To Hunstville, the Big D and back home to meet barbecue royalty

To Hunstville, the Big D and back home to meet barbecue royalty
Brad Klein

Wow! It’s been a great couple of weeks in my barbecue journey. It started in February with judging the KCBS Shotgun Fred’s BBQ Cook Off in Huntsville. Sixty-one teams participated, and wouldn’t you know it, the ice storm in Dallas had us short judges. This means we had to “suffer” through additional meats in each category, plus we judged “chef’s choice” and dessert. I had the pleasure of eating the single best piece of chicken I have ever tasted. It was a partially deboned thigh with bite-through skin, an excellent glaze and the perfect amount of smoke. Great time, great people, great event. The biggest challenge was staying awake on my drive home.

For part of our spring break, I drove my boys to Dallas for my son’s taekwondo tournament. On our way there, we stopped at a little hidden gem in Huntsville, Bennie J’s Smoke Pit. We arrived just after the last piece of buttermilk pie was sold, but that disappointment was short lived. The meats were excellently prepared. Brisket was very tender with a decent smoke ring and flavorful bark. Ribs were overcooked and a bit dry, but the sausage had a nice snap and the turkey was moist. We enjoyed this feast in a room that can best be described as someone’s living room. A hodgepodge of tables and chairs and the friendly staff made you feel right at home. It’s certainly worth the slight detour next time you find yourself in Huntsville around lunchtime.

Unfortunately, we only had time for one stop in Dallas. Being that it was Monday and Pecan Lodge was closed, we opted for a little taste of the Hill Country and went to Lockhart Smokehouse. Its proximity to downtown and the skills of the pitmaster make it clear why this is on everyone’s short list of great barbecue in the DFW metroplex. We kept our order short and sweet: one pound of brisket (half point and half flat) and a link of sausage they import from Kreuz market in Lockhart. We broke tradition and also ordered a side of the mac and cheese. The brisket was spectacular. The fat was rendered perfectly, and it had a nice, salty bark. I got about two bites of the mac and cheese, and it was phenomenal. My 13-year-old took about 7.3 seconds to polish off the rest. Needless to say, it never had a chance. Give this place a shot next time you’re in the DFW area.

The highlight of my experience had to be meeting Daniel Vaughan, the Texas Monthly barbecue editor, at the McFaddin-Ward Lecture Series. The man has perhaps the best job in the world. He spoke on the history of barbecue in Texas, even highlighting local favorite Patillo’s for their rich history and their beef links. Although we don’t have much in the way of what people classify as traditional Texas barbecue in this area, he reminded us that we have a unique niche in Southeast Texas verses the more traditional areas most folks think of when they think Texas barbecue, and those differences are something of which to be proud. After his lecture, I had the pleasure of spending a little time with Vaughan. As we were discussing all things barbecue, people kept asking him for pictures, autographs and peppering him with various questions. He could not have been more gracious and reminded me of how great the people in the Texas barbecue industry are. He truly had encyclopedic knowledge for all things Texas barbecue, and even this aficionado came away impressed with his true passion and love for all the types of barbecue this great state has to offer. I hope I have the opportunity to spend some additional time with Vaughan at some point in the near future.

It would be a mistake not to mention how great the event at McFaddin-Ward was. Their staff did a fabulous job, and it is truly a treasure to have a facility with that much rich history in our own backyard. Kudos also go to Brad Klein for providing us with a fantastic meal that truly emphasized all that is great about Texas barbecue (including banana pudding). I am constantly on the hunt for new or undiscovered “diamonds in the rough.” I would love to hear from a few readers about some of their favorites.


Patrick Bell can be reached at patbell [at] bar-b-curious [dot] com