Dallas, TX

10 hot tips for National BBQ Month in DFW

Kristina Rowe - Just Me in Big D

Barbecue in North Texas is a way of life. Brisket from Pecan Lodge is just one of many delicious offerings.Kristina Rowe

As a cuisine, Texas Barbecue is hot enough not to need a food holiday, but barbecue as a food group actually has more than one time to celebrate. Yesterday, May 16 was National Barbecue Day, and the entire month of May is National BBQ Month. It's important to note that here in North Texas, barbecue doesn't mean "cook hamburgers out on the grill." You can call that a barbecue if you want, but when we say barbecue, we mean smoked meat, usually the "Texas Trinity" of brisket, ribs and sausage.

Another thing that's particular (but not unique) to Dallas and Fort Worth is that barbecue fans have their favorites, and the rivalry those fans bring is as intense as that of the most devoted sports fans. Calling one barbecue the best over another can be fighting words, but really there's no need for that. Instead of the best places to have amazing smoked meat in Dallas, I gathered some tips that will work for you wherever your favorite barbecue is served, even if that's at home.

Get the best brisket.

I'll confess I never enjoyed smoked brisket until I tried it at Cattleack Barbecue. After that experience, I decided that if a barbecue restaurant doesn't offer a choice between fatty or lean, they're not a top tier BBQ spot, and that when offered a choice, you should always choose fatty.

I've since been proven wrong about both points, so I circled around with Todd David, the pitmaster of Cattleack Barbecue, who owns the local spot with his wife Misti. I wanted to know why fatty brisket (sometimes called moist or wet) is so incredibly delicious.

"Yes I believe that fat is flavor when mixed in meat in the form of marbling but not in the form of just hunks of fat," David said. The key, he told me, is using the highest quality meat. That's why he says he only uses Heartbrand Akaushi Wagyu at Cattleack. "I prefer Akaushi...for the integration of the full marbling throughout the genes of the animal and visible no matter where you cut into the meat. That buttery flavor continues in every bite."

Cattleack Barbecue, the #6 Barbecue Restaurant in Texas according to Texas Monthly.Kristina Rowe

"So while I love that flavor, there are many times where fatty brisket is overkill," David said. "It's still a personal preference for all. Its all about how great of an experience can you have and can we make your day for you." Well said, Todd David. Your sumptuous brisket does indeed make my day.

Don't skip the sauce.

This piece of advice comes directly from Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly's barbcue editor and undisputed barbecue expert. His article from last November explains why and how sauce can be so good, and shouts outs some spots that do justice to sauce.

My personal epiphany on the subject came on Christmas Eve when I decided to skip cooking and order a family pack from Smokey John's Bar-B-Que. My brother remarked on the remarkable flavor combination of the smoked chicken with the tangy sauce, and after tasting it, I now love to dip into the sauce from this family-owned local favorite all the time. Luckily, both the sauce and the rub used at Smokey John's are bottled and ready to purchase, online or at the small "Smokey's Market" at the front of the restaurant.

Locals in Dallas can learn about a lot more than sauce from Brent and Juan Reaves, who run the restaurant started by and named for their late father. Every February, they give us a lesson about Black entrepreneurship and food with their Shoebox Lunches for Black History Month. More recently, they've been conducting master classes on how to become a TV star, with appearances on Deep Fried Dynasty, a series that followed food vendors during the great State Fair of Texas.

Yesterday morning, they were in New York as finalists in Good Morning America's United States of BBQ competition. No spoilers here, but watch the video to see which judges loved their Big John sandwich.

DO skip the line.

Travis and Emma Heim have always been "anti-line", and their two Heim Barbecue locations in Fort Worth and one on Mockingbird in Dallas keep things moving. Head there for breakfast tacos in the morning, brisket, out-of-this world bacon burnt ends, 44 Farms corn dogs, Heimburgers and more with a minimal wait time.

If you want to hit up the hot spots and still skip the line, there are ways to achieve that too. Subscribe to Cattleack's email newsletter and they'll let you know when there's no line. At Pecan Lodge, where lines wrapped around the block are still fairly common, there's a trick to shorten the wait to be seated. This works best for parties of at least two and no more than four, but you can send someone past the line and into the side door to scope out some seats at the bar. If there's room for your party, grab a seat, text them to join you, and you can all order from the menu without standing in line. Cold beer and cocktails make that wait seem even shorter.

Even after 10 years, folks still line up for Pecan Lodge.Kristina Rowe

Put it in a taco.

Some area foodies treat the phrase "Tex-Mex" as an epithet, but they really shouldn't, especially when it comes to brisket tacos. Is there any more authentically Texan food than brisket or more traditionally Mexican than soft, handmade tortillas? It's probably fitting that one of the newest places to get this brilliant Tex-Mex combo is at Texican, a brick and mortar restaurant by Abel Gonzales.You may have known Gonzales as the legendary superstar of the State Fair of Texas Big Tex Choice Awards. If not, the Deep Fried Dynasty series on A&E Network will catch you up.

You can skip that if you want, because what you need to know is that you can get breakfast and lunch tacos made with that wonderful brisket or your other favorite meats at Texican. You can also get brisket in a quesdilla, on a torta or in some tamales. When Gonzales makes Tex-Mex, he's not fooling around.

Over in Arlington, brisket (and other smoked meat) tacos made so much sense that the folks behind Hurtado Barbecue turned them into a menu of sorts for their adjacent cocktail bar and lounge, Hayters. The venture from Brandon Hurtado was already on the rise when it was named one of The Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas by Texas Monthly in 2021.

Ribs and brisket at Off the Bone BBQ.Kristina Rowe

Load up on sides and try the other meats.

Even if you plan to fill up on brisket, don't miss out on outstanding sides and other tasty meats. Here's where to get some of the area's best-loved barbecue sides.

Slow Bone - Sweet potato praline, brisket chili or chili mac, smoke-brined fried chicken

Pecan Lodge - Collard greens, the Hot Mess (sweet potato stuffed with barbecue)

Lockhart Smokehouse - Brisket deviled eggs

Cattleack BBQ - Pastrami brisket (when it's a weekly feature), burnt end beans, crack cake

Hutchins - "Texas Twinkies" (bacon wrapped, brisket and cream cheese stuffed jalapeños)

Off the Bone - Rose’s gourmet cole slaw, chile con queso mac 'n cheese, spicy 3-meat charro beans

Hurtado Barbecue - Smoked elote, brisket elotes

Oak'd - Desserts, from key lime pie to cheesecake to cookies and more

Panther City BBQ - Pork belly poppers, smoked grits

Terry Black's - Margaritas

A smoker full of deliciousness at Terry Black's Barbecue.Courtesy of Terry Black's Barbecue

Bring friends and family together.

Whether for the cooking or the eating, there's no question that barbecue brings people together. Terry Black's Barbecue extended that feeling of family on National Barbecue Day (yesterday) by teaming up with Austin Street Center to feed about 250 of their clients at the Hickory Street shelter. In Austin, the barbecue shop partnered with Foundation Communities to feed about 250 of their residents at both the Waterloo Terrace and Spring Terrace shelter locations.

"Giving back is so important to our family,” said Mike Black who co-owns Terry Black's BBQ with his brother Mark. “We felt it was so important to give back on National BBQ Day to those who need it most."

“Barbecue is more than just a type of cooking in my family – it’s a lifestyle,” Black continued. “Barbecue at its core entails a group of friends or family, gathered around a fire, enjoying great food and drinks. We’re trying to bring that feeling of togetherness and community to the clients that Austin Street Center support.”

Seek out the food trucks, popups and other hidden gems.

Sometimes the hottest barbecue tip isn't about the hottest place or how to survive the line there, but where to find the hidden gems. Smaller restaurants, food trucks and pop ups are bringing the heat to the area's barbecue game.

In Arlington, 225⁰ BBQ sets up shop outside Division Brewing every Friday through Sunday from noon until they sell out. Check the food truck's Facebook page for menu items, when to show up and how to call ahead.

A pinned post on Not Just Q's Facebook page lists their booked May locations in the Fort Worth aread with hopes to add more. In Irving, Bout Tyme BBQ brings its top tastes to a Valero gas station at Country Club and Belt Line.

Known for its jazz nights and strong drinks, Sandaga 813 in the Exposition Park neighborhood hosts Triple D BBQ from Darryl McDowell on their patio out back starting at 9 p.m. or so on Friday and Saturday nights. This guy's Texas Trinity is truly close to holy. In the same neighborhood, Parry Avenue Barbecue Company cooks up some mouthwatering meat at their outdoor bar and picnic area, and also provides barbecue for backyard parties in the neighborhood.

407 BBQ in Argyle serves some great barbecue.Kristina Rowe

It's worth the drive to discover more.

You don't have to drive all the way to Hill Country for great barbecue. Driving to a top barbecue spot can be a whole experience if you're willing to drive a bit. Last summer Chris Wolfgang wrote an entire series of road trip barbecue articles for Dallas Observer.

For a shorter drive, hit up Goldees Bar-B-Q in Fort Worth which claimed the number one spot in Texas Monthly's top 50 list. Since that recent claim to fame, Goldees has had long lines. Your best option for giving this tasty brisket a try is to make it a whole experience - drive time, wait time and all.

Another great barbecue spot that's worth the drive for Dallasites is 407 BBQ in Argyle. Former radio personality Jodie Dean tweeted his top 10 barbecue list some time ago and I've been a fan of 407 ever since.

If you're keeping score, this out-of-the-way barbecue spot snagged an honorable mention in that Texas Monthly list. Brisket and ribs are fantastic, sides simply marvelous and the sandwich options are creative. But what's unique and unforgettable on 407's menu is the smoked meat loaf. Order a whole one to go and you won't be sorry.

You can even build a vacation around it.

If you want to go to Hill Country for barbecue, there are plenty of ways to make it happen. One company, Harvest Hosts offers RVers a membership that lets them stay on-premise at restaurants, farms, ranches, wineries and other locations all across the U.S. Small businesses enjoy the extra profit that Harvest Host RVers spend during their travels, and families get a unique vacation opportunity.

Lone Star Bar and Grill in Fredericksburg is a participating location with great food and drinks in a desirable Texas road trip locale. Harvest host members headed to Lockhart, Texas can stay at Landgraf Ranch At Walnut Creek or Wild Bunch Brewing Co. in nearby Red Rock. If Snow's BBQ in Lexington is on your list, a Harvest Hosts stay at Rising Sun Vineyard or Hummers Homestead Alpacas can make it a memorable vacation.

Don't oven bake that stuff and call it Texas Brisket.

Or find out the hard way as Senator John Cornyn did.

There's nothing wrong with oven-braising a brisket, but that's not really Texas barbecue. Going the DIY route on a smoker in your backyard might make more sense. Just be sure you're buying the best beef, and definitely take some hints from Texas grocery chain HEB. Their Beef Brisket Guide is chock full of tips for making your own brisket if that's how you want to celebrate during National Barbecue Month or any other time.

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Lifelong North Texas resident Kristina Rowe writes helpful guides to the best food and fun in Dallas, Fort Worth, Plano, Arlington and more cities in the DFW metroplex. New or nostalgic, frugal or frivolous, count on Kristina for insider tips on things to do in Dallas Fort Worth.

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