Longoria’s is well-known in barbecue circles for its famous brisket sausage. Brisket and only brisket is used to fill these hearty sausages. The coarsely ground links are lean but not dry, and are smoky with a robust black pepper flavor. Longoria’s steps further outside the traditional barbecue fare with its smoked burger and incredible beef jerky. Bright red spices coat this still-moist version of dried meat, and a hefty dose of smoke is added to the mix for a complex flavor unlike any other jerky I’ve tasted.
Their St. Louis-style ribs—called “3 and Down” (each slap weighs 3 pounds or less)—are rubbed with a pleasingly salty mixture similar to the one used on the jerky, but this rub doesn’t hinder the formation of a nice black crust. The term “St. Louis style” is often confused with a cooking method, but it refers to the cut of rib, which is simply a spare rib rack with the thick cartilage and fat-filled ends hacked off, leaving a slab of uniform-length ribs. You’re left with a meatier, juicier rib than the popular baby back, and you can tell them apart by the heavy curvature found in the baby back bones. Longoria’s version has a pleasing texture with meat that needs just a tug to come off the bone. The layers of well-rendered fat marry well with the meat and rub to create a moist and vibrantly flavored rib. Brisket slices have a hearty smoke ring with a hefty crust and a good level of smoke.
Smokey’s is a newcomer to the local scene. The name’s been around for dozens of years, but the place sat vacant until Dallas superstar caterer Eddie Deen decided to branch out and open up a restaurant. The menu is limited, but his son Brent Deen is a capable pit master. Smokey’s has two pits. One is gas fired but uses wood to create smoke to cook ribs. The other is wood fired and used for brisket.
Serving one plate at a time is a new challenge for the Deen family. I sat for 20 minutes one afternoon waiting for an order of ribs to come off the smoker. On another trip, I ordered the Cool Hand Luke, a picture-perfect mixture of sliced brisket, ribs, and hot links, all served in a red basket lined with red and white checkered paper. A sweet glaze gave these ribs—smoked in a gas-fired Southern Pride pit—their finishing touch that played well with the heavy black pepper rub. The contrasting flavors melded with the thick meat to create a complex smoky flavor. The brisket was smokier (not surprising given it’s smoked in a wood-fired Oyler pit) with a nice layer of rendered fat on one side and a black crust and good smoke ring on the other. Each slice was moist, tender, and flavorful, with an exemplary toothsome texture.
Hot links were sliced lengthwise in quarters, like pickle spears, making for easy, fork-free handling. Eating barbecue with your hands is more satisfying than allowing a knife and fork to get between you and your hunger. These juicy links with flecks of jalapeño were unfamiliar. Their source? Surprisingly, it's Costco. But they are working on their own recipe.
Hickory is by far the dominant cooking wood for barbecue in this area, but Travis Mayes chose the state tree of Texas, pecan, to fuel his smoker. “The BBQ Man,” as he’s known in Garland, is no newcomer. Barbecue runs deep in the veins of this family. Travis’ wife Donna spent many years perfecting her baked beans and potato salad while working with her father at one of his four joints in Dallas, all of which carried the Meshack name. When her father passed in 1986, she and Travis kept the Garland location running until 1996. They closed, took other jobs, only to reopen again last May.
It’s a challenge to find the joint itself, much less a place to park in the haphazard gravel and grass lot. Things can get pretty busy on a Saturday, with cars backed up on the street. Ordering is done by shouting into a small screened portion of a soot-covered window. Then a figure appears in the smoky concrete box to hand over a brown sack full of perfectly smoked meat.
Peeling back layers of foil and cheap white bread revealed lightly sauced ribs with a deep red crust. Seasoned only with smoke, the tender, moist meat was flavorful to the core. A substantial smoke ring lay beneath the black bark surrounding each slice. The meat was juicy and pulled apart into bite-size smoky morsels. The flavor of the pecan smoke was bold, and it really differentiates it from the standard hickory fare more prevalent in town.
My favorite here is the rib and sliced brisket combination plate. Not only is a pile of meat included on the school cafeteria tray, but it comes with beans, slaw, potato salad, pickles, onion, and bread. All meats here are graced with a hefty dose of Angelo’s special recipe rub seasoning and tossed into a hickory smoke bath inside one of the two specially designed brick-and-steel pits just outside of the kitchen. Ribs are always moist, if a bit fatty, but like the brisket, it has enough hickory smoke flavor to keep it honest. Angelo’s is almost equally famous for its chilled schooners of draft beer.
Most of the historic barbecue joints of Central Texas choose oak for their smokers, and the pit boss at Bartley’s has followed suit, bucking the Dallas trend of using hickory. On my latest visit, beef was sliced from the point (or “fatty” end) of the brisket. Brisket (pectoralis profundus) is made up of two muscles. One makes up the flat cut, which is leaner and has a thin layer of fat on the top side, and it is usually more uniformly sliced. The other cut is the point, which is thicker and has more intramuscular fat. It is a much less forgiving cut and requires long smoking at low temperatures for the fat to melt within the meat. Take it out too soon or cook it too hot, and you’ll get chewy meat with globs of unrendered fat in every slice.
Based on the slices on my plate, this pit master had a deft hand with the smoker and the knife. Each slice had a well-formed black crust and good smoke ring surrounding moist meat with well-rendered fat and smoke flavor throughout. The sweet glaze, brushed onto the ribs when they were pulled from the smoker, gave them a punch of flavor.
Next door, the owner’s brother has opened up a bakery. There is no “white bread afterthought” at Bartley’s; instead you’ll find fresh rolls and homemade desserts that are always hot and delicious. The unique pecan cobbler alone was worth the trip. Don’t bother asking for the recipe.