|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)
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.|
"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.|
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.