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)

Monday, March 31, 2014

Hey, Final Four fans! Here's the Posse's guide to the best BBQ in Dallas-Fort Worth

Over the years, readers have asked the Posse for barbecue joint recommendations. Those requests have increased recently with the Final Four of the NCAA men's basketball tournament headed to North Texas.

So, here is our list of best places in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. None of them is more than an hour's drive from AT&T Stadium. The closest is right across the street.

One reader asked what may be the ultimate question this year for barbecue fans who also enjoy a little college basketball:

Pecan Lodge or Hutchins?

Our answer: Figure out how to eat at both. These are probably the two best joints in the area and among the top handful in the state. The other places on our list -- written by Chris Wilkins and Phil Lamb -- are good, too.

Enjoy, especially you fans from Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky and Wisconsin.

The Best BBQ Joints in DFW
(In alphabetical order)

Baby Back Shak/Dallas: The Shak is a long-time Posse favorite. The ribs are among the best in Dallas and the service is great, too. Don't miss the boudin, you can order it as a plate or a side.
Baby Back Shak, 1800 South Akard St., Dallas, 214-428-7427. Open Mon-Thurs 11am-5:45pm, Fri-Sat 11am-6:45pm.

BBQ on the Brazos/Cresson: If you smoke it, they will drive. Fast. The brisket is worth the trip all by itself.  If there were a North Texas BBQ tournament, BBQ on the Brazos would be our "sleeper pick" to make the Final Four.  Dangerously good BBQ that might be able to hang with the best operations around.
BBQ on the Brazos, 9001 E Hwy 377, Cresson, 817-396-4758. Open Mon-Fri 6:30am-3pm, Sat 9am-3pm or until the meat runs out.

Eddie Deen Crossroads Smokehouse/Arlington:
Here's your go-to joint before the big games at Cowboys Stadium. Located catercorner from the stadium, you can enjoy great BBQ and an ice cold beer before cheering on your team. Don't miss the sampler platter, you and several friends can try all their meats for a great price.
Eddie Deen Crossroads Smokehouse, 1004 N Collins St, Arlington, 817-795-6900. Open Mon-Sat 11am-3pm or until the meat runs out. (Crossroads will be adding evening hours during the Final Four weekend & beginning April 15, 2014)

Hard Eight BBQ/Coppell: Not quite the BBQ served by the elite programs, but consistently solid BBQ located 10 minutes from DFW airport.  Fantastic atmosphere with plenty of TVs, cold beer, and an outdoor patio make Hard Eight a great place to spend a lazy afternoon.
Hard Eight BBQ, 688 Freeport Pkwy, Coppell, 972-471-5462. Open Mon-Thurs 10:30am-9pm, Fri-Sat 10:30am-10pm, Sun 10:30am-6pm.

Hutchins BBQ/McKinney: Hutchins is quickly becoming one of the best BBQ joints in the state. Owner Tim Hutchins and crew are combining tremendous BBQ with superb service at a great price. Don't miss the free peach cobbler or banana pudding after you finish your three-meat platter.
Hutchins BBQ, 1301 N Tennessee St, McKinney, 972-548-2629. Open Sun-Thurs 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-9:30pm.

Jambo's BBQ Shack/Rendon: Open less than a year, legendary competition pit master Jamie Geer has already made his mark on the Texas BBQ restaurant scene. Don't miss the Jambo Texan, words can't describe the most amazing sandwich in all of Texas BBQ.
Jambo's BBQ Shack, 5460 E FM 1187, Rendon, 817-478.2277. Open Tues-Fri 11am-6pm, Sat 11am-3pm or until the meat runs out.

Lockhart Smokehouse/Dallas & Plano: A meat mecca with joints located in one of Dallas' hottest neighborhoods and the quaint downtown of one of the metro area's largest suburbs. Don't miss the beef ribs and the burnt ends and if you have a big group, ask about the Shiner Platter.
Lockhart Smokehouse, 400 W. Davis, Dallas, 214-944-5521. Open every day from 11am til they're done. They also have a location at 1026 E. 15th St. in Plano.

Longoria's BBQ/Everman: At Longoria's you'll be treated like family. Don't be surprised if pit master David Longoria takes you on an impromptu tour of the pits. And don't miss the brisket sausage, it may be one of the best sausages you've ever tasted.
Longoria’s BBQ, 100 Christopher, Everman, 827-568-9494. Open Mon-Fri 10:30am-7pm, Sat 10:30am-4pm.

Mac's Bar-B-Que/Dallas: Mac's has been open nearly 60 years and still has a full dining room at lunch every day. That's a testament to second-generation pit master Billy McDonald's skills running the smoker. Don't miss the brisket frito pie, it's a Texas classic, and the French fries are considered some of the best in town.
Mac's Bar-B-Que, 3933 Main St, Dallas, 214-823-0731. Open Mon-Fri 11am-2:30pm.

Meshack's Bar-B-Que Shack/Garland: Unquestionably the best BBQ on the east side of Dallas-Fort Worth.  Bring a chair or plan on getting your BBQ "to go."  Cash only. Don't miss the family pack. It's not on the menu, but the last time we got it, it included brisket, sausage, ham, and -- we think -- some ribs, as well as a side of beans .
Meshack's Bar-B-Que Shack, 240 E. Ave. B, Garland, 214-227-4748. Open Tues-Sat 10:30am-until the meat runs out.

Pecan Lodge/Dallas: This joint in the Farmer's Market has taken the DFW BBQ scene by storm. Pit master Justin Fourtin is putting out some of the best smoked meat in the state. You may have a to stand in line, but it's well worth it. Don't miss the brisket, it's world class and put Pecan Lodge on the Texas BBQ map.
Pecan Lodge, 1010 South Pearl Expressway, Farmer's Market Shed #2, Dallas, 214-748-8900. Open: Wed-Sun 11am-3pm or until the meat runs out.

The Slow Bone/Dallas: Jack Perkins took the major success of his burger joint, Maple & Motor, and applied it to BBQ. The sides are on par with the meats, which are really good across the board. Don't miss the brisket, it's some of the best in town.
The Slow Bone, 2234 Irving Blvd., Dallas, 214-377-7727. Open daily 11am-3pm.

Work Bar & Grill/Dallas: Looking for the combination good BBQ and a great bar? Work Bar & Grill is your place. Pitmaster Doug Pickering has brought his "sugar cookie" brisket to the hip neighborhood of Deep Ellum. Don't miss the brisket sliders.
Work Bar & Grill, 2618 Elm Street, Dallas, 214-699-6959. Open Thurs 5pm-midnight, Fri-Sat 11am-2am, Sun 11am-10pm, Mon 8pm-2am, closed Tues-Wed.

Click here to see a Google map of our favorite BBQ joints around the state.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Future Posse member has his first-ever taste of brisket at Pat Gee's BBQ in Tyler

My daughter Ashley Montgomery and grandson James at Pat Gee's Barbecue. (Photo ©Chris WIlkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

For every Texas barbecue fanatic, there are smoked meat moments that will always be remembered. I was lucky enough to have another of those great memories on Saturday at Pat Gee's Barbecue outside of Tyler.

I remember the first time eating brisket for breakfast with friends at Snow's BBQ on a foggy Saturday morning in November 2009. That experience forever changed our view of what barbecue could be and led to the birth of Texas BBQ Posse. Every Central Texas BBQ tour we've had since then always begins at Snow's on a Saturday morning.

According to family lore, my first exposure to barbecue was in the mid-1960's at Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q, as a child growing up in Tyler. I'm pretty sure it involved a chopped beef sandwich and a Big Red. And Stanley's is still around, better than ever, a mainstay on Texas Monthly's Top 50 BBQ list.

Pat Gee's Barbecue pictured in the 1977. (Photo by Tom Hackim)
My next great barbecue memory was going to Pat Gee's, located under tall pine trees in the countryside east of Tyler. We began eating there in high school in the late 1970's. Pitmaster Pat Gee was larger than life, producing some of the best BBQ to ever come out of East Texas. He was overshadowed only by his wife Vida, who ran the counter and knew all their customers by name.

After Pat died in 1999, she continued to run the historic BBQ joint with her sons Arthur and Billy. I would always drop by to say hi whenever in town visiting family and introduced my daughter Ashley & son Tyler when we moved back to Texas in 2001. Vida Gee passed away in 2009, but Arthur and Billy continue to run the joint to this day.

Fast forward to last Saturday, when we headed to Tyler to introduce my six-month-old grandson James to several family members. James was born on Sept. 24th last year, my first grandchild. Weighing in at almost nine pounds, I was pretty sure he would join his grandfather on Texas Posse BBQ tours one day.

After visiting with family, Ashley, James & I took a slight detour east to pick up a couple of pounds of Pat's chopped brisket to take back to Dallas. It's a family tradition. As Arthur Gee worked the cutting board, a light bulb came on. The time had come for baby James to try his first bite of brisket.

My father James has been a regular at Pat Gee's for over 30 years and son Tyler and I have eaten there every chance we've had since moving back to DFW. James would be the fourth generation of our family to eat the legendary chopped beef at Pat's.

Long story short, he loved it and had several bites before reaching out for the whole bowl of chopped brisket. We stopped him there, but I expect there will be many more visits to Pat's and other great Texas BBQ joints in his future.

Pat Gee's Barbecue, 17547 Jamestown Rd., Tyler, 903-534-0265. Open Fri-Sun 11 am-until the meat runs out.

James Montgomery tries his first-ever bite of brisket and goes back for more. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Arthur Gee, center, and his brother Billy, left, have run Pat Gee's since their mom died in 2009. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Check out the map of the Texas BBQ Posse's favorite joints

Since 2009, the Texas BBQ Posse has logged over 6,000 miles visiting joints around the state. In early 2010, group member Gary Barber set up an interactive Google map to chart our favorite BBQ joints around the state. Ten more BBQ tours have followed since then.

This map shows the places we'd visit again, an unofficial Texas BBQ Posse "stamp of approval." You can click here to access our Google map of Texas BBQ Posse stops. Enjoy the blue highways of Texas BBQ and follow the smoke!