu item for the Pecan Lodge. Diane explained that she and her husband, Justin, were trying to do a variation on a Carolina-style favorite of theirs during their college days.

"Don't go yet. I'll bring out some samples," she said.

She quickly returned with pulled pork in several small cups and toothpicks.

"I want to know what you really think," she said.

We liked it. Nice smoke flavor with just a hint of a vinegar sauce.

"You really want feedback?" asked Posse member Michael Gluckman, the general manager of Fearing's at The Ritz-Carlton.

Yes, Diane said. Honest opinion.

"If you're going for Carolina, back off the rub a little," Gluckman said. "That will allow the sauce to come through more."

Diane smiled and said she had been debating that same thing with Justin.

Someday, she said, they might even add slaw to the sandwich for even more of a Carolina feel.

Of course, Vaughn's advice after eating the pulled pork was "don't change a thing."

That must be what makes the restaurant business so interesting.

Pecan Lodge, 1010 South Pearl Expressway, Farmer's Market Shed #2, Dallas, TX, 75201, (214) 748-8900. Open: Thur-Fri 11am-3pm, Sat-Sun 9am-3pm.

Photos by Chris Wilkins

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lockhart Smokehouse shrugs off review, smokes 3,000 pounds of meat a week

Lockhart Smokehouse owner Jeff Bergus was working the front of the house during the Posse's visit to his Oak Cliff joint Saturday afternoon.

When new customers arrived, he asked if they had ever been to his place before. If no, he immediately escorted them to the meat-ordering counter in the back.

After a while, he sat down at the Posse's table and chatted.

We asked how business has been since his place received a one-star food review from The Dallas Morning News a few weeks ago. A framed copy of the review hangs on one wall, along with copies of much more positive reviews.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dallas is raising its BBQ game

We've commented in the past about the lack of great Texas style -- real wood-fired -- barbecue in Dallas. But during the Posse's "Impromptu Best of Dallas BBQ Mini-Tour" Saturday, one conclusion was clear: Big D is raising its game.

Over a period of about four hours, we ate at three joints. Each smokes with a different kind of wood. The Pecan Lodge at the Dallas Farmers' Market uses mesquite. Meshack's Bar-B-Que (OK, it's in Garland but we're counting it as Dallas) uses pecan. And Lockhart Smokehouse in Oak Cliff uses post oak.

Admittedly, these three places were already our favorites in town, but we had never before eaten at them back-to-back-to-back so we could directly compare them.

It was a split decision. The best brisket of the day was served by the Pecan Lodge. Some of us thought it was in the same league as Franklin's of Austin, which smokes the best brisket in the state.

The best pork ribs were at Meshack's. A couple of us even thought Meshack's ribs were better than the Lodge's brisket.

The best sausage was at Lockhart, which also served the coldest (and only!) beer. That's why we finished the tour there.

We began about 11 a.m. at the Pecan Lodge, which was reintroducing barbecue to its menu after a hiatus of a couple months. The Posse, eight strong at that point, ordered brisket, ribs, sausage and even fried chicken.

"The chicken is great," Posse member Michael Lindenberger told co-owner Diane Fourton as she came over to our table. She told Mike it was her grandmother's recipe.

As we ate, a diner wearing a gold cross around his neck and a sleeveless t-shirt approached. He had just finished his meal. "Is this the best barbecue in Dallas or what?" he said, asking and answering his question.

He wouldn't get much argument from the Posse on this day.

"I would call that holy shit brisket, man," Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins said later, describing his reaction to his first bite. Pecan Lodge pitmaster Justin Fourton delivered on all fronts: taste, tenderness and a terrific crusty crust.

Justin's ribs, which we ranked second to Meshack's, were also very good as was his sausage, a new item introduced Saturday.

We jumped on I-30, just south of the Farmers' Market, and headed to Garland.

For Travis and Donna Mayes, who run Meshack's, these are exciting times. They were just featured in Garden & Gun magazine as having one of the best barbecue sandwiches in the United States.

"People are driving all the way down down from Arkansas just to eat his barbecue," a Meshack's regular, who goes by the moniker Tree Man, said. Tree Man said he has known Travis Mayes since 1982 and splits all his wood.

Mac Hargrove, making his first posse tour, would later pronounce Meshack's ribs the best single thing he ate all day. They had a nice savory rub and were cooked perfectly tender.

The one drawback to Meshack's is the service. It took nearly 15 minutes after ordering to get our food, and then, because there is no seating, we drove to a nearby park to eat.

"Painfully slow service," Wilkins said.

We took the scenic route to Oak Cliff, via Garland Road and the White Rock spillway.

With the temperature in high 90s, Wilkins and I detoured to Lockhart's bar, where several kinds of beer were on ice, before sampling barbecue.

Posse veteran Michael Gluckman, the general manager of Fearing's at the Ritz-Carlton, was very impressed by Lockhart's sausage but not as much by the brisket.

"Good tenderness, good taste, no smoke," Gluckman said.

The ribs were chewy and could have used more cooking time, Hargrove pointed out.

Still, it was a very nice ending to a very nice day. We got to eat great Texas barbecue at three different joints and never left town. Dallas is indeed raising its barbecue game.

Impromptu Best of Dallas BBQ Mini-Tour itinerary June 11. 2011

11:00 a.m.: Meet at Pecan Lodge, 1010 South Pearl Expressway, Farmer's Market Shed #2, Dallas, TX, 75201, (214) 748-8900. Open: Thur-Fri 11am-3pm, Sat-Sun 9am-3pm.

1:30 p.m.: 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.

2:30 p.m. : Lockhart Smokehouse, 400 W. Davis, Dallas, 214-944-5521. Open every day from 11am till they're done.

Photos ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse

Saturday, June 11, 2011

See the photos: Celebrating the return of BBQ today at Pecan Lodge

After a couple of months absence, barbecue is back at Pecan Lodge. Eight members of the Posse gathered at Farmers Market shed no. 2 this morning to test samples hot off the pit. BBQ Snob Daniel Vaughan and his family joined in the action as well.

This was the first stop of what we called the "Impromptu Best of Dallas BBQ Mini-Tour." Stops followed at Meshack's Bar-B-Que in Garland and then back down to Lockhart Smokehouse in Dallas.

Pecan Lodge owners Dianne and Justin Fourton have added several new menu items, including pulled pork, homemade sausage and fried chicken. More details to come on our mini-tour, but here are some early photos. By the way, the food at all three stops was amazing!

Pecan Lodge: 1010 South Pearl Expressway, Farmer's Market Shed #2, Dallas, TX, 75201, (214) 748-8900. Open: Thur-Fri 11am-3pm, Sat-Sun 9am-3pm.

Photos by Chris Wilkins

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Meshack's Bar-B-Que in Garland named as one of the best in the country

The honors continue for one of the Possse's favorite BBQ joints in the state. Meshack's Bar-B-Que Shack in Garland has been named in the list of Top 21 BBQ Sandwiches in this month's Garden & Gun magazine.

The slick looking national magazine describes itself as, "A Southern lifestyle magazine that's all about the magic of the new South - sporting culture, food, music, art, literature, people, and ideas."

Meshack's owners Donna and Travis Mayes got a visit yesterday from the city of Garland, who will be honoring them with a proclamation at the next Garland City Council meeting. Congrats to the Mayes family on their achievement, what a great accolade for one of the best BBQ joints around....

Photo by Irwin Thompson

See the latest & greatest photos of Franklin Barbecue in Austin

My Dallas Morning News colleague Guy Reynolds made a couple of trips to Austin to shoot photos for a page one story on Franklin Barbecue, which has attained cult status in an amazingly short length of time.

Click here to see the slideshow of Guy's work, behind-the-scenes photos of Aaron Franklin & crew from the early hours working the pits to closing time, and everything in between. Above is a photo of Aaron and wife Stacy relaxing in front of the little turquoise trailer that started it all.

Guy describes how he shot the Franklin portrait on his facebook page, "I shot that portrait of Aaron and Stacy on 4x5 film with an 1950's Graflex Crown Graphic just because, well, I can. Real photography: what a concept."

The Morning News story is behind the paywall, but you can see it if you are a DMN customer or digital subscriber.

Photo by Guy Reynolds/The Dallas Morning News