Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Some great BBQ joint names, and some great food, too

Clockwise from top left, our stops included Buck Snort BBQ, The First Baptist Church of Bells, Cackle & Oink BBQ
 and Bull Hollar BBQ.  (Photos ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Had this been an official Posse outing, we would have called it the All-Time Best BBQ Name Tour.

Covering 180 miles over 7 hours last Saturday, we ate at Buck Snort BBQ in Van Alstyne, Bull Hollar BBQ in Bells and Cackle & Oink BBQ in Sherman.

As names for Texas joints go, that's a whole lot spicier than Franklin, Pecan Lodge and Kreuz Market.

Mid-trip, we also ate at the First Baptist Church of Bells, where Billy Neal Jr., the pastor, said food is part of the ministry.

"We just decided that one of our gifts here at First Baptist is cooking," Brother Billy said. The church offers free meals on Wednesday evenings to anyone who stays for the service.

And once a month, pitmaster Jim Williams fires up his smoker for a barbecue fund raiser. They set up in front of the church and often sell out by early afternoon. The next one is set for May 17.

On this Saturday before Easter, only three of us -- Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins, Daniel Goncalves and I -- made the trip. All the places were new to us, except Bull Hollar, which was part of a Posse tour a few weeks ago.

One of the highlights of the trip was the baby back ribs at Cackle & Oink
BBQ in Sherman.  (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)
The surprise of this trip was Cackle & Oink, our final stop. By the time we arrived, we were stuffed and, frankly, not looking forward to tasting any more smoked meat.

But when the baby back ribs came to the table, we changed our minds. There were four and they looked terrific. We quickly devoured one apiece. Wilkins and I then conceded the fourth to Goncalves, who already had the rib in his hand and was offering us pieces.

"I was getting ready to fight you guys for that last one," Goncalves said, relieved.

Wilkins declared that these were among the best baby backs the Posse has had in its five years of touring. That covers a lot of ground and a lot of ribs.

Our first stop of the day was Buck Snort, located in a 124-year-old building in downtown Van Alstyne. The place is run by Jim Smith, a city councilman. It's a one-man show. Smith cooks, takes orders, and cleans up. Service is buffet style. And you can get a free buffet on your birthday.

"The one man thing works well except for about 20 minutes a day," Smith said, referring to when the place gets really busy.

Since briskets take so long, he cooks them on Mondays and Tuesdays, when the place is closed, and re-warms the meat before serving. He cooks other meats daily, using a gas-fired Southern Pride pit with some hickory wood for flavor.

"Is this great Texas barbecue?" Wilkins said after we sampled the brisket, ribs, chicken and sausage. "No. Is it good, solid food? I would argue it is."

Before moving to Van Alstyne about 6 years ago, Smith had visited the town and loved the feeling.

"It's just like being in Mayberry, literally," he said.

Where did he get the name for his joint?

There is a road by that name a few miles out of town, Smith explained. He also said there is another meaning for buck snort.

Scenes from the First Baptist Church monthly BBQ fundraiser in Bells, TX.  (Photos ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

At First Baptist, located on Highway 69 in Bells, the barbecue fund raisers usually begin between 10:30 and 11 a.m. On a typical Saturday, Brother Billy and his crew will raise about $1,500, he said. The money goes into the building fund for a new church that will be built less than two miles away on Highway 82. Construction is still a ways off.

When will the new building be ready?

"When God says it's done," said Neal, who is in his 9th year as pastor.

Ribs, homemade potato salad & cole slaw at Bull Hollar BBQ.
We sampled brisket, pulled pork and ribs, and especially liked the ribs, which cost $2 a bone and feature a rub made from paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne and brown sugar.

"It's pretty simple," Williams said.

Bull Hollar is just a few blocks away from the church. A few Posse members, including Wilkins, visited the joint in February, right after it opened. They liked the smoked meat and the sides, made by Jan Worsham.

"These sides are every bit as good as I remember," Wilkins said, after sampling the potato salad, cole slaw and banana pudding.

"The beauty of this place is the simplicity," he added. "Everything is made by hand."

After we had sampled brisket, ribs and sausage, pitmaster Jim Worsham asked: "Do you want to try some chicken?"

Yes, we did. It was moist and very flavorful. We realized then why many of the contest trophies and plaques on display in the place were for Worsham's chicken.

"That's some of the best chicken I've ever had," Wilkins said.

Bull Hollar BBQ pitmaster Jim Worsham takes a break on a busy Saturday.  (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Cackle & Oink, located in a former Taco Bell restaurant on Texoma Parkway, opened in 2005. Pitmaster Aaron Vogel is also a competition cook, who learned his trade in the St. Louis area before moving to Texas. His place is filled with award banners and signs, including one for being 2014 grand champion at the Red River BBQ Championship in Ardmore, Ok.

Vogel cooks with wood -- apple -- in contests, but uses two Ole Hickory gas-fired pits at his joint, adding some apple for flavor.

"I've got a purist way of doing it at cook offs," he told us. "But if you're going to be open 7 days a week in a restaurant, you got to be consistent."

Because he uses apple, he acknowledges that the smoke taste may not be to everyone's taste, especially those who like a stronger flavor.

The latest BBQ competition trophies on Cackle & Oink's counter.  
"When we show up at contests and all the other guys are loaded with mesquite, we know we're in trouble," Vogel said.

At Cackle & Oink, we also sampled brisket, sausage and turkey. The brisket and turkey were flavorful, if somewhat dry. The sausage was excellent. Vogel says he gets it from a supplier in Austin.

For the baby backs, Vogel said he bastes them every hour with a slurry made from brown sugar, apple juice and lemon juice. His recipe is similar for cook offs. "But with an all wood fire, you can definitely tell the difference," Vogel said.

Generally, the Posse favors a more robust smoke flavor. But we loved Vogel's baby backs. They were worth the trip alone.

One sidelight. If you get to Cackle & Oink, be sure to look at the ceiling. It's covered with dollar bills -- even some fives -- signed and left by customers. "That's my 401(k)," Vogel joked.

Many of the notes extend good wishes. Some include advice.

"Never play leapfrog with a unicorn," one said.

That's what we love about the barbecue trail. It's full of wisdom.

Cackle & Oink BBQ pitmaster Aaron Vogel visits with the Posse as his "401(k)" hangs on the ceiling. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins)

The unofficial All-Time Best BBQ Name Tour

10am: Leave Dallas.
11am: Buck Snort BBQ, 224 East Jefferson St, Van Alstyne, 903-482-6171. Open Wed-Sat 11am-2pm, 5pm-8pm.
12:30pm: First Baptist Church of Bells, 105 S Pecan St, Bells, 903-965-4813. Monthly BBQ Fundraiser cook, every third Saturday.
1:30pm: Bull Hollar BBQ, 102 N. Broadway, Bells. 903-965-7600. Open Wed-Sat 11am-8pm, Sun 11am-2pm. (Or until the meat runs out)
2:30pm: Cackle & Oink BBQ, 3210 Texoma Pkwy, Sherman, 903-891-3200. Open Mon-Sat 11am-8pm, Sun 11am-3pm 11am-3pm.
3:30pm: Head back to Dallas.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Check out our South of Fort Worth BBQ Tour story in this weekend's Dallas Morning News

Here's the latest Texas BBQ Posse tour story in the pages of The Dallas Morning News. The story written by Posse co-founder Gary Jacobson tells about our recent trip to four joints located south of Dallas/Fort Worth. Award-winning DMN staff photographer and Posse member Tom Fox takes you on visual journey of our tour.

You can click here to read Gary's story online on Click here to see a slideshow of Tom's photos from the 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
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 Posse at Pit Stop BBQ in Waxahachie. L-R, Daniel Goncalves, Michael Meadows, Gary Jacobson, Marty Fox,
 Jim Rossman, Tom Fox, Chris Wilkins & Phil Lamb. (Photo by Tom Fox/DMN)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Some barbecue bracketology: The Posse picks the best of the best in Dallas-Fort Worth for the Final Four

Pecan Lodge had a strong showing on the Posse's Best of the Best DFW BBQ list. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BB Posse)

While compiling our list for Final Four fans of the best Dallas-Forth Worth area barbecue joints, we also engaged in some smoked meat bracketology. We rated the best-of-the-best individual menu items -- and some other categories -- from the field of North Texas competitors.

For this task, we relied on the opinions of 6 veteran Posse members. All have eaten a lot of barbecue since we started going on tours in 2009. All have strong opinions. There was just one unanimous pick: The best brisket is at Pecan Lodge in Dallas.

Winners in two other categories came close with 5 mentions each. The Best Deal is the $16.59 all-you-can-eat special at Hutchins BBQ in McKinney and the Best Bar is at Work Bar & Grill in Dallas.

In several categories, 3 votes were enough to lead the pack.

Here are the Posse's best-of-the-best in DFW, with vote totals and comments:

BEST BRISKET: Pecan Lodge in Dallas. This was the only unanimous choice. "Unquestionably the smokiest, most consistently outstanding brisket in town," said Posse member Phil Lamb.

BEST RIBS: Baby Back Shak in Dallas with 3 votes. "I love the Shak ribs. They were the staple for my BBQ fixes during the lean BBQ years on the DFW landscape," said Gary Barber. Others receiving votes: Pecan Lodge and BBQ on the Brazos in Cresson. One Posse member split his vote between Pecan Lodge and Lockhart Smokehouse, which has joints in Dallas and Plano.

Lockhart Smokehouse won for best sausage and best atmosphere.
(Photo ©Chris Wilkins)
BEST SAUSAGE: Lockhart Smokehouse with 3 votes. "You can't mess with Kreuz sausage's history and legacy," said Daniel Goncalves. Lockhart Smokehouse gets its sausage from the famed Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Tx. Others receiving votes: Pecan Lodge, Jambo's BBQ Shack in Rendon and Longoria's BBQ in Everman.

BEST TURKEY: Hutchins with 3 votes. All the meats at Hutchins are very good, but the turkey rises to the top among DFW barbecue joints. Others receiving votes: Baby Back Shak and Hard Eight BBQ in Coppell.

BEST SANDWICH: Jambo's with 3 votes for its giant Jambo Texan. "I don't eat sandwiches at BBQ places, but Jambo's meat combo served between two slices of bread would be the exception," Goncalves said. Others receiving votes: Meshack's Bar-B-Que in Garland, Baby Back Shak and Hard Eight.

BEST SIDE: Baby Back Shak's boudin with 3 votes. Boudin is a Cajun-style sausage stuffed with rice and pork. "Really the only side I've had more than a fork full of in Texas," Goncalves said. Others receiving votes: The Brussels sprouts with cauliflower at The Slow Bone in Dallas and the smoked deviled eggs at Lockhart Smokehouse.

BEST DEAL: Hutchins' $16.59 all-you-can-eat special with 5 votes. "If you truly want to pig out on great BBQ without breaking the bank, it's your only real option," Barber said. One vote for the Trough meat sampler at Pecan Lodge.

BEST SERVICE: Hutchins with 4 votes. This is a continuation from the Best Deal, above. Just tell the waitress to bring another plate of ribs, and don't forget the ice cream. One vote for Longoria's.

BEST ATMOSPHERE: Lockhart Smokehouse with 3 votes. "It's in a vibrant neighborhood and could serve as base camp for any game-watching operation, or simply the first stop among Bishop Arts' many eating and drinking establishments," Lamb said of the Dallas location. Others receiving votes: Hard Eight and Longoria's.

BEST BAR: Work with 5 votes, one split with Lockhart Smokehouse. Eat good barbecue, have a drink and also get a taste of Dallas' revitalized club scene. One other vote for Lockhart Smokehouse.

BEST JOINT OVERALL: Pecan Lodge with 4 votes, one split with Hutchins.  "For me it's all about the brisket and Pecan Lodge knows brisket," Goncalves said. "The waiting line says it all and it's worth the wait." Others receiving votes: Hutchins and The Slow Bone.

BEST CHAIN: Rudy's with 4 votes. The Posse doesn't usually eat at chain joints, but when it does, it's probably Rudy's. No other chain received votes.

Hutchins BBQ won for turkey, best service & best deal for their $16.59 All You Can Eat special.
(Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)