3 life-changing Dallas barbecue experiences that turned one man into a meathead

When I arrived in Texas in 1997, I was a (somewhat) nice Jewish boy who had pretty firm beliefs about brisket. It was meant to be sprinkled with Lipton onion soup mix, cooked in an oven, presented with Challah bread and beet-colored horseradish and saved for only the most holy days of the year.

I have converted.

According to my new belief system, brisket -- smoked at least 12 hours over oak or hickory, with a blackened bark and smoke ring -- makes any day a holiday.

It's been a long process, this conversion. In the 1970s or early '80s, most barbecue was a sauce, not a style. And where I came from -- Georgia and south Florida -- barbecue usually meant ribs and nothing more.

I've seen some growth since then: a little bit as a person, a whole lot as a waist measurement. Over the coming weeks, I hope to grow a little more with you, but this time as your maven of meats, your prince of pork, your burgermeister. I'm not a restaurant critic; our city is stocked with great ones and I wouldn't know dill dust from porcini powder. I'm more of a regular guy, just a good food dude. Whereas Texas Monthly has its own barbecue editor nicknamed the Barbecue Snob, I'm more the Barbecue Slob. I'm probably walking around with a noticeable sauce stain on my shirt right now.

So let's explore three transformative local barbecue experiences that have turned me into the pitmaster wannabe I am today:

The sauce

It's easy for true 'cue cats to think of Peggy Sue BBQ in Dallas' Snider Plaza as more kitsch than serious meats, but that would be too judgy, especially if you value what sauce brings to the plate.

Just hear me out: Sauce can be great on barbecue.
Just hear me out: Sauce can be great on barbecue.(Milton Hinnant)

It's impossible not to lust for the hot barbecue sauce, presented in tiny tin creamers. It is the original awesomesauce. It alliteratively improves that brisket is better. Sausage sings. Onion rings are outstanding. Eggs -- scrambled -- are extraordinary.

Before we go any further, you should know I'm an Impulsive Saucer. Want to turn me into the BBQ Posse for violating one of the "unwritten" rules of BBQ, then fine, I'll live my life as fugitive. I realize that many of today's "purists" rail against using sauce on smoked meats, but I'm here to tell you: Ain't nothing wrong with it. It's BBQ. There are no rules. It's usually served on paper and operating hours are often "until we run out." You do you. You want sauce, slop it in. Me: I'll taste some naked and some with sauce. One meat, two experiences.

I recently made a conscious effort to go naked, metaphorically speaking, at Peggy Sue. But without the sauce, there seemed to be a noticeable absence of smoke and spice and, well, sauce. So I trembled for just a moment, shakily poured out a little pool of sauce in the corner of the plate and dragged the meat through it. Straight to sauce heaven.

It's OK. I've got an addiction. Nothing wrong with that, as long as the sauce rocks your world. This sauce would rock Jupiter.

The sandwich

The first time I waited in line at Pecan Lodge in Dallas, it was with my girlfriend at the time. Before the afternoon was over, I knew I had two new true loves. Gina became my wife, the Pitmaster sandwich my new best friend.

Behold, the Pitmaster sandwich from Pecan Lodge.
Behold, the Pitmaster sandwich from Pecan Lodge.(Carter Rose)

While we waited in line, my thoughts bounced in my head: "Brisket or ribs, brisket or ribs? Wait, pulled pork. No. Brisket or ribs." Then somebody skipped by with a pile of pulled pork. A bevy of brisket. Slices of sausage. All together. On a bun. Topped with colorful slaw and a pinwheel of lush fresh jalapeno.

The Pitmaster. What a beauty.

Of course, it was even better with a little bit of sauce.

Gina even allowed me to bring my second love home. When we fire up the smoker, we make "Mini Masters," an homage to the Pecan Lodge delicacy, bringing it down to slider size on Hawaiian rolls.

The smell of smoldering hickory and oak is ever-present at the Lodge. It wafts through the line. It tickles your nose with every bite.

And now a word about fried chicken. You wait in line for 30 minutes to get a sandwich or a rib, seduced by the smoke. And yet, fried chicken is also a menu option. What sweet hell is this? The chicken is plump and golden, with beautiful breading. Don't fight it. It's good frickin' chicken, man.

The meat

It really didn't seem like my kind of place.

Try the shoulder clod at Lockhart Smokehouse, which has locations in Dallas and Plano.
Try the shoulder clod at Lockhart Smokehouse, which has locations in Dallas and Plano.(Michael Ainsworth)

When Lockhart Smokehouse first opened in the Bishop Arts District in 2011, there was no sauce, no forks. They even bragged about it.

Who were these people and why did they insist on torturing us? Well, we dared ourselves to be bold and tried it anyway. It was merely transformational. Being able to get taste every bit of spice in the barkiest brisket in town was exhilarating. Try the shoulder clod, a leaner, firmer cut that is indigenous to Central Texas barbecue -- fitting since the Lockhart folks sprung from Lockhart, Texas, and its Kreuz Market Texas BBQ. Shoulder clod is firmer than moist brisket, moister than lean brisket and very, very beefy.

In addition, Lockhart regularly smokes something special: beef ribs, salmon (a personal favorite), wings, prime rib. There is always something adventurous to try.

And now there is sauce, too.

So, that's my story:

Three never-forget barbecue experiences in DFW that turned me into a Barbecue Slob. I can’t wait to share my stories with you. Just please excuse the sauce stains.

See addresses, hours and maps to each of the Dallas barbecue joints mentioned in the right rail on desktop or below the story on mobile. Click through to each restaurant name for details.


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