Monday, March 31, 2014

Hey, Final Four fans! Here's the Posse's guide to the best BBQ in Dallas-Fort Worth

Over the years, readers have asked the Posse for barbecue joint recommendations. Those requests have increased recently with the Final Four of the NCAA men's basketball tournament headed to North Texas.

So, here is our list of best places in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. None of them is more than an hour's drive from AT&T Stadium. The closest is right across the street.

One reader asked what may be the ultimate question this year for barbecue fans who also enjoy a little college basketball:

Pecan Lodge or Hutchins?

Our answer: Figure out how to eat at both. These are probably the two best joints in the area and among the top handful in the state. The other places on our list -- written by Chris Wilkins and Phil Lamb -- are good, too.

Enjoy, especially you fans from Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky and Wisconsin.

The Best BBQ Joints in DFW
(In alphabetical order)

Baby Back Shak/Dallas: The Shak is a long-time Posse favorite. The ribs are among the best in Dallas and the service is great, too. Don't miss the boudin, you can order it as a plate or a side.
Baby Back Shak, 1800 South Akard St., Dallas, 214-428-7427. Open Mon-Thurs 11am-5:45pm, Fri-Sat 11am-6:45pm.

BBQ on the Brazos/Cresson: If you smoke it, they will drive. Fast. The brisket is worth the trip all by itself.  If there were a North Texas BBQ tournament, BBQ on the Brazos would be our "sleeper pick" to make the Final Four.  Dangerously good BBQ that might be able to hang with the best operations around.
BBQ on the Brazos, 9001 E Hwy 377, Cresson, 817-396-4758. Open Mon-Fri 6:30am-3pm, Sat 9am-3pm or until the meat runs out.

Eddie Deen Crossroads Smokehouse/Arlington:
Here's your go-to joint before the big games at Cowboys Stadium. Located catercorner from the stadium, you can enjoy great BBQ and an ice cold beer before cheering on your team. Don't miss the sampler platter, you and several friends can try all their meats for a great price.
Eddie Deen Crossroads Smokehouse, 1004 N Collins St, Arlington, 817-795-6900. Open Mon-Sat 11am-3pm or until the meat runs out. (Crossroads will be adding evening hours during the Final Four weekend & beginning April 15, 2014)

Hard Eight BBQ/Coppell: Not quite the BBQ served by the elite programs, but consistently solid BBQ located 10 minutes from DFW airport.  Fantastic atmosphere with plenty of TVs, cold beer, and an outdoor patio make Hard Eight a great place to spend a lazy afternoon.
Hard Eight BBQ, 688 Freeport Pkwy, Coppell, 972-471-5462. Open Mon-Thurs 10:30am-9pm, Fri-Sat 10:30am-10pm, Sun 10:30am-6pm.

Hutchins BBQ/McKinney: Hutchins is quickly becoming one of the best BBQ joints in the state. Owner Tim Hutchins and crew are combining tremendous BBQ with superb service at a great price. Don't miss the free peach cobbler or banana pudding after you finish your three-meat platter.
Hutchins BBQ, 1301 N Tennessee St, McKinney, 972-548-2629. Open Sun-Thurs 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-9:30pm.

Jambo's BBQ Shack/Rendon: Open less than a year, legendary competition pit master Jamie Geer has already made his mark on the Texas BBQ restaurant scene. Don't miss the Jambo Texan, words can't describe the most amazing sandwich in all of Texas BBQ.
Jambo's BBQ Shack, 5460 E FM 1187, Rendon, 817-478.2277. Open Tues-Fri 11am-6pm, Sat 11am-3pm or until the meat runs out.

Lockhart Smokehouse/Dallas & Plano: A meat mecca with joints located in one of Dallas' hottest neighborhoods and the quaint downtown of one of the metro area's largest suburbs. Don't miss the beef ribs and the burnt ends and if you have a big group, ask about the Shiner Platter.
Lockhart Smokehouse, 400 W. Davis, Dallas, 214-944-5521. Open every day from 11am til they're done. They also have a location at 1026 E. 15th St. in Plano.

Longoria's BBQ/Everman: At Longoria's you'll be treated like family. Don't be surprised if pit master David Longoria takes you on an impromptu tour of the pits. And don't miss the brisket sausage, it may be one of the best sausages you've ever tasted.
Longoria’s BBQ, 100 Christopher, Everman, 827-568-9494. Open Mon-Fri 10:30am-7pm, Sat 10:30am-4pm.

Mac's Bar-B-Que/Dallas: Mac's has been open nearly 60 years and still has a full dining room at lunch every day. That's a testament to second-generation pit master Billy McDonald's skills running the smoker. Don't miss the brisket frito pie, it's a Texas classic, and the French fries are considered some of the best in town.
Mac's Bar-B-Que, 3933 Main St, Dallas, 214-823-0731. Open Mon-Fri 11am-2:30pm.

Meshack's Bar-B-Que Shack/Garland: Unquestionably the best BBQ on the east side of Dallas-Fort Worth.  Bring a chair or plan on getting your BBQ "to go."  Cash only. Don't miss the family pack. It's not on the menu, but the last time we got it, it included brisket, sausage, ham, and -- we think -- some ribs, as well as a side of beans .
Meshack's Bar-B-Que Shack, 240 E. Ave. B, Garland, 214-227-4748. Open Tues-Sat 10:30am-until the meat runs out.

Pecan Lodge/Dallas: This joint in the Farmer's Market has taken the DFW BBQ scene by storm. Pit master Justin Fourtin is putting out some of the best smoked meat in the state. You may have a to stand in line, but it's well worth it. Don't miss the brisket, it's world class and put Pecan Lodge on the Texas BBQ map.
Pecan Lodge, 1010 South Pearl Expressway, Farmer's Market Shed #2, Dallas, 214-748-8900. Open: Wed-Sun 11am-3pm or until the meat runs out.

The Slow Bone/Dallas: Jack Perkins took the major success of his burger joint, Maple & Motor, and applied it to BBQ. The sides are on par with the meats, which are really good across the board. Don't miss the brisket, it's some of the best in town.
The Slow Bone, 2234 Irving Blvd., Dallas, 214-377-7727. Open daily 11am-3pm.

Work Bar & Grill/Dallas: Looking for the combination good BBQ and a great bar? Work Bar & Grill is your place. Pitmaster Doug Pickering has brought his "sugar cookie" brisket to the hip neighborhood of Deep Ellum. Don't miss the brisket sliders.
Work Bar & Grill, 2618 Elm Street, Dallas, 214-699-6959. Open Thurs 5pm-midnight, Fri-Sat 11am-2am, Sun 11am-10pm, Mon 8pm-2am, closed Tues-Wed.

Click here to see a Google map of our favorite BBQ joints around the state.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Future Posse member has his first-ever taste of brisket at Pat Gee's BBQ in Tyler

My daughter Ashley Montgomery and grandson James at Pat Gee's Barbecue. (Photo ©Chris WIlkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

For every Texas barbecue fanatic, there are smoked meat moments that will always be remembered. I was lucky enough to have another of those great memories on Saturday at Pat Gee's Barbecue outside of Tyler.

I remember the first time eating brisket for breakfast with friends at Snow's BBQ on a foggy Saturday morning in November 2009. That experience forever changed our view of what barbecue could be and led to the birth of Texas BBQ Posse. Every Central Texas BBQ tour we've had since then always begins at Snow's on a Saturday morning.

According to family lore, my first exposure to barbecue was in the mid-1960's at Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q, as a child growing up in Tyler. I'm pretty sure it involved a chopped beef sandwich and a Big Red. And Stanley's is still around, better than ever, a mainstay on Texas Monthly's Top 50 BBQ list.

Pat Gee's Barbecue pictured in the 1977. (Photo by Tom Hackim)
My next great barbecue memory was going to Pat Gee's, located under tall pine trees in the countryside east of Tyler. We began eating there in high school in the late 1970's. Pitmaster Pat Gee was larger than life, producing some of the best BBQ to ever come out of East Texas. He was overshadowed only by his wife Vida, who ran the counter and knew all their customers by name.

After Pat died in 1999, she continued to run the historic BBQ joint with her sons Arthur and Billy. I would always drop by to say hi whenever in town visiting family and introduced my daughter Ashley & son Tyler when we moved back to Texas in 2001. Vida Gee passed away in 2009, but Arthur and Billy continue to run the joint to this day.

Fast forward to last Saturday, when we headed to Tyler to introduce my six-month-old grandson James to several family members. James was born on Sept. 24th last year, my first grandchild. Weighing in at almost nine pounds, I was pretty sure he would join his grandfather on Texas Posse BBQ tours one day.

After visiting with family, Ashley, James & I took a slight detour east to pick up a couple of pounds of Pat's chopped brisket to take back to Dallas. It's a family tradition. As Arthur Gee worked the cutting board, a light bulb came on. The time had come for baby James to try his first bite of brisket.

My father James has been a regular at Pat Gee's for over 30 years and son Tyler and I have eaten there every chance we've had since moving back to DFW. James would be the fourth generation of our family to eat the legendary chopped beef at Pat's.

Long story short, he loved it and had several bites before reaching out for the whole bowl of chopped brisket. We stopped him there, but I expect there will be many more visits to Pat's and other great Texas BBQ joints in his future.

Pat Gee's Barbecue, 17547 Jamestown Rd., Tyler, 903-534-0265. Open Fri-Sun 11 am-until the meat runs out.

James Montgomery tries his first-ever bite of brisket and goes back for more. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Arthur Gee, center, and his brother Billy, left, have run Pat Gee's since their mom died in 2009. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Give customers what they want, says Pit Stop BBQ boss

Award-winning pitmaster Steve Graham and his primary smoker at Pit Stop BBQ. (Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

An experienced competition cook, Steve Graham has filled his Pit Stop BBQ restaurant outside Waxahachie with trophies and plaques. He knows how to cook for a tough audience, judges, even different sets of judges.

For example, he said, he always tried to get a look at the judges before he started preparing his meat. Older judges like salt, he said.

"In a competition, that first taste is everything," Graham said. So the flavor has to be bold and great.

If you read our posts about our recent South of DFW Tour, you know that we loved the atmosphere of Graham's place, but not so much his food.

Graham didn't flinch. He said he now cooks for a new set of judges, his customers.

"Ninety percent of people don't like fat," he said as he explained why he trims fat from his briskets. The Posse always tries to order fatty brisket.

"The people who eat my ribs want them falling off the bone," he continued. "People around here want 'em tender and I try to accommodate 'em." The Posse likes a little tug off the bone.

Graham said he cooks the old-fashioned way in a wood-fired smoker. The legs of his pit are shorter, but with a little imagination, it resembles an Imperial walker from Star Wars.

"I don't get to push a button and go home and go to sleep," he said of places that use gas-fired pits. "I sit in my chair and watch my fire."

Refreshing words, no matter what we thought about his food.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

In Texas, barbecued bologna is not the new turkey

Pitmaster Terry Massey slices smoked bologna at Lazy S&M BBQ in Joshua. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

A year ago, after our best of Austin tour, we wrote about how turkey breast was making a move to join the royal family of Texas barbecue: brisket, pork ribs, and sausage.

We're still not ready to give the big bird equal status, but we order it whenever we see it on menus. A lot of joints in the state are smoking great turkey.

On our recent South of DFW Tour, three of the four places we visited served barbecued bologna.

Different, we thought, so we sampled it at each place. At Jambo's BBQ Shack in Rendon, bologna comes as part of the Jambo Texan, the giant sandwich stuffed with a mountain of meats.

After some study, it turns out that opinions about barbecued bologna range widely.

A story on the Food Network Web site says it is a popular smoked meat in the south. The story recommends slicing a thin layer off the bottom of those big round hunks so they don't roll around in the smoker. And it recommends using cherry wood for flavor.

Another site lists bologna among "the 10 strangest things you can barbecue," along with guinea pig, nutria and yak.

"If you don't do it right, it puffs up from the heat and has a tendency to explode," a Tulsa restaurant owner warns of bologna.

Lynn of Lynn's Kitchen Adventures calls barbecued bologna "Oklahoma prime rib" and offers a fully illustrated recipe.

She does admit that while her family likes the dish, she's not a big fan.

"I have told my husband many times that bologna is bologna no matter how you serve it," she writes.

As for the Posse, we found our bologna experience interesting.

"If you're going to eat bologna, this is what you should eat," Tom Fox said after sampling Jambo's. Jim Rossman and I had seconds on the bologna -- blackened -- at Pit Stop BBQ in Waxahachie.

But overall, we're not big advocates.

In Texas, barbecued bologna is not the new turkey.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A second opinion on the Posse's South of DFW BBQ Tour

Michael Meadows, left, and the Posse dig in at Pit Stop BBQ in Waxahachie. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Maybe there was a time, long ago, when I was surprised at how seriously people take barbecue. But certainly not anymore.

Take Michael Meadows, one of the Posse's newest members. He and his family were in Colorado skiing last week. They drove 900 miles Friday arriving back in Dallas just before midnight.

And yet Meadows made the starting gate with the rest of us Saturday morning at the first stop of our South of DFW Tour. During the day, we ate at four places and drove about 160 miles over about 8 hours.

"I wasn't going to miss our outing if I could help it," Meadows says.

I called the sausage at our first stop, BBQ on the Brazos, "o.k." Meadows liked it a lot. He sent me his impressions of the other joints we visited:

Pitmaster Terry Massey shows his new sign
at Lazy S&M BBQ. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins)
Lazy S&M BBQ: Terry Massey, the owner and pit master, could not have been a nicer or more humble chap.  He clearly works very hard and I really wanted to love his BBQ. However, his location is so far off the beaten path that it will be hard for him to ever have a lot of success unless he smokes the best BBQ in the area.  With Jambo's and BBQ on the Brazos in the area, he has some serious competition. Overall, the brisket and ribs were good but were overshadowed by our experience at BBQ on the Brazos.

Jambo's BBQ Shack: Clearly, this is a very popular place. It was packed when we arrived. All of the smoked meats were delicious. I LOVED Jambo's ribs and sausage! Best sausage I have had in North Texas so far. The brisket and pulled pork were good, too.  I was impressed that they won the top prize for their BBQ chicken at the Houston Rodeo but puzzled as to why they don't offer it on their menu. Personally, I think the Bologna needs to go away to make room for that award-winning chicken. My only real complaint is that the interior and exterior of Jambo's has no character. Nothing about the building says, "There is some great BBQ inside".  It is a basic beige Morgan building with some tables inside. That's unfortunate because ambiance does count (at least in my book, it does) when it comes to experiencing great Texas BBQ.  (Hard Eight has figured this out, big time!)

Pit Stop BBQ in Waxahachie: Hands down, this place had the most character and best overall ambiance of all of the places we visited. The exterior makes you believe this will be a fun place to enjoy some real Texas BBQ. When I got out of the car, I was really looking forward to the food. In addition, it was the only place where we had waitresses take our orders and deliver our food vs. order at the counter.

In contrast to the other places we visited, Pit Stop BBQ is a full-service restaurant not a stand. Very friendly people who seemed eager to please. Sadly, their BBQ came in a rather distant fourth place to the other three places we visited earlier in the day.  . .Quite frankly, I missed the bark and fat on the brisket. Instead, their brisket was lean, thinly sliced and rather dry. It needed sauce.  Although I voted against ordering the Bologna and became even more skeptical when it arrived on our table "blackened" (just as the jukebox blared out AC/DC's "Back in Black"), I have to admit that the flavor was the best of any of the barbequed Bologna we had on Saturday.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the peach cobbler, though I didn't try it. Despite their rather unremarkable BBQ, I still  believe Pit Stop BBQ would be a fun, family-friendly restaurant to enjoy on a Saturday night, especially when they have a band playing and games of horseshoes and dart competitions underway.  And based on what you reported back about the pit master's comments, it sounds like they are cooking BBQ exactly the way their customers like it so it doesn't really matter whether we loved it or not.

The South of DFW BBQ Tour

9am: Leave Dallas.
10am: BBQ on the Brazos, 9001 E Hwy 377, Cresson, TX. Open Mon-Fri 6:30am-3pm, Sat
11:45am: Lazy S&M BBQ, 2008 Conveyer Drive, Joshua, 817-475-5687. Open Tues-Wed 6am-4pm, Thurs-Fri 6am-7pm, Sat 10:30am-3pm.
1pm: Jambo's BBQ Shack, 5460 E FM 1187, Rendon, 817-478.2277. Open Tues-Fri 11am-6pm, Sat 11am-3pm.
2:30pm: Pit Stop BBQ, 3921 S Highway 287, Waxahachie, 972-923-8921. Open Mon-Tue 11am-9pm, Wed 11am-10pm, Thurs 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-10pm, Sun 11am-9pm.
4pm: Back in Dallas.

 Pitmaster Steve Graham's cap displays Pit Stop BBQ's motto: "Meat So Tender You Can Leave Your Teeth at Home."
(Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

On the barbecue trail, the Posse crosses an historic past and meets again one of its favorite dishes, the Jambo Texan

The legendary Jambo Texan sandwich was one of the highlights of our BBQ tour. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins)

On the way to Lazy S&M BBQ in Joshua, the second stop of our recent South of DFW Tour, we crossed the Chisholm Trail Parkway. The 27-mile toll road, which runs from Fort Worth to Cleburne, is scheduled to open later this year.

It was an interesting moment of synchronicity. Our modern barbecue trail intersected -- symbolically anyway -- part of the historic route that Texas cowboys used a century and a half ago to drive their cattle to the railroads.

Some might find poetry in such a moment. For the rest of us, if nothing else, it helps explain why brisket is king in Texas.

At Lazy S&M, we asked pit master Terry Massey how his joint, located in a former gas station, got it's name. He said that he once raised horses. A real Texas cowboy.

"We kept the brand," the former competition barbecue cook said.

More synchronicity?

Massey, who said he opened about a year ago, cooks hot (275-325 degrees) and fast. His briskets take about 6 hours, he said, and his pork ribs about 4 hours. He uses mainly pecan wood and occasionally mixes in some oak.

Pitmaster Terry Massey opened Lazy S&M BBQ in Joshua about a year ago. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

We sampled those meats along with some sausage and bologna. Yes, bologna.

Coming immediately after our stop at BBQ on the Brazos, which set a very high standard for everything it served, comparisons were tough.

"Good but not great," Michael Meadows, one of the newest Posse members, said of Lazy S&M.

The bologna was unusual and kind of interesting. Each of our next two stops also served the same. We're still sorting through what we really think about barbecued bologna. We hope to pursue that topic in a future post.

Our sampler plate at Lazy S&M BBQ.  (Photo ©Chris Wilkins)
Until he opened Jambo's BBQ Shack last summer, owner-pit master Jamie Geer was more well known for his Jambo barbecue pits and his competition cooking.

We first ate at his joint the week it debuted. We liked it a lot then, maybe even more now.

"You're talking about one of the master cookers in my mind," Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins said of Geer.

We ordered two of Geer's giant Jambo Texan sandwiches for the eight of us on the tour. It's a Posse favorite and even at $14 a pop -- up from $12 last year --  it might just be the second-best barbecue value in the state. The $16.59 all-you-can-eat offering at Hutchins BBQ in McKinney remains No. 1.

Between two thick slices of Texas toast, the Jambo Texan is stuffed with sliced brisket, chopped brisket, pulled pork, smoked sausage, pork ribs, and, yes, smoked bologna.

It's a perfect sampler for a barbecue tour.

The Posse praised everything, even the bologna.

"This is not the bologna I grew up with," said Tom Fox, who brought his father, Marty, on the tour.

The sausage received special praise. "It's on a whole different level," said Posse member Jim Rossman.

As usual, the dining room was full at Jambo's BBQ Shack in Rendon. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Definitely. I rated it on a par with the sausage at la Barbecue in Austin, which I consider best in the state.

Geer was in West, Texas, at a benefit competition, so we didn't get a chance to talk to him. Recently, Geer's team was named overall grand champion at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo World Championship Bar-B-Que Contest. The championship banner and best chicken trophy were on display in Jambo's shack.

After that competition, Geer told the Houston Chronicle:

"We're going to go back and have the biggest party that Houston's ever seen."

Sounds like Jamie.

Our last joint of the day was Pit Stop BBQ in Waxahachie, run by pit master Steve Graham.

The food didn't charm us, but the venue did.

There were horseshoe pits in the back, dart boards in a game room and a covered outdoor stage -- "Graham Ole Opry" -- for concerts. Along with barbecue, Pit Stop serves a steady menu of music.

Vanessa & Steve Graham own Pit Stop BBQ outside of Waxahachie. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

For the food, though, it was a moment of un-synchronicity with the Posse. We always order fatty brisket. It's the only way, we think, to get that perfect combination of crust, fat and tender meat that melts together in your mouth.

"The magic tingle," a friend of the Posse once described the experience.

"We don't have fat on our briskets," Graham said as he gave us a tour of his pit area. "I trim it off. I don't even put fat in the chop."

Graham said that's what his customers want.

Ditto for the pork ribs. While the Posse likes a little tug off the bone, Graham said his customers want the meat falling off the bone.

The Texas flag welcomes you to  Pit Stop BBQ. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins)
"Meat so tender you can leave your teeth at home," is the Pit Stop's motto. On that score, the joint doesn't just talk the talk, it walks the walk.

The Posse might call the ribs mushy, but, according to Graham, his customers call them perfect.

So be it.

In late April, Graham said, his place is hosting an Elvis impersonator and a Neil Diamond impersonator.

"I might just have to come back for that," Wilkins said.

And he'll probably eat some fatless brisket and falling-off-the bone ribs -- and like it.

So be it.

The South of DFW BBQ Tour

9am: Leave Dallas.
10am: BBQ on the Brazos, 9001 E Hwy 377, Cresson, TX. Open Mon-Fri 6:30am-3pm, Sat
11:45am: Lazy S&M BBQ, 2008 Conveyer Drive, Joshua, 817-475-5687. Open Tues-Wed 6am-4pm, Thurs-Fri 6am-7pm, Sat 10:30am-3pm.
1pm: Jambo's BBQ Shack, 5460 E FM 1187, Rendon, 817-478.2277. Open Tues-Fri 11am-6pm, Sat 11am-3pm.
2:30pm: Pit Stop BBQ, 3921 S Highway 287, Waxahachie, 972-923-8921. Open Mon-Tue 11am-9pm, Wed 11am-10pm, Thurs 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-10pm, Sun 11am-9pm.
4pm: Back in Dallas.

The Graham's BBQ competition trophies line the walls at Pit Stop BBQ. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Rave reviews for BBQ on the Brazos from the Posse

Pitmaster John Sanford works the cutting board at BBQ on the Brazos. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Too bad Posse member Bruce Tomaso didn't make our tour last weekend. We could have renewed our recent wood-versus-gas debate when our first stop, BBQ on the Brazos in Cresson, got rave reviews from everyone present.

BBQ on the Brazos uses a gas-fired Ole Hickory smoker.

"How many of our tours have started off with barbecue better than this?" said Posse member Phil Lamb.

Technically, it was a question. But like all good attorneys, Lamb knew the answer before he asked: Very, very few.

"It's not impossible that this is a Top 10 joint in Texas," Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins said. Our group, 8 strong, declared the pork ribs and brisket outstanding, and the banana pudding divine.

Afterward, as Wilkins and I reviewed the tours we've taken over the past five years, we could only think of a couple that started stronger. One at Snow's BBQ in Lexington and another at Franklin Barbecue (the original trailer) in Austin. That's pretty stout company.

Bud Kennedy at the Star-Telegram and Daniel Vaughn at Texas Monthly also think highly of BBQ on the Brazos.

On our South of DFW Tour Saturday, we visited four places -- the other three were Lazy S&M BBQ in Joshua, Jambo's BBQ Shack in Rendon, and Pit Stop BBQ in Waxahachie -- and covered about 160 miles in 8 hours.

Several of the joints were started by accomplished competition pit masters. Our itinerary, in part, came about because of Vanessa Graham, the wife of Steve Graham, pit master at the Pit Stop. Wilkins recently asked the Posse's Facebook followers to suggest future tour stops and Vanessa responded with several leads.

The ribs & brisket at BBQ on the Brazos are tremendous. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins)
An hour from Dallas, we arrived at BBQ on the Brazos just before 10 a.m. It's located in the same building as a Texaco gas station and adjacent to the MotorSport Ranch. If you're lucky, you might get to watch some cars speeding around the circuits while you eat.

Pit master John Sanford, who said he has been cooking professionally for more than three decades, said he opened the joint with his brother-in-law, Michael Warren, about a year ago. Sanford's wife, Kathryn, also helps run the place and makes side dishes, including the wonderful banana pudding.

In addition to the ribs and brisket, we ordered turkey (it was good) and sausage (o.k.). Sanford said he cooks about 1,000 pounds of brisket a week on his Ole Hickory, which is mounted on a trailer. While it's gas-fired, Sanford said he stuffs the firebox with oak so he can get plenty of smoke on the meat.

He said he has an old wood smoker that he can "cook magic" with, but it requires too much attention to use for regular production.

"I'm sorry if that makes me a bad person," he said. "I'm just not going to do it."

Some, like Tomaso, think great Texas barbecue can't be cooked with gas.

BBQ on the Brazos and Jambo's are strong evidence to the contrary.

Sanford said he's looking to open a second place, this one in Fort Worth. We asked if he thought he could maintain the same quality. He answered yes.

"That's the benefit of having a two-man operation," he said, referring to Warren.

In future posts, we'll cover the other joints we visited on this tour.

The South of DFW BBQ Tour

9am: Leave Dallas.
10am: BBQ on the Brazos, 9001 E Hwy 377, Cresson, TX. Open Mon-Fri 6:30am-3pm, Sat 9am-3pm.
11:45am: Lazy S&M BBQ, 2008 Conveyer Drive, Joshua, 817-475-5687. Open Tues-Wed 6am-4pm, Thurs-Fri 6am-7pm, Sat 10:30am-3pm.
1pm: Jambo's BBQ Shack, 5460 E FM 1187, Rendon, 817-478.2277. Open Tues-Fri 11am-6pm, Sat 11am-3pm.
2:30pm: Pit Stop BBQ, 3921 S Highway 287, Waxahachie, 972-923-8921. Open Mon-Tue 11am-9pm, Wed 11am-10pm, Thurs 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-10pm, Sun 11am-9pm.
4pm: Back in Dallas.

BBQ on the Brzos is located in a Texaco Plaza in Cresson. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

The restaurant also bottles their own BBQ sauce. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Customers wait to order at BBQ on the Brazos. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Poll: What are your top 5 Texas BBQ joints?

A father and son wait to order at a Texas barbecue joint. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

It's hard to say what's a more emotional subject for Texans, barbecue or politics.

Over the years we've tried to keep the Posse blog free of partisan politics, there are plenty of other places on the web where you can endlessly argue that subject. But when it comes the BBQ, strong loyalties and opinions have been shared between writers and readers on the Posse blog over the past five years.

Nothing gets BBQ fanatics going like a list of the "top" BBQ joints in Texas. We saw this once again when Gary Jacobson wrote More evidence that Lockhart has lost its barbecue magic last week. He shared the top five lists of several of the Posse members who went on our recent Houston BBQ tour. Some of our readers agreed, others didn't. That's how Texas barbecue goes.......

Just for fun, here's a chance to pick your top five favorites. We listed 26 top Texas BBQ joints (in alphabetical order) to choose from. If some of your favorites aren't listed, just add a comment to this blog post & we'll add it in the final results.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Posse Shows a Tolerant Side: Rethinking the ‘No-Sides’ Rule at Bull Hollar BBQ in Bells

Jim and Jan Worsham opened Bull Hollar BBQ in Bells in early February. (Photos @Daniel Goncalves & Chris Wilkins)

By Bruce Tomaso/Texas BBQ Posse

A few days ago, I disagreed with fellow Posse member Gary Jacobson, who said we might have been wrong in the past for condemning gas-fired smokers. Call me an extremist, but I say the only way to cook fine barbecue is with wood.

There’s no need to revisit that argument. I’m right. Gary’s wrong. Fin de conversación.

However, as we discovered on a recent North Texas tour, the Posse might have been wrong all these years about something else: Our no-sides rule.

Bull Hollar, a new joint in Bells run by Jim and Jan Worsham, might have changed our minds forever about the wisdom of skipping side dishes.

The no-sides rule was born of necessity. You can’t eat at eight barbecue joints in just over 24 hours if you’re filling up on cornbread, cole slaw and cobbler. It’s a matter of physics. “More room for meat,” as Posse member Tom Fox succinctly put it. (Although, to be candid, I’ve always been willing to bend the no-sides rule if a joint put out a particularly tasty-looking pan of peach cobbler. Especially if it also served Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla.)

The truth is, a lot of sides aren’t worth the belly space they take up. The cole slaw and potato salad served in most barbecue joints taste like they came straight from Costco or Sam’s. The fried okra almost surely arrived at the back door frozen in a big plastic bag, the green beans in big tin cans.

Lunch plate of ribs, brisket, potato salad & cole slaw. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins)
Not at Bull Hollar. While Jim Worsham works the pit, his wife Jan makes the side dishes from scratch. “Everything is homemade,” Jan told us. “Everything.”

Clinging, more or less, to our no-sides rule, we only tried three of Jan’s creations: the cole slaw, potato salad and the banana pudding.

They were exquisite.

“I think it’s a new leaf,” Posse member Daniel Goncalves said. That may have been the moment when the no-sides rule died.

We didn’t get Jan’s recipe for cole slaw, but we know that it starts with her hand-grating fresh heads of cabbage. “I’ve been making that same cole slaw for 40 years,” she said.

The banana pudding was light and creamy, and full of flavors. The sliced bananas tasted like bananas.

“I would drive up here just for that pudding,” said our wheelman for the day, Chris Wilkins.

To put that into perspective, Bells, in Grayson County, is about 50 miles from Chris’s house.

I live farther still, and I’d ride a tricycle up to Bells for that pudding.

Bull Hollar opened about a month ago. Business has been good. After the Worshams’ second weekend, a notice was posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page, saying Jim needed more oak and pecan ASAP. This past weekend, there was a notice that they were closing on Sunday “so we can make more room in the kitchen.”

Before opening Bull Hollar, Jim cooked competitively for years, traveling from Georgia to Colorado to take part in barbecue contests. The many trophies and plaques on display in the dining room are evidence of his pit skills.

We particularly liked the ribs, lightly touched with honey for a smoky sweetness.

Nothing was overseasoned. Jim’s approach is to go for subtle flavor. That’s in sharp contrast to many competitive cookers, who tend to go heavy on rubs and mops. They think their need a BAM!! to stand out in the minds of judges, who must sample platter after platter after platter.

We were fine with Jim’s philosophy.

“I don’t need to have it scream at me, like, ‘Hey, I’m all tricked up,’ ” Chris said.

Especially not when the side dishes are singing such gentle love songs.

BBQ competition veteran Jim Worsham checks one the two custom smokers he built & uses at Bull Hollar.
(Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Two other stops on our tour were less satisfying, for very different reasons.

The first place we hit was Triple R Barbecue in Whitewright, a town on the Fannin-Grayson county line, about eight miles down U.S. 69 from Bells.

We ordered The Ranch House, a $15.99 sampler plate of brisket, ribs, turkey, chicken, ham, sausage and pulled pork.

You’d hope that with seven swings, they’d have one hit.

Daniel summed up our assessment: “Good sauce.”

After Bull Hollar, we hoped to conclude with a late lunch at the new Lockhart Smokehouse in the historic district of downtown Plano.

But when we got there – about 3 p.m. – the “Sold out!” sign was taped up.

We took this as good news, for two reasons:

1. Plano is in dire need of a great barbecue joint, and Lockhart’s founders, Jeff and Jill Bergus, have shown at their original store – in Oak Cliff’s Bishop Arts District – that they’re capable of smoked-meat greatness. For their sake, and for that of Plano’s BBQ lovers, we wish them success at the new place. May they need that “Sold out!” sign often.

2. After seconds (or was it thirds?) of that banana pudding at Bull Hollar, the last thing we needed at 3 p.m. was one more barbecue lunch.

The Showing Our Tolerant Sides BBQ Tour

10 a.m.: Leave from Plano
11 a.m.: Triple R Barbecue, 504 N. Highway 69, Whitewright. 903-364-9999. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
12 p.m.: Bull Hollar BBQ, 102 N. Broadway, Bells. 903-965-7600. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. (Or until the meat runs out.)
3 p.m.: Lockhart Smokehouse, 1026 E. 15th St., Plano. “Open every day, 11 am till we’re done.”
(123 miles roundtrip)

Busy Saturday lunch crowd at Bull Hollar BBQ.  (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Jan Worsham and daughter Jennifer work the Bull Hollar counter.  (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves/

Jim Worsham heads back to work after chatting with the Posse.  (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Bull Hollar BBQ uses a mix of oak and pecan wood.  (Photo ©Daniel Goncalves/