We first heard of Big Smith's Bar-B-Q after our first East Texas BBQ Tour story was published in The Dallas Morning News a couple of years ago. Several readers wrote to tell us we had missed the best BBQ in East Texas. They urged us to visit Big Smith's, located 8 miles south of Sulphur Springs on on Hwy 154.
We put it on the list and intended to get there for a visit. The problem was, we always try to hit two or more joints when we head out of town, getting a sample of BBQ available in the area. Quite frankly, we couldn't find a decent BBQ joint anywhere nearby. And that's good for business as far as owner/pitmaster Steve Smith is concerned.
We drove right by Big Smith's the first time, the little BBQ joint made out of an old barn kind of sneaks up on you. We hooked a u-turn and pulled in the gravel parking lot. As usual, Marshal Cooper and I started our visit by trying to do some intel around the pits and woodpile.
Around the corner came a big guy who looked like he owned the place. "Can I help you with something." he asked. Marshall responded how we came from Dallas, how he was a backyard cook, how we love to eat BBQ.
The tension was broken and that's how we met Steve Smith, aka "Big Smith." They were past the lunch rush, so we nibbled on a three-meat plate and talked the barbecue with Steve for most of the next hour. He has been in business for 22 years and knows the BBQ business inside and out.
Big Smith's is a very comfortable joint, with peanut shells on the floors. The walls are covered with taxidermy, antiques and country kitsch. Thousands of empty Tabasco bottles line the ledges near the ceiling in the main dining room. That's a lot of heat that has been consumed at Big Smith's over the years. In fact, Steve says he ran out of room for more bottles five years ago.
The joint has been added onto twice and now seats around 100 customers. We saw a steady stream of folks stop by on the lazy Thursday afternoon we were there. He says they are always full for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.
"I'd rather have a small place that's full than a big place that's half full," Steve says.
We ended up ordering a three-meat plate with two sides. Unfortunately they were out of ribs, though both pork and beef ribs are on the menu. We had already visited another joint that day, Fatboy's BBQ in Ladonia, so we opted for a double order of brisket and one of smoked turkey. For sides we got fried okra and french fries.
Both meats were smokey and cooked well. The turkey was tremendous, reminding me of the turkey at Stanley's Famous Pit BBQ in Tyler, which is among the best I've had. The lean brisket had a good smoke ring and crust and wasn't too dry, sometimes an issue with the flat end of the brisket.
After we ordered, I was busy taking photos as a couple of the locals got their orders. Marshall urged me over to check out the chicken fried steak one of them had ordered. It was as big around and three times thicker than the dinner plate it came on, topped by Texas toast. This steak could feed a family of four.
The guy who ordered it said Big Smith's chicken fried steak is legendary in the area. I watched as he polished his off his meal, no problem. He smiled and said, "If you think this looks good, you better try the onion rings next time."
Note to self: Always check in with the regulars and locals before ordering at a new place.....
Big Smith's Bar-B-Q, 9601 Texas 154, Sulphur Springs, 903-383-2706. Open Wed-Sat 11 am-9 pm, Sun 11 am-2:30 pm.
Photos ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse