A.N. Bewley Fabricators have been making wood-burning barbecue pits for nearly 50 years. From the plant, just a stone’s throw from Fair Park, the owners produce the carbon steel behemoths used by proprietors with distinguished taste in commercial smokers. Like Cousin’s, Baker’s is a local chain that recognizes the value of using 100 percent hickory smoke, and the restaurant has a Bewley in the kitchen to prove it.
The brisket shows the sign of a good smoke. Each slice has a thick smoke ring and deep black, crispy crust. One big plus here is that an order of either fatty or lean brisket (or a combination of both) doesn’t draw a blank stare from the knife man. Like Sonny Bryan, the experienced cutters here understand what experienced ’cue lovers crave.
Baker’s namesake ribs aren’t quite as smoky as the beef, but a nice rub combines a swift kick of black pepper with a subtle hint of sweet. These ribs are never tough, but if you order in mid-afternoon, you may find them mushy. Stick with the lunch rush, and you’ll always have fresh meat along with better-than-average sides, including a dill-flecked smashed potato salad that finds its way onto my plate every time.
Billy McDonald has been working in and around this joint since he was pouring iced tea for a catering event at the age of 7. His dad opened the place on the edge of Deep Ellum in 1955, then moved over to a storefront on Exposition. After a battle with the landlord, they made their way to the current location on Main Street in 1982. Billy, a self-described hickory smoke addict, took over after his dad’s passing, and he’s been serving up ’cue with a side of sass to loyal customers ever since. Most of those years were spent with Mama by his side. The duo did it all until she took ill several months back. Now Billy and another relative handle the operations.
Visitors vie for a spot in the small asphalt parking lot and then head up a steep concrete ramp to the front door. The decor is “country sparse,” with bovine-inspired comics. After reviewing a menu, orders are given directly to Billy. If you ask him about his meat, he may describe it as dead cow, dead pig, or dead turkey.
I’ve sampled nearly every meat they offer, and the special recipe jalapeño hot links are the best. These links, from a secret source in West Texas, have little fat filler, meaning they don’t cheat by using a ton of fat in the sausage mixture to ensure moisture, and instead refrain from overcooking the sausage to allow the natural moisture in the meat to remain. The natural casing provides a good snap, and the medium grind to the meat creates a pleasing feeling in the mouth that (thankfully) differs from the slimy bologna-like texture of mass-market brands.
Brisket and ribs are also great options. Both meat offerings are moist, with well-rendered fat and a pleasing smoke flavor. Don’t miss the barbecue beans and ultra crispy French fries. These fresh-cut potatoes are fried in soybean oil, and are great for dipping in their excellent sauce or, even better, the barbecue bean juice. The perfect meal at Mac’s is a sliced beef and hot link sandwich. Buns are buttered and grilled to order, the meat is piled high, and just a few drops of smoky sweet sauce are ladled on top. Warning: this sandwich requires a pile of napkins.
Sam Gibbins has shown his marketing prowess by selling “cold beer, good barbecue, and hot girls” at The Smoke Pit just outside of downtown Fort Worth. Yes the girls are hot, but the barbecue is passable at best. However, Gibbins shows his smoking prowess at The Ranch House, his year-and-a-half-old venture in the far northwest corner of the city. The menu includes smoked steaks and a hearty burger, along with the standard ’cue options.
I sat at the bar while sampling ribs and brisket along with some ice-cold longnecks. A plate piled high with huge, meaty spare ribs and thick slices of brisket arrived along with some tolerable side items. The real stars here are the deep dark ribs and the thick slices of beef. A deep smoke ring under a well-formed black crust is evident on the brisket slices. Both exhibit a terrific texture with pleasing moisture, providing for good mouth integrity. Ribs were smoky with a thick crust and meat that just required a slight tug to release it from the bone. Each bite delivers smokiness that you can’t get from a gas-fired smoker. Sam found his Ole Hickory smoker at an auction of a defunct barbecue joint. Their loss is his gain. The wood smolders continuously throughout the cooking process, and the results deserve a trip to north Fort Worth.
North Main BBQ, home of the self-proclaimed “World’s Best Ribs,” appropriately sits on Main Street in Euless, just north of Highway 183. Since it opened in 1981, it has won countless barbecue competitions. Open Friday through Sunday only, this popular spot can get busy. Orders can be placed a la carte, but most opt for the buffet. On several trips, I’ve noticed that the quality of the meat at the buffet has outshined what I’ve been served a la carte.
Recently the restaurant was featured on the Food Network’s Best Thing I Ever Ate. Host Ted Allen went bonkers for North Main’s brisket. I find the brisket flavorful, but a bit dry. Generally, the ribs that it’s famous for are what keep me going back for seconds every time.
Congratulations, downtown Dallas. The Baby Back Shak is back. It closed after surviving a fire, but it’s up and running and even has its own Facebook fan page. It’s the perfect excuse for those of you in North Dallas to come downtown. Just head south on Akard and look for the pink pig smoking a cigar on the side of a black brick building.
Service is curt and efficient, as it must be to accommodate the ever-increasing line at lunch. The Shak bills itself as Memphis-style barbecue, but this place offers a plethora of meat options unequalled in the area. For variety, order the five-meat Shak Platter. The standards of brisket, ribs, and sausage are here, but the options also include smoked bologna, Cornish hen, chicken wing drummies, and an unusual Boudin (a Cajun-style rice- and pork-filled sausage). Most folks swear by the Shak barbecue beans. They are mixed with copious amounts of ground chuck to create a concoction that resembles a hearty bean chili. Ribs are the real meat winner here, with a hefty peppery rub covering perfectly moist and tender meat. Take a trip to the south side, and throw together your own combination.
BBQ ROAD TRIPWorthy joints within an hour(ish) drive of Dallas
LILLIAN:Casstevens Cash & Carry
This Diamond Shamrock station doesn’t look like much, but the meat that comes out from behind the barbecue counter is worth coming back for.
GLEN ROSE: Hammond’s Bar-B-Que
Enjoy the friendly service at the communal picnic tables, but plan to enjoy the smoky and tender brisket even more. Don’t forget to BYOB from the gas station next door.
Loco Coyote Cafe
Finding it is half the battle, but it’s one of the few places still sporting a true sawdust-covered dirt floor. Find a spot at a picnic table, and prepare yourself for some huge portions. Don’t miss the blackberry cobbler.
ENNIS: Bubba’s Bar-B-Q and Steakhouse
You can choose a raw steak from the cooler at the entrance, or make your way back to the counter where tender meats are sliced to order.
SHERMAN: OO Smokehouse
It’s to-go only, but I dare you to wait until you get all the way home before breaking into that box for the huge spare ribs and excellent brisket.
TIOGA: Clark’s Outpost
This well-known joint packs them in on the weekends. Be prepared for some heavily rubbed ribs, and try the unique smoked trout.
AUBREY: The BBQ Joint
This family-run joint serves up heavily smoked meat as well as excellent burgers. Learn about cuts of beef and pork on the informative table tents while you wait for your order.
AZLE:Trading Post BBQ
Brisket is slow smoked over mesquite in a homemade pit, then sliced thick. Ribs have a crispy crust and the flavor of chicken skin.
WAXAHACHIE: The BBQ Pit
Piping hot barbecue sauce from a communal crock pot isn’t found in Dallas often, but feel free to ladle it on the quality smoked meats at this joint with a down-home feel.