Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Old Sutphens BBQ

BORGER: Old Sutphens BBQ
303 North Cedar

Borger, TX 79007


Open Tues-Thur 11-9, F-Sat 11-9:30, Sun 11-2

Not thirty minutes earlier the server at Dyer's in Pampa said she believed Dyer's was the only place around serving apricot puree with their barbecue. Within minutes of being seated at Sutphen's a plate of nearly identical ribs, cole slaw, potato salad, onion rings and, you guessed it, apricot puree was plopped down on our table. The three meat combos here are so large that they need three plates and a bowl just to contain all the food, and those plates made quite the racket in the dead quiet dining room. It was visibly uncomfortable for nearly every table to talk except the two kids jawing at each other about who would have more fun at Six Flags in their upcoming vacation.

Sutphen's began up the road in Phillips in 1950 before moving to this location in downtown Borger in 1963. It was run by Joey Sutphen into the late nineties where the joint received a place in Texas Monthly's Top 50 BBQ joints issue in 1997. The business was purchased in 2000 by the current owners, but they say they're sticking with tradition when it comes to the recipes. One of those recipes they should reconsider is the god-awful brisket. When it arrived chunked and sauced on the table I thought I'd get an unsauced version to go. When I unwrapped it at the car I realized this meat had been stewing in sauce and enjoying it naked was not an option. This brisket is little more than pot roast stewed in something like Woody's Cookin' Sauce, and it doesn't meet my definition of barbecue.

To my great relief, everything else on the plate was excellent. Ultra fresh and crisp slaw, well seasoned potato salad with chunks of dill pickle and perfectly crunchy golden onion rings came alongside some subtle pinto beans. Texas toast was grilled and buttery, and a dip into that apricot puree took it to another level. Chunks of pork had a hint of smoke and plenty of sweet rub and sauce. The meat was nicely tender and moist. The meaty St. Louis cut ribs were the best of the Panhandle trip. Good smoke wasn't overpowered by the sweet glaze, and the black pepper seasoning was the perfect counterpoint. The tenderness could have won some competitions, and there wasn't an uncleaned bone at the end of the meal. Now if only there were other joints around these parts that served this kind of food!

Rating ***
Sutphen's BBQ on Urbanspoon

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Am I Dallas's Most Valuable Food Blogger?

At least that hubris filled title got you to click through. If you think so, please consider voting for Full Custom Gospel BBQ in CBS DFW's Most Valuable Blogger contest. This contest has little to do with who is actually the city's MVB, and everything to do with who could put out the word most effectively and most often. has been my biggest proponent so far in the Twitterverse even though they are also nominated. I want to thank them for the support. Until now I hadn't taken to grovelling, but Eater Dallas made me do it. Please vote for FCGBBQ. You can do it every day, and they'll never know if you vote from every device with which you can reach the internet, so keep clicking.

-BBQ Snob

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Dyer's Bar-B-Que (Pampa)

PAMPA: Dyer's Bar-B-Que
US Hwy 60 W (at Price)
Pampa, TX 79065
Open M-Sat 11-9

It's rare that I wait seven hours into a road trip to grab some smoked meat, but that's a symptom of leaving Dallas several hours before sunrise, and of making the Texas Panhandle the day's destination. It was about noon when my friend Nick and I rolled into Pampa. It wasn't hard to spot the big red sign along the main drag through town which just screamed "We've been around here a while", and the interior decor reeks of 1967, their first year in business. Orders are taken at the table, and service was genuine. A three meat combo plate of brisket, ribs and pork tenderloin was on the table in minutes.

It was hard not to focus on the ramekin of orange goo on the plate. After consulting the staff we were told it was apricot preserves that were there for spreading on the Texas Toast. The toast was about an hour beyond its prime, so we just ate it straight. Thin and sweet with a hint of fruit, this would have been great on pancakes. A bland potato salad and a crispy lightly dressed slaw were no match for the fresh and crisp onion rings. A tempura like batter enveloped thick cuts onions that held up well to the hot oil. I wanted more.

The meats were similarly disparate in quality. While the pork tenderloin had decent smokiness, the cut was sawdust dry and needed some seasoning. Undercooked brisket was trimmed of fat too tightly resulting in dry meat with little flavor. It took a bit of effort to pull apart, and was less enjoyable than the pork. Large spare ribs saved the plate. The meat was tender and the fat was well rendered making for a nice moist rib. A peppery rub and sweet glaze added some good zip to the smoky ribs. We would come to learn that ribs and rings were a popular order in this part of the state for good reason.

Upon leaving we asked the hostess about the curiosity of apricot preserves. She said it was a tradition that was limited to Dyer's. This became more humorous after several stops in the day where we found identical menus and nearly identical preserves and onion rings across the Panhandle. It seems they have a style all their own that even they don't know about.

Rating **
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Friday, August 26, 2011

Baker's Ribs (Greenville)

DALLAS: Baker’s Ribs
4844 Greenville Ave.
Dallas, TX 75206
Open M-Sat 10:30-9, Sun 11-8

Update: I had two kids in the car. I was determined to show my wife, who'd abandoned me for the evening, that I could handle a two year old and a one month old for dinner. Barbecue was the obvious choice without my wife's input to consider, and my two year old likes ribs so Baker's Ribs was the destination. A combo plate of brisket and ribs along with some peach cobbler was sure to be enough for all of us to eat well.

As my son thankfully slept in his carseat perched on the booth, my daughter quickly grabbed a rib to gnaw on. The brisket was a mix of fatty and lean with the fatty end having plenty of smoky black crust. The lean slices were a bit dry, but the great smokiness was there as well. A bit of seasoning would have brought out the flavor a bit more. Ribs had a nice flavor from the rub, but had gotten overtender after a day's worth of storage. The meat retained plenty of moisture and had good smoke, but the brisket was just better on this evening.

One thing they do well at Baker's is the sides. The heavily dilled potato salad and the creamy mac & cheese were great as expected, but I wanted to dig into the peach cobbler. Never having gone beyond the free soft serve, I didn't know what to expect, but the cobbler was good. Big chunks of peaches clung to a doughy coating. It was made even better by a shot of that soft serve that the two year old really enjoyed. Dinner accomplished.

Rating ***

2009: A forlorn storefront with a missing banner sits along north Greenville Avenue in Dallas. A sign with the familiar pig logo of Baker's ribs rests on a concrete base near the front door. A bell rings as you enter announcing your arrival to the staff. I've visited this location in the past before I began writing about all of my smoked meat experiences, and never remember it being as good as the Deep Ellum location, so I had to refresh my memory.

My memory could not have been further off. An excellent dill flecked potato salad and some buttery green beans came along with a three meat plate of ribs, brisket and pulled pork. They forgot to pull their pork, so the flavorless meat was left in chunks which required some sauce to give them a boost. Ribs were perfectly cooked creating a great texture that needed a slight tug to get off the bone, and a thin layer of perfectly rendered fat. The juicy meat was topped with a slight crust that gained a load of flavor from a sweet and spicy rub. Brisket had been cooked a bit too quickly resulting in slightly dry meat, but the hickory smoke and beefy flavor were incredibly intense beneath the deep dark crust. I'm now happy to know I have a great BBQ option in Dallas no matter which Baker's I step into.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The World's Largest Free Barbecue

For seventy-five years they've celebrated a reunion in Dalhart, Texas for those with a connection to the XIT ranch. This celebration culminates in a rodeo on the first Saturday evening in August. This rodeo is immediately preceded by what has been dubbed the "World's Largest Free BBQ".

LinkQuintessential Panhandle Scene

In order to get to Dalhart from Dallas, there is a lot of Texas that needs to be covered, and most of it is flat. I headed out on the road accompanied by photographer Nick McWhirter who is a friend, coworker, and the main reason this trip looked so cool. You can check out even more of the photos (all of them great) at this slideshow.

The Perfect Onion Ring

Thankfully there was also some barbecue along the way, and much of it came with some of the best onion rings either of us had ever eaten.

The Red "River"

Unfortunately, we also witnessed some compelling images of the Texas drought. It was stunning, but not pretty.

The Road to BBQ

The roads are even paved with brisket around here.

Where the BBQ Comes From

We also passed our share of beef feedlots. Regardless of your thoughts on the ethical treatment of cattle in these CAFO's, the fact is that your barbecue comes from here. There just isn't much grass fed beef being smoked out there.

Meal at Sutphen's in Borger

Even the combo plates were more spread out in the Panhandle.

Hodie's Bar-B-Que in Dalhart

It wouldn't be a true Texas BBQ journey without some disappointment. Five Hundred miles from my house sits Hodie's which is closed on the Saturday of the XIT rodeo and BBQ. Oddly enough, I knew I'd be back here in a week.

In Line for the 'Feed'

The lines at the event are not short, but they move quickly. Everyone that we talked to did not refer to this as a meal or a barbecue, but rather it was always called the 'feed'. As we lined up like cattle waiting for the trough, it felt appropriate.

The Feed from Above

I took my first helicopter ride. It's a severe understatement to say that I didn't expect helicopter rides at the XIT.

Dump Truck Full of Meat

To keep a steady stream of beef going to each line, the beef is held in a plastic lined dump truck.

The Pits

The beef is seasoned, wrapped in butcher paper and burlap, tied with wire, then cooked for twenty-four hours in pits dug with backhoes.

Choppin' Beef

The meat was better than expected. While not smoky, the meat was aggressively seasoned with salt and cracked black pepper, and was perfectly moist and tender.

A Plate of Feed

Take beef, add applesauce and beans, enjoy.

A Local Truck Driver

We met plenty of bona fide cowboys.

Welcome to the Rodeo

And even saw a few rides the broncs.

"Is it our turn yet?"

These guys were some true road warriors, sleeping at home about 5 or 6 nights a month.

Big Texan in Amarillo

After the event, we made our way back to Amarillo to enjoy the accommodations at the Big Texan Motel. We ate next door the next morning and despite the relentless billboard propaganda, we did not consider tackling 72 oz. of steak.

The best thing to come out of the weekend, besides the photo documentation, was the knowledge that Nick and I could cover 1000 miles in 36 hours and still be talking at the end of the trip. We're already planning the next one. Any Texas destination ideas?

- BBQ Snob

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Monday, August 22, 2011


901 Fort Worth Avenue
Dallas, TX 75208
Open Sun-Thurs 7am-10, F-Sat 7am-12am

Update: Smoke had a revamping of their menu some time ago. Out with the market style by-the-pound barbecue menu and in with more innovative, if not traditional plates of smoked meat. The lunch and dinner menus both feature these smoked meats in different combinations. For lunch, pulled pork and andouille share a plate with two sweet glazed spare ribs. Well spiced beans and pleasantly mild homemade sauerkraut round out the plate. I enjoyed this lunch as the bar as I talked with Chef Byres about travel options in the heart of Mississippi that he discovered on his BBQ sojurn. I was only slightly embarrassed that I had to take out my camera to snap a shot at the plate, but I think he understood.

The pork was truly pulled and lightly covered in an East Carolina style vinegar sauce. The meat had great flavor, but was missing smokiness that some nice outside brown bits could have supplied. My love for the homemade sausages here is no secret, and today's andouille was no different. Ribs were smoked a bit beyond tender, but the fat was nicely rendered out and the meat was beautifully moist. A sweet glaze added to the meat post smoking gave these ribs great flavor without diminishing the nice smoky flavor in the bark.

On another trip I tried the brisket. It has gotten a lot more fancy, but the flavor has also improved dramatically. Both sliced and chopped beef come piled atop a pile of sauteed peppers, onions and potatoes. A couple thick slices of paprika and fennel sausage were a nice accompaniment to the plate. The sliced brisket had been oddly dusted with a dry rub, but it didn't overpower the meat that was just smoky enough. The slices had some fat left on, but it could have been better rendered with more time in the smoker that would have also tenderized the beef a bit. Chopped beef was juicy with bits of nicely melted fat and a little sauce to round it out. The improvements in the meat have made this selfish blogger happy to have another good option just a few minutes from Uptown. Is that cabrito I just noticed on the menu?

Rating ***

11/2009: Chef Tim Byres has been getting quite a few accolades over "The Big Rib" on Smoke's dinner menu. The whole beef rib bone spans the plate from end to end with smoked onion and gorgonzola cheese grits served alongside (not your usual 'cue accompaniment). An earthy sauce with a hint of mint is drizzled on top. The meat is piled high atop the whole short rib with plenty of fat and membrane mixed in. Short ribs are the last few ribs on the cow which are shorter than the rest. They are generally cut into thirds so they appear to be only a few inches long. The short rib at Smoke hasn't been cut down, so it remained its natural length of about a foot long. Because of its high amount of intramuscular fat, short ribs are prime candidates for long braising to break down all that fat, something that low and slow smoking can accomplish as well.

As I dove into the meat, I could taste the well formed smokey crust on all sides of the meat. With so much surface area, there was a punch of flavor with every bite that was reinforced by the robust sauce. All the work to remove meat from fat was worth every satisfying bite.

After dinner I ordered a sliced brisket sandwich to-go to gauge how the brisket preparation had progressed in the past month. While waiting, I inquired about the country hams that are available for the holidays, and the chef provided a sample with a cheese biscuit and a portion of fresh honeycomb, which was an unexpected surprise. This house smoked ham has an intense smoke flavor which married well with the intensely sweet honey. Available as a dinner appetizer, I recommend it on your next trip to Smoke.

What I cannot yet recommend is the sliced brisket. The slices I received on my to-go sandwich were so overcooked and dry that crevasses had begun to form in them.

The meat had a thin sauce applied against my wishes, and even it could not moisten the meat to an appealing level. The flavor had a hint of smokiness, but the dry meat just was not appealing. From past visits, I know they can do better, so it was disappointing to see the inconsistency. Hopefully the excellent beef rib remains so on my next visit, because I'll surely be ordering it again.

One final note - many diners (myself included) had noticed their clothes smelling much like a campfire after dining at Smoke. On this visit, the overwhelming smokiness had cleared thanks some additional ventilation in the kitchen. It seems that this problem has been remedied, so feel free to get some lunch even if you don't have a change of clothes back at the office.

Rating **

10/2009: This new joint has more hype than nearly any restaurant that has opened this year in Dallas. Such is the sad state of BBQ in Dallas, and the thirst for quality 'cue by Dallas residents. I've enjoyed a lunch and a take home dinner to see if all the fuss is warranted.

As we sat at our family dinner table, my wife noted "your clothes smell more like smoke than the meat." She had a point. Not even a five minute stop at the bar to pay my tab was a short enough trip to escape the clutches of smoke on every inch of my clothes. If you plan to come here for lunch, expect everyone at the office to know you had 'cue for lunch. All of that smoke comes from the Dallas made Bewley smoker (not "Bowley" as reported by the Observer) that sits in the kitchen. This smoker churns out a plethora of smoked meats, including a duo of house made sausages.

Over the phone, I ordered both sliced beef and pulled pork sandwiches, 1/2 lb of ribs and an order of fries. At home I discovered a chopped beef sandwich and a $10 mound of overly sweet and overseasoned fries alongside the expected pulled pork and ribs.

Ribs, Pulled Pork & "Sliced" Brisket Sandwich

Chopped beef is generally a fail safe option for presenting brisket. The smokiest morsels of beef are chopped up with fatty trimmings to create a saucy, smokey treat. This beef had all of the flavor and texture variation, but the smokiness was missing. Both sandwiches are served on a homemade honey bun, which is a nice touch. It could have used a lighter touch of sweetness, but it was a tasty bun. Like the brisket, pulled pork was also missing the smokiness, but it was flavorful with a hint of spiciness from the sauce. The sauce was sweeter than expected for Carolina style as it is described on the menu. Another menu misnomer is the "dry rubbed" spare ribs. These ribs are St. Louis style rather than true spare ribs, and the a dry rub may exist under its candy coating, but any of its flavor is masked by the overly sweet glaze that is too generously slathered on the ribs. A greater degree of smokiness could be found in these portions of pork from the now soggy crust, and the perfect texture let you know these were cooked to perfection. If only the meat were allowed to shine through.

During a lunch visit with a friend, I was spotted (full disclosure, I know the owners and am acquainted with the chef, and they are anticipating this review). Service was impeccable, including a stop by Mr. Jeffers to note that he was unhappy with the spicy sauce, so was removing it from the four pack that sat on the table. Yes, that's four sauces that were offered. The aforementioned spicy along with a sweet version, a honey mustard and a spicy Carolina style sauce. I hardly knew where to start, so I just ate the meat. More sweet glazed ribs were piled in a basket along with carrots and green beans that are pickled in house.

Ribs and pickled items sharing a basket

Brisket (not pictured) arrived sliced as ordered. The slices had a well formed crust and a meager smoke ring. They had not been tainted with BBQ sauce, but each slice had been moistened with a subtle thin sauce before being served. The meat was tender without being mushy, and the flavor from the rub was robust and complex. What was missing was fat of any sort and that namesake smoke. Sides of beans and slaw were inventive and respectable, but it was the fennel sausage that I'll be coming back for. The meat was finely ground with a punch of flavor from the mixture of fennel and paprika. The casing had a nice snap and the overall flavor was intense, but it could have used a little guessed it...smoke.

By all means drop in for some quality grub while if you're in the neighborhood, but travelers from afar should probably hold off until the pit gets seasoned and this joint lets the smoke settle in. With a few tweaks, I think they'll get there soon.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Smokey John's Depot

DALLAS: Smokey John's Depot
1820 W. Mockingbird Lane
Dallas, TX 75209
Open M-Thur 11-4, Fri 11-6, Sat 11-4

Update: Homemade suasage is one of those items that most Dallasites would be better off making at home than expecting to find at a BBQ joint. While a time honored tradition at the meat markets of Central Texas, sausage making has been left to the Eckrichs of the world as far as most local joints are concerned, but Smokey John's is different. They offer four sausages, two of which are homemade, so the only sensible thing to do was order a four-meat plate entirely of sausage.

From left to right in the photo above we have the homemade garlic beef sausage. This is undeniably a garlic sausage with enough punch to remind you of your meal several hours later. A hot link from Smokey Denmark's in Austin is well smoked with that familiar black pepper zing. Proper treatment is given to one of my favorite sausages - Slovacek's from Snook, Texas. The casing has a great snap and the pork is a nice counterpoint to the beef heavy plate of links. Finally, Smokey John's own hearty beef links rounded out the plate. Great seasoning with a little heat, a great smokiness and plenty of snap in the casing made for some very good sausage. I'd pick this one for future visits if forced to choose just one.

Smokey John's also does justice to a real Texas BBQ dessert. Banana pudding lacks fake banana flavoring, and is instead a gray color (good thing) with lots of banana slices and a good mix of mushy and till crisp Nilla wafers.

Man cannot live on sausage alone (possibly incorrect) so I added a plate of ribs and brisket to the order. I had a friend order so I didn't look like a glutton and he made the rookie mistake of not asking for tha sauce on the side. Although I enjoy their thinnish sauce that's not too sweet, I was hoping to try their brisket sauce-free. The slices were very lean, but still nice and moist. Crusty end cuts had plenty of smoke, but those without crust needed more smoke. Ribs are always good here, and even though they oddly cut those spares in half, the meat had great flavor, smoke and bark. They could use a bit more meat, but they never skimp on the servings here. They also, thankfully, don't skimp on the sausage options.

Rating ***

2008: God-fearing, friendly service can always be counted on at Smokey John's, along with some tasty protein. This joint has two locations in Dallas. The original on Mockingbird is run by "Smokey" John's son Juan and his cousin Rent, while the newer Gaston location is overseen by his son Brent. Both locations serve up similar fare, with some items smoked together at the original location. Because of the similarity in quality and taste, I'm reviewing them together.

I ordered a two meat plate at both locations with sliced brisket and ribs. The rib presentation is a bit odd. They slice the ribs off the rack, then cut them in half making a pile of tiny ribs. They're not very meaty, but you get quite a few in a serving. Because they're not very thick, the smoke flavor from the deep red crust is in every bite, and there's very little fat. This small amount of fat also has a downside of creating slightly dry, but still tender ribs. Overall they, are very flavorful. The brisket has a rich, black crust which also contains heaps of smokey goodness. Even with a nice red smoke line, the smoke doesn't quite make it to the center of each slice. The brisket also contained little fat, and was similarly dry, but the flavor was still great. On my last visit, I told Brent how impressed I was at the restaurant's consistently good 'cue and service. His reply? "Praise God you found the best barbecue in Dallas". I'll have to say not quite, but it sure comes close.

Smokey John's Depot on Urbanspoon

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Old Town Market

LEWISVILLE: Old Town Market
301 S Mill St

Lewisville, TX 75057


Open F 7:30-6 (For BBQ Menu)

While the current ownership has only been around a couple of years, this meat market has been doing business in Lewisville since 1977. The location isn't too far from the highway but seems miles away from the nearby chain restaurants. While it's primary function is that of a purveyor of fine butchered meats and homemade sausages, there is also barbecue on the marker board menu in the back. Sausage and chopped brisket sandwiches are available daily, but folks in the know wait until Friday to get their full barbecue plate of sliced brisket, pork ribs, beans and slaw.

It's hard to resist the bright yellow deviled eggs displayed in the case, and why not grab a few hollowed out jalapenos stuffed with pimiento cheese? Both were simple and satisfying. Beans were barely doctored out of the can with a bit of heat, but the chopped slaw was excellent. Crispy chunks of cabbage were lightly dressed with mayo and a kick from garlic was added. Although the ribs were a bit chewy, they came easily enough from the bone, had a flavorful rub and exuded a good level of smokiness. Thickly sliced brisket was over tender and had little crust or smokering, so I was surprised to get so much flavor in each slice. This was good brisket made even better with a dip in their homemade sauce which was tomato based with plenty of worchestershire.

Hillshire Farm sausage sandwich and homemade smoked German sausage

But sausage is the star here. Their website touts the many flavors they sell, a case of frozen sausage greets you as you make your way the back counter where ten or so varieties are available raw or smoked. Needless to say, I wanted some of that sausage. A heavy to-go container reeked of good smoke as I opened it with great anticipation. The menu said only "Smoked Sausage" so would I get the German sausage or perhaps the bratwurst? Neither. This bastion of artisanal sausage making had not chosen to highlight one of its own products, but instead chose to fill my sandwich with Endless Black Oak sausage from Hillshire Farm. After confirming this with the owner I was speechless and unable to utter a screeching "REALLY!?!" in Seth Meyers fashion. I try to use this blog to share opinions about barbecue, and not as a forum to tell folks how to run their already successful businesses, but in this case I must plead with Old Town Market for my own sanity. Why on earth would you reach for a link of salty, greasy, mass produced link sausage that can be had anywhere when you could just as easily top your sausage sandwich with a fine smoked sausage THAT YOU MAKE IN YOUR OWN STORE? I implore you to at least offer your own sausage as an option. Maybe the profit margins aren't there. Charge more, and we will pay. We've all had enough Hillshire Farm.

Rating ***
Old Town Meat Market on Urbanspoon

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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.