We've commented in the past about the lack of great Texas style -- real wood-fired -- barbecue in Dallas. But during the Posse's "Impromptu Best of Dallas BBQ Mini-Tour" Saturday, one conclusion was clear: Big D is raising its game.
Over a period of about four hours, we ate at three joints. Each smokes with a different kind of wood. The Pecan Lodge at the Dallas Farmers' Market uses mesquite. Meshack's Bar-B-Que (OK, it's in Garland but we're counting it as Dallas) uses pecan. And Lockhart Smokehouse in Oak Cliff uses post oak.
Admittedly, these three places were already our favorites in town, but we had never before eaten at them back-to-back-to-back so we could directly compare them.
It was a split decision. The best brisket of the day was served by the Pecan Lodge. Some of us thought it was in the same league as Franklin's of Austin, which smokes the best brisket in the state.
The best pork ribs were at Meshack's. A couple of us even thought Meshack's ribs were better than the Lodge's brisket.
The best sausage was at Lockhart, which also served the coldest (and only!) beer. That's why we finished the tour there.
We began about 11 a.m. at the Pecan Lodge, which was reintroducing barbecue to its menu after a hiatus of a couple months. The Posse, eight strong at that point, ordered brisket, ribs, sausage and even fried chicken.
"The chicken is great," Posse member Michael Lindenberger told co-owner Diane Fourton as she came over to our table. She told Mike it was her grandmother's recipe.
As we ate, a diner wearing a gold cross around his neck and a sleeveless t-shirt approached. He had just finished his meal. "Is this the best barbecue in Dallas or what?" he said, asking and answering his question.
He wouldn't get much argument from the Posse on this day.
"I would call that holy shit brisket, man," Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins said later, describing his reaction to his first bite. Pecan Lodge pitmaster Justin Fourton delivered on all fronts: taste, tenderness and a terrific crusty crust.
Justin's ribs, which we ranked second to Meshack's, were also very good as was his sausage, a new item introduced Saturday.
We jumped on I-30, just south of the Farmers' Market, and headed to Garland.
For Travis and Donna Mayes, who run Meshack's, these are exciting times. They were just featured in Garden & Gun magazine as having one of the best barbecue sandwiches in the United States.
"People are driving all the way down down from Arkansas just to eat his barbecue," a Meshack's regular, who goes by the moniker Tree Man, said. Tree Man said he has known Travis Mayes since 1982 and splits all his wood.
Mac Hargrove, making his first posse tour, would later pronounce Meshack's ribs the best single thing he ate all day. They had a nice savory rub and were cooked perfectly tender.
The one drawback to Meshack's is the service. It took nearly 15 minutes after ordering to get our food, and then, because there is no seating, we drove to a nearby park to eat.
"Painfully slow service," Wilkins said.
We took the scenic route to Oak Cliff, via Garland Road and the White Rock spillway.
With the temperature in high 90s, Wilkins and I detoured to Lockhart's bar, where several kinds of beer were on ice, before sampling barbecue.
Posse veteran Michael Gluckman, the general manager of Fearing's at the Ritz-Carlton, was very impressed by Lockhart's sausage but not as much by the brisket.
"Good tenderness, good taste, no smoke," Gluckman said.
The ribs were chewy and could have used more cooking time, Hargrove pointed out.
Still, it was a very nice ending to a very nice day. We got to eat great Texas barbecue at three different joints and never left town. Dallas is indeed raising its barbecue game.
Impromptu Best of Dallas BBQ Mini-Tour itinerary June 11. 2011
11:00 a.m.: Meet at Pecan Lodge, 1010 South Pearl Expressway, Farmer's Market Shed #2, Dallas, TX, 75201, (214) 748-8900. Open: Thur-Fri 11am-3pm, Sat-Sun 9am-3pm.
1:30 p.m.: Meshack's Bar-B-Que Shack, 240 E. Ave. B, Garland, TX, (214) 227-4748. Open Tues 10:30 am-5 pm, Wed-Sat 10:30am-7pm.
2:30 p.m. : Lockhart Smokehouse, 400 W. Davis, Dallas, 214-944-5521. Open every day from 11am till they're done.
Photos ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse