February will soon be upon us, and Jordan Montgomery, the burly co-ace of the Rangers’ World Series-winning team, remains a free agent.
If the 31-year-old’s goal is to stay in Texas at a fair market rate, we can make a decent stab at what’s standing in the way: the Rangers’ unresolved television situation, which still isn’t much clearer after Amazon became a minority investor in Bally’s parent company Diamond Sports last week. One can quibble with how much owners of a championship ball club based in a top-five market should allow TV revenue to determine what checks they write—The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal points out that Ray Davis and Co. stand to be cash flush regardless of what happens—but, still, the chances of Montgomery re-upping with the Rangers likely don’t become real until the TV picture takes shape.
That doesn’t stop other parties from putting incentives on the table in the meantime, though. That’s where Hurtado Barbecue comes in. Brandon Hurtado, owner and pitmaster at the Arlington institution, was a diehard Rangers fan well before his restaurant became the team’s official barbecue restaurant partner, so it tracks that he’d want to see Montgomery back on the mound for the home squad. Less expected: Hurtado offering the lefthander free barbecue for life if Montgomery comes back.
The proposition made waves locally earlier in the month and has since gotten national pickup in USA Today. It also led Mike Piellucci and Brian Reinhart to ponder a rather important question. Both of them will do a lot of things for free food—perhaps even debasing things if the quality is high enough. But despite Hurtado earning plaudits as one of the best barbecue joints in the state, neither one of them had ever tried it themselves.
The debate isn’t whether Hurtado makes good meat; it’s whether Hurtado is so good that it could plausibly influence an elite professional athlete as he signs what is likely to be his last big contract.
So on Tuesday, we made the trek to Arlington to render a verdict. And after ordering a hilarious amount of food, we did:
Mike: Before we assess Hurtado’s bona fides, Brian, tell us about what you know about its reputation and its place in the North Texas barbecue zeitgeist going in.
Brian: Hurtado Barbecue is practically in the shadow of Globe Life Field—less than 2 miles away. In the last few years, it’s become Arlington’s single most famous restaurant, and it’s grown really quickly. Brandon Hurtado opened his doors in 2020, and in less than four years, he’s muscled onto Texas Monthly’s Top 50, opened a second location in Fort Worth, opened and closed another location in Little Elm, and started operating a concession inside Globe Life itself. So it’s totally believable that Rangers fans could eat the same meal in the stands that Jordan Montgomery had before the game.
I think Hurtado’s lightning-fast rise to fame is because of its consistency, its proud Hispanic influences, and Arlington’s need for a few great restaurants. But until now, I hadn’t gotten an excuse to try it out.
Mike: So convenience is working in its favor. Montgomery has 81 occasions each year to jet over there after a home game and put down some food. Whether he should is another matter.
That’s where we come in. To start, that means testing a wide swath of one of the more diverse barbecue menus in the area. We ordered nine items on our trip out, ranging from the obvious (brisket and sausage) to higher-brow items that you might also find at other spots (Texas Twinkies, which has also been popularized by Hutchins BBQ, and brisket tostadas, which LORO in Addison and East Dallas serve in pulled pork form), to the stuff that really stood out (birria tacos, quail, bacon braised cabbage). The good folks behind the counter were kind enough to throw in a couple of burnt ends, which put us at an even 10.
Pretty confident that if that repertoire can sell us, a guy who is listed at 6-foot-6, 228 pounds, can find plenty to order, too.
Brian: I’d definitely make a trip before a ballgame. That brisket was pull-apart tender, indulgently juicy, and had a seasoning rub that’s peppery but not too strong. And they know how to work it. We had those good brisket slices, brisket on our tostada, and even a little bit of brisket inside the cornbread.
One thing Jordan’s going to have to decide is how much of a spice guy he is. That salsa verde on the tostada and in the tacos—that’s serious, man. It woke me up! I loved it, but I had to take a little elote break there.
Mike: Hard same. I unintentionally put myself through a pain gauntlet of the Twinkie, the tostada, and the birria back-to-back-to-back. It was delicious, but as someone who walks more on the mild side, I’d advise against that if your heat threshold isn’t pretty high.
What I would recommend: the quail. Tender, juicy, peppery, and comparably light (especially relative to the poblano and cheese sausage, which oozed a bit too much for my liking). You’ve spoken plenty about the need for every barbecue spot in town needing a secret weapon or two. That more than qualifies.
Brian: Yeah! The quail is definitely a secret weapon. And it’s gently sweet so you can turn to it after the Twinkie lights you up. Another Hurtado signature: that bacon-braised cabbage. The cabbage is still in big chunks, tender but not soggy, and shot through with bacon fat flavor.
I’m with you on the sausage—so much cheese inside, and our casing was a little tough to bite through at the ends. I think the cornbread, which is in the shape of a giant muffin, got a little grainy-textured when they added the brisket to the mix. But overall, what a great tray of ’cue. What a good representation of what Texas is up to these days, for visiting baseball fans or free-agent World Series starters.
Mike: Which is where it gets pretty easy for me to endorse this as a suitable inducement for Montgomery to re-sign with the Rangers. Just about everything worked, and there’s so much that we didn’t even touch items such as pork ribs, the beef rib, or the two sides that were most recommended to us, Hatch chile mac n’ cheese and mashed potatoes. (We might have exploded trying to add those to everything else.) There’s even a burger that friend of the program Nick Rallo is a big fan of.
Point is, there are a lot of different experiences you can have here. You put a lifetime supply of this on the table, along with a fair-market contract, and I will run my elbow into the ground three times over.
Brian: I’ve been looking around the league at which teams, besides Texas, could most use a guy like Montgomery in their rotation. The Baltimore Orioles are the obvious one. The Giants would love how he lines up behind Logan Webb in a playoff series. Maybe the Cubs or Twins fit in that picture, too, if they want to spend the cash.
But from Jordan’s point of view, what kind of free food-for-life deal do you need to get from those cities to beat a tray of barbecue this delicious and this close to the ballpark? I feel like the city of Baltimore can make a strong bid with free Faidley’s crab cakes for life. But it’s like you said—that’s one dish. Where’s the variety? Maybe the Giants ante up, like, a different Chinatown lunch every weekend.
To me, free barbecue is at least as big a plus for Texas as the part about no state income tax.
Mike: This is an excellent pitch that the Rangers’ brass should put in their deck. And, if it works and Montgomery re-signs, it goes without saying that we’ve earned a kickback. Or, failing that, at least a free lunch or two.
Brian: If Texas loses one of our playoff heroes to a city that offers up free crab cakes, we will really need to rethink our priorities. That said, I definitely think Hurtado is the right joint for the job.