Growing up in NY, real Texas BBQ (pretty much any BBQ for that matter) just wasn’t something I was ever exposed to. I went to culinary school and was never really exposed to it there, either. So, I entered adulthood not really understanding what I was missing.
The first few times someone dragged me to a BBQ joint when I moved to Virginia the experience consisted of shredded pork (which is pretty popular in that area of the country) or a chain restaurant, neither of which I enjoyed very much. As my job took me to more and more places I started to gain a better appreciation for BBQ and ultimately learned the difference between good BBQ and bad BBQ. Boy, is there a big difference.
I had a pretty good experience in Austin last year at a place called Iron Works, though the experts will tell you there’s much better BBQ South of town.
BBQ experts are something of the purist type. They stake vociferous claims to their favorite spot and don’t generally think highly of other local “inferior” BBQ joints. While I don’t consider myself anywhere near an expert, and surely don’t want to offend those who are, I really enjoyed my most recent experience.
I had a layover at DFW airport so I contacted a good friend of mine to see if he wanted to have lunch. We hadn’t seen each other in a number of months and so lunch was scheduled with him agreeing to pick me up at DFW. Since he’s a local he chose the restaurant. Upon arriving in baggage claim he asked me if I was hungry. Legitimate question, since it was only 10:30am-ish. I said sure as long as he was. The reply was something like, “Yup. Just got done with a breakfast where they served egg whites and kale.”
We hopped in his car and shot through some back roads near the airport. Past a postal facility, some warehouses and up popped a big shack. There were no other restaurants anywhere in site, nor any retail stores of any kind. I was starting to get my hopes up a bit because I had skipped a real breakfast and it did appear we were headed off the beaten path enough to find good BBQ. As we drove, my friend told me how he discovered the place. He and his buddies used to pile into his plane (he has a small private plane) and fly to a landing strip not far from Dallas for lunch. When they landed, there was always a golf cart waiting for them. They would shoot across the road to a BBQ joint that was one of their favorites. Recently, the owners had decided to open a location near Dallas.
Shortly after priming my brain with all of that info we pulled into the parking lot of Hard 8 BBQ. We were the first people in the door because of the early hour but we wouldn’t be alone for long. I could see the smoke pit out back as we parked and walked in as well as smell what was about to be our lunch. Piles of wood, lines of smokers, all the authentic pieces were there just begging me to believe it was going to be a great lunch.
As we got to the order counter, my friend gave me the lowdown. You got a tray with a piece of wax paper. You started pointing at things and shouting out how much you wanted. They cut and weighed your lunch, and away you went to raise your cholesterol. The pit cook in charge lifted up the massive lid on the prepared foods. There were your basics, like a brisket still wrapped in foil that hadn’t been cut into yet (the juices just rolled off the cutting board), ribs, chicken and two types of sausage. Beyond that there were bacon wrapped chicken and jalapeño skewers, boiled and roasted corn and baked potatoes.
I chose brisket, ribs and the spicy sausage. I was asked how many slices. I was too busy salivating to remember whether I said 3 or 300, but it was more than I could ultimately finish. We added some sides when we got inside, grabbed some sweet tea (what else are you going to drink with BBQ?) and found some stools to sit on.
It was a long and leisurely lunch since neither of us was in a rush and were both enjoying our BBQ adventure. Ultimately there were more leftovers than I would have liked, and every seat in the house was full by the time we tried to launch ourselves off our stools towards the car.
A number of years ago I used to schedule myself a longer layover in DFW on my way to Las Vegas when I was headed there for business or a poker tournament. The Admirals Club in the A terminal has a small health club and I used to work out, take a shower, then get back on the plane. I might have to start scheduling those layovers again, though I doubt I’ll be getting any healthier when I do.