Saturday, September 27, 2008

Hard Eight Pit Bar-B-Que

STEPHENVILLE: Hard Eight Pit Bar-B-Que
1091 Glen Rose Rd.
Stephenville, TX 76401
Open M-Thur 10:30-9, F-Sat 10:30-10, Sun 10:30-8

I stopped here with a friend to conclude a 2-1/2 day, 14 joint road trip. He wasn't used to the blitzkrieg style of BBQ force-feeding, but he handled himself well during the initiation weekend. We agreed to order the bare minimum, two ribs and two slices of lean brisket. When paying for our order, I noticed two stacks of cups. The tall stack labeled "Fountain Drinks", and the short stack labeled "Water and Beer". I didn't see any beer, so I asked at the register, and the angel behind the counter informed me that the beer was free! Reenergized we sat down for our plates of meat with cold beer.

I ordered just two slices of brisket, but they were each about an inch thick of reddish colored meat. The crust and fat had been removed, but the flavor of the rub and the smoke remained. The slices were perfectly tender and juicy, so we had to finish them even though our stomachs were begging for mercy. The ribs were also enormous with the same heavy salt and pepper rub. The thick meat had smoke flavor all the way through, but they could have been more tender. Overall, this original location is still the best of the Hard Eight bunch, and luckily, it's the closest to home.

Rating ****

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Hard Eight Bar-B-Que

BRADY: Hard Eight Bar-B-Que
2010 S Bridge St.
Brady, TX 76825
Open M-Thur 10:30-9, F-Sat 10:30-10, Sun 10:30-9

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2008: The Hard Eight brand is well known to many Dallasites who've driven down Highway 67 to visit the Stephenville location. The second location in Brady took over the former Lone Star BBQ location. After my first Hard Eight experience in Coppell, I wasn't expecting much. The meat is ordered in the same way, right at the pit, and the smell of sweet mesquite while waiting my turn to order made my mouth water. This is an intelligent business strategy. Display the entire menu to a load of hungry folks and dare them not to over-order. A friend and I took the bait with both lean and fatty brisket and pork ribs. The ribs were long and thin with a salt and pepper rub reminiscent of Cooper's style, but this one had a better balance of more pepper and less salt. Every bite of the ribs contained some of that rub, so it was hard to detect any smoke flavor. The rib meat was nicely tender with well rendered fat, but they needed to be thicker to stand up to that rub. The thick slices of brisket made for a nice rub to meat ratio. The brisket was mildly smoky with little difference in overall flavor between the fatty and lean brisket. This was due mainly to the fact that the meat needed more time on the smoker to adequately render the fat. While this experience was better than my first in Coppell, I was anxious to get to Stephenville for a comparison to the storied original location.

Rating ***

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Cooper's Bar-B-Q

JUNCTION: Cooper’s Bar-B-Q
2423 N Main St.

Junction, TX 76849


Open Daily 10:30-9

This is one of many locations run by the Cooper family, and the meat is smoked in a similar fashion as the other joints, but it is not displayed in the large smokers outside. Instead, the meat is displayed on the counter at the entry, and it all looked great. We ordered pork ribs, sausage (which is made for Cooper's in Schulenburg, TX) and both fatty and lean brisket. The sausage links were flecked with black pepper and had a great snap in the casing. They had the right balance of fat and meat with a medium grind. The pork ribs were huge. The rub had black pepper and a generous amount of salt. The ribs were then doused in a thin vinegar sauce that created mire flavor profiles than I'm used to in a simple smoked rib. The flavor of the salt overpowered most other flavors, and hid any smoke flavor that may have existed. The slices of brisket had good flavor, but the undeft hand of the man behind the counter wielding the knife created some very hard to eat slices. The fatty brisket was loaded with unrendered fat, and was sliced with, rather than against, the grain making it tough. The lean brisket was also sliced with the grain, and contained about as much fat as I'd expect in a fatty slice. The salt rub was once again front and center, but a good crust and smoky flavor made this brisket more pleasing than the ribs. The lean slices might have been rated higher if they were more tender, but there's no need to order the fatty brisket here. You'll get the gobs of fat which normally find themselves in the waste bucket.

Rating ***

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Thursday, September 25, 2008


401 Skyline Street

Del Rio, TX 78840


Open Tues-F 11-8, Sat 1-7, Sun 11-3

A small metal building on the edge of Del Rio overlooks Lake Amistad. In addition to being a BBQ joint, they also sell wood carvings bearing various football team logos. The brisket here had no crust and little smoke flavor. The roast-beefy flavor was supplemented with a pronounced garlic rub. The slices were pull-apart tender and moist. The ribs were St. Louis style ribs with little smoke flavor, but a powerful garlic based rub. They were tender with well rendered fat but little crust. Overall the meat here was just average.

Rating **

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Hot Pit B-B-Q

DEL RIO: Hot Pit B-B-Q
309 Avenue F (Hwy 90)
Del Rio, TX 78840
Open M-Sat 11-7

Brisket and sausage are the only meats on the menu, so I asked if the sausage was made in-house. The lady behind the counter said proudly "No, it's from Agra foods. That's it, Con Agra." I ordered it anyway. To be expected, it wasn't very good. I won't even go in depth with a description, and just assume that the reader has tried Eckrich sausage. The brisket wasn't smoked in a Sysco truck, but it wasn't anything special either. It was sliced thin and tender, but there was little pronounced flavor, and no smoke to speak of. In a town short on BBQ joints, it's too bad this is one of just two choices.

Rating *

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Evett's Bar-B-Que

UVALDE: Evett's Bar-B-Que
301 E Main St
Uvalde, TX 78801
Open Tues-F 10:30-6, Sat 10:30-4

Tens of thousands of butterflies were hurling themselves into the grilles and windshields of the vehicles humming along Highway 90 during a morning drive from Del Rio to Uvalde during the great butterfly migration in search of good 'cue. Along Main Street in Uvalde, I found Evett's just down from the closed down shell of Haby's. I wish I'd made it to Uvalde a few years ago to try the famed Haby's, but Evett's certainly made up for it. Before we get to the meat, the sides here were great. The potato salad was mustard based with nearly mashed potatoes, flecks of red pepper and a hint of sugar. Pinto beans rather than bbq beans are the standard in this area of Texas, and this joint puts out a good version. The meat was not to be outdone by the sides though. The brisket had a good smoky crust with a great flavor throughout, but little smoke was evident in bites without crust. The fat could have been more well rendered, and the slices were a bit dry, but a good brisket overall. The ribs were big spare ribs that arrived sauced. This is by rule a negative, but this thin, slightly sweet sauce did nothing but complement the deeply smoky meat. The crust was still evident beneath the sauce, and the meat below it was perfectly tender and all the fat had been rendered creating a nearly perfect rib. A better brisket would have bumped up the rating, but this was a great find in an out-of-the-way town.

Rating ****

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"R" Bar-B-Que

SABINAL: "R" Bar-B-Que
1209 Center St
Sabinal, TX 78881

Open M-F 6-2 & 4-8, Sat 6-9, Sun 7-2

This joint is open late on a Friday night, but it's just past the edge of town, and I wouldn't have found it without the sharp eyes of a friend who was along for the ride. We weren't the only ones, as it was nearly full just 1/2 hour before closing time. The family run joint has a wide menu, but we stuck to the 'cue. Both the brisket and ribs lacked smoke flavor and came sauced. The brisket had little crust and nothing beyond roast-beefy flavor. The ribs were possibly par-boiled with little flavor besides what the sauce provided. Overall, it was decent meat, but not great BBQ.

Rating **

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

McBee's Bar-B-Q

HONDO: McBee’s Bar-B-Q
1301 19th St.

Hondo, TX 78861


Open Sun & Tue-Thur 10:30-6:30, F-Sat 10:30-8:30

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2008: McBee's is right off the highway, and it was a welcome respite from the road. The meat is displayed prominently in a glass case at the counter, and it looked great. I ordered brisket and ribs. It took some restraint not to order one of everything. The spare ribs were enormous with a heavy salt and pepper rub. The flavor of the thin meat at the skinny end of the rib was masked by the rub, but the rub complimented the well-crusted thicker meat well. The overall flavor of the meat was good with the salt permeating through, but it could have used more smoke. The ribs also needed more time on the smoker to provide more tenderness and well rendered fat. The brisket was also cut thick with an excellent crust. The same rub was used providing a good flavor, but there was still not enough smoke flavor. The fat on these thick slices was well rendered, and the meat was tender. I can't wait to get back here and try the rest of the menu.

Rating ***

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Pit Stop BBQ

709 US Hwy 90
Castroville, TX 78009
Open M-Thur 11-3, F-Sat 11-8, Sun 12-7

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2008: I should have known better when the sign read "Pit Stop BBQ and Sports Bar". The ribs here were boiled and had an off-putting flavor that resembled the smell of sweaty feet. The brisket was nothing more than a bad attempt at roast beef. They should do all passer-by a favor and take the word "BBQ" off the sign.

Rating *

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The BBQ Pit

106 Water St
Waxahachie, TX 75165

Open M-W 11-2, Thur-Sat 11-7

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2008: This little joint in downtown was packed at 1:00 on a Friday. It has a real down-home feel, not only in the clientele, but also in the community ice bucket for drinks and the crusty ladle in a steaming crock-pot of BBQ sauce. Orders are placed at a window inside, so I could not get a look at the meat, but the scent of smoke hung in the air. I sat a table in this small dining room waiting for my order. A plate of brisket, ribs and sausage arrived quickly. The St. Louis style ribs were sauced after cooking, so any crust that had formed was now soggy. There was a thick band of unrendered fat just below the would-be crust. The remaining meat was tender with good flavor, but with little smoke. The sliced brisket was mostly gray with a slight smoke line. There was little crust to speak of and little smoke flavor. The fat remaining in the meat was well rendered, but it didn't contribute much to the mediocre, roast-beefy flavor. The sausage had decent snap with heavy black pepper seasoning and a medium grind. There was just the right amount of grease, and a great flavor. I could see myself as a regular at this joint if I lived in this area, but I don't think I'd drive very far to try it again.

Rating **

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Cooper's Pit Bar-B-Q

MASON: Cooper’s Pit Bar-B-Q
502 San Antonio St.
Mason, TX 76856
Open Daily 8-5:30

Update 2008 - I had heard that this joint's quality was suffering, so I stopped by to check things out. Business was slow, and the pits were unattended when I pulled up. Once the carver ambled over, I ordered pork and beef ribs as well as sliced brisket. The brisket was sliced with the grain rather than against it, so the dried out slices were very tough. I ended up slicing them into chewable strips in order the enjoy the salty rub and deep smoky flavor. The large spare ribs were also a bit dry, but still had great flavor. The fat was not well rendered enough, but the level of tenderness was good. The beef ribs were the best item. They were incredibly thick with excellent flavor and well rendered fat throughout. After being one of my favorites in the State on my first visit, this time didn't live up to those standards.

Rating ***

2006 - Mason, Texas isn't near anything but Mason, Texas, but it's worth traveling to if you want some great BBQ. This joint is in what looks like a converted gas station. The giant black pits are siting out front, and ordering is done with your index finger...some of that, a few of those...and it's all placed on a plastic cafeteria tray. No Plate. No butcher paper. You then have the option to have the beautifully smoked morsels of meat dunked into a vat of sauce like so many McNuggets. I opted for sauce on the side. Your order is then weighed, paid for, then taken into the picnic table filled room at the back of the building where it's finally time to chow down.

I tried lamb ribs, pork ribs and brisket. The lamb ribs taste like you'd expect lamb to taste. They were not outstanding, but I don't have much to compare them to. The pork ribs were a bit dry, but the fat was well rendered, the flavor was good, and the smoke flavor was fair. The brisket had an intensely smoky crust that was almost crispy, and a good salt and pepper rub. The meat was moist, tender, and even the fat was good. This was some of the best brisket I've had, and I've drive all the way back to Mason to get some more.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ricky Ray's BBQ

PLANO: Ricky Ray’s BBQ
3100 Independence Parkway, Suite 299
Plano, TX 75075
Open Tues-Thur 10:30-9, F-Sat 10:30-10, Sun 11-7

Update 2009 - This joint is CLOSED.

When a two-meat plate costs $16+, I expect a great plate of smoked protein. What I received was merely mediocre. The brisket was sliced thin which contributed to its dryness. The slices were not only dry, but were also tough. There was a decent crust with the slightest of smoke lines, but the overall flavor lacked punch. The ribs were a little better. These were huge spare ribs with a bright red rub. No crust had formed over top this thick rub which tasted like BBQ flavored potato chips. Layers of unrendered fat remained in this rib that required considerable picking-through to get at the mediocre, nearly smokeless meat. The sides of fried okra and potato salad were the only standouts here.

Rating *

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Bar-B-Q Barn

PLANO: Bar-B-Q Barn
2129 W Parker Rd.
Plano, TX 75023
Open M-Sat 11-8:30

Stepping into this strip mall storefront, I was greeted at the door by a stuffed bear adorned in a white waiter's vest and a Little Joe cowboy hat. Far from a barn, this joint was pure suburbia. At 2:30 on a Saturday, it was empty, although threats of Hurricane Ike may have dampened business. I ordered a two meat sandwich with brisket and ribs, and the owner informed me that ribs have bones in them. After my OK, he built my sandwich anyway. The St. Louis style ribs had a dark crust, but little smoke or any other flavor. The tenderness was fine, but they were a bit mushy from prolonged storage. The brisket was worse. The crust was non-existent as was the flavor. Any flavor that remained was pure roast-beefyness. I wouldn't bother again, even to laugh at the bear maitre d'.

Rating *

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tommy's Barbecue

IRVING: Tommy's Barbecue
2840 West Irving Blvd.
Irving, TX 75061
Open M-W 11-8:30, Thur-Sat 11-9, Sun 12-7

The lack of a smoky scent in the parking lot left little hope that this joint would produce standout meat. The proof was on the plate. The ribs were mushy with poorly rendered fat. The crust had a hint of flavor from the pepper rub, but there was little smoke flavor detected. The brisket slices were dry, smokeless, and nearly flavorless. This brisket needed more than sauce to save it.

Rating *

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Fred's Bar-B-Q

IRVING: Fred’s Bar-B-Q
808 East Irving Boulevard
Irving, TX 75060
Open M 11-6, Tue&Thur 10-6, W 10-6, F-Sat 10-9

Most storefronts in this strip mall bear Hispanic titles, so a name like "Fred's" really stands out. The service behind the counter was friendly, and the joint was busy with mainly to-go orders just an hour before closing. I ordered a sliced brisket sandwich and ribs. Unfortunately, I watched the lady behind the counter remove the nice black crust from the tender brisket before it was sliced. This removed any smoke flavor that may have existed in this less than stellar brisket. Although it was tender, it was nothing more than decent roast beef. On the other hand, the ribs were standout. These large spare ribs were incredibly tender with a remarkably smoky dark crust. The smoke line was prominent, and the smoke flavor permeated the meat. These were some of the best ribs I've had in DFW, and with a better brisket, this place could rank quite a bit higher.

Rating **

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Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.