Experiencing the barbecue scene in Dallas, Texas was truly exciting and one that I have never experienced before. Before I jetted off to Dallas, I thought it would be a good idea to educate myself on some Texas barbecue facts. Within 30 minutes, I soon realized that it was way bigger and more complex than I thought. I also came to the conclusion that I knew absolutely nothing about it. So, I figured, I’ll start small and focus on a style, rather than tackling the impossible task of cramming Texas barbecue in a single blog post.
Central Texas-Style Barbecue
Barbeque just like many cuisines isn’t homogenous. There are plenty of different styles that are very distinct and uniquely special. A lot of differences have its roots from region to region – from the hill country, East Texas, Central Texas, to South Texas.
My journey begins in a barbecue joint called Lockhart’s stationed in the funky Arts Bishop District in Dallas, Texas. This barbecue joint happened to be Central Texas-style barbecue, and I figured we should just start there. So, what exactly is Central Texas-style barbecue?!?!
1. It’s all about the Brisket
With brisket as the staple meat to smoke in Texas, my girl-friend recommended using this as a measuring stick to gauge barbecue joints. Although brisket is the main star, central Texas-style barbecue also offers up cuts like the shoulder clod (leaner cut), chuck short ribs, chicken, and sausages. Over the last couple of years, the emergence of large beef ribs have also gained traction and has become a staple as well.
2. Oak and Smoking Method
Wood is where it all starts. Oak fuels Central Texas-style barbecue. Specific to this style of barbecue, the wood is contained in a firebox located on one side of the main barbequing chamber. Opposite to the firebox on the other side of the main chamber, an exhaust system is placed. This method uses the exhaust to suck up the air, heat, and smoke across the meat giving it’s smoked and oak flavor.
3. Simple Seasonings
Central Texas-style barbecue highlights the flavor of the meat and the captures the oak flavor of the wood. This is done by preparing the meat simply with salt and black pepper. At times though, other spices are placed in the smoker to add a bit more flavor but it is never rubbed directly on the meat. No secret rub necessary here.
4. No Sauce Needed!
As I’ve said many times before, the focus in this style is the meat. Here at Lockhart’s, it’s clear upon arrival that sauce will not be needed. Although they offered it on the side, their barbecue sauce itself was, to be honest, sub-par. While most places will have the barbecue sauce option on the side, certain central style joints FORBID adding it.
5. Sides are Just Sides
Being meat-centric, sides apparently are an afterthought in this style as well. At times, joints offer pickles, jalapenos, and pickled onions. At Lockhart’s, they serve their barbecue with sliced white bread (Wonderbread, I think…). They also had an array of side choices – mac n cheese, potato salad, coleslaw, deviled eggs, smoked beans.
Lockhart’s: My first authentic barbecue experience…
It will always begin with a line-up. While there are line-ups to hype up a spot, I truly believe that the length of a line-up in front of a barbecue spot is a great gauge on how good and how popular the barbecue is. It is if, waiting in line is a must and adds to the growing anticipation of the greatness to come. Especially during peak times, a lot of these lines will extend outside and onto the streets. While most foodies out there wait willingly, I on the other hand with age have grown to detest them. Therefore, prior to getting to Lockhart’s I mentally prepared myself for the line-up to come. It is after all part of the experience and I guess in part, its charm.
1. Walk straight to the counter
As with most barbeque joints, there is no “Please Wait to be Seated” sign. You walk straight to the counter, wherever it may be, order, then seat yourself depending on the availability of spots. Being a complete barbecue newbie, I didn’t know this and stood at the entrance waiting for someone to approach us. Fortunately, I was with my girlfriend – who is a Dallas-native, and she walked straight to the counter at the back without hesitation.
2. These line-ups are no joke and wear something comfortable
I was pleasantly surprised as we saw only a couple of people ahead of us. There was a chain separating the counter and the first people in line. That chain separation really amps up the anticipation. It’s a very similar feeling that I got when I would line up for a really hot, new and popular club back in the days. At least now, I’m not wearing a short mini-skirt freezing my butt off in the middle of winter. Instead, I’ve got on my high-waisted pants strategically worn to suck in the belly after consuming this barbecue feast.
Since there were only a couple of people ahead of us, I thought our wait time will be quick. I soon quickly learned that nothing will move unless the meat is ready and fully rested. We were all under the meat clock. At first, my girlfriend and I chatted it up catching up since we hadn’t seen each other for a minute, but as our stomachs began to grumble and the smell of the smoke gave us a light head-achy haze, the wait became unbearable. While I started to feel defeated, they chain separating us mere mortals from the metal counter was unhooked and it was finally “GO” time.
3. Go BIG or Go home!
Let me start by saying that we did not finish everything. But since it was my first time, I wanted to try a little bit of everything. We got a pound of brisket, half a pound of ribs, and sausages. For sides, we got jalapeno mac n cheese, potato salad, and peach cobbler. They also offer pickled onions, jalapenos, and pickles in the condiment section. The barbecue was carved right in front of us, sold by the pound, and served on this red-ish butcher paper. You open it up and you eat straight from it family style.
There’s definitely a lot of meat and you will go into a meat comatose for sure after a meal at Lockhart’s. So, definitely prepare yourself mentally and physically if you’re not a huge meat eater. Overall, the brisket was nice and tender. I personally enjoyed the charred burnt ends where it’s got a little bit of the fat. I was expecting it to be a little bit fattier but overall the texture was great. Their sausage recipe is 110 years old and it turned out to be my favorite. It’s a lot softer than most sausages and the smoky flavor really took on. Unfortunately, the ribs were dry and usually, they’re my go-tos, so I was slightly disappointed.
After this experience, I also learned that I love me some sauces. By no means, is this a knock on Central Texas-style barbecue, but rather a reflection on what I had grown up with and what I was used to. The absence of a good sauce did highlight the meat’s flavor profile, but I couldn’t help myself wanting to dip my meat or slather something on it.
The surprising star of the meal for me was the peach cobbler. It was absolutely delicious and was a great way to close the meal. One thing I wished I had was a scoop of vanilla ice cream though. This cobbler was so good that I kind of wished I knew how good it would be so that I could’ve gotten an extra order to take home.
Overall, I had an amazing experience. The world of barbecue in Texas is so complex, fun, and intriguing. This is only a spec of what it has to offer, but I’m greatly appreciative of finally being introduced to it. One style down and a lot more to go!