A few years back, six to be exact, we wrote a “grim indictment” of the lack barbecue choices in Dallas. Pecan Lodge and Lockhart Smokehouse had recently opened, but, we concluded, there was a dearth of joints, especially for a city the size of Big D. Not to mention for the fourth largest metro area in the nation with more than seven million people located in the heart of barbecue country.
Why? Were the chains smothering the independents? Tough city regulations? Lack of a food trailer culture? And, forbid the thought, Dallas diners don’t know the difference between good barbecue and bad?
Fast forward to now. While Dallas still might not have the number of joints you would expect, especially compared to Austin, there are lots of top spots.
The Posse’s top BBQ joints in DFW
— BBQ on the Brazos - Cresson
— Cattleack BBQ - Dallas
— Ferris Wheelers - Dallas
— 4T BBQ - Forney
— 407 BBQ - Argyle
— Heim BBQ- Fort Worth
— Hutchins BBQ - McKinney/Frisco
— Lockhart Smokehouse - Plano/Dallas
— Meat U Anywhere - Grapevine
— Pecan Lodge - Dallas
— Slow Bone - Dallas
— Smoke Sessions BBQ - Fate
— Ten50 BBQ - Richardson
— Winners BBQ - Cedar Hill/Plano
The list was compiled by Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins after an extended email debate among Posse members over the past several weeks.
“This could be a fun e-mail string,” Wilkins wrote when he kicked off the debate.
It was. We debated geography, real estate rental rates, and barbecue quality. For example, do Baby Back Shak in Dallas and Meshack’s in Garland, deserve to be on our list? No, we eventually decided, even though they remain sentimental favorites for some of us.
What follows is the Posse’s debate about the state of Dallas BBQ 2017, with some minor editing.
“This won't mean much to readers unfamiliar with Dallas geography, but I'm shocked at the dearth of good joints in the Park Cities/Preston Hollow/Near North Dallas hoods.
“Deep Ellum (Pecan Lodge), the Design District (Slow Bone), and Bishop Arts (Lockhart) are all represented, along with southern Dallas (if you count Baby Back Shak), Plano (Lockhart), Addison/Far North Dallas (Cattleack), Frisco (Hutchins), McKinney (Hutchins), Richardson (Ten50), even humble Garland (Meshack's).
“But nothing of note in one of the more affluent, foodie-intensive areas of town. Am I missing someplace. . .?”
“In the good ole days, before Pecan Lodge or Franklin's came into existence, we used to think the Original Sonny Bryan's (near UTSW), Dickey's (across from Medical City) and Peggy Sue's (Snyder Plaza) were really good. I know people who still love Sammie's in Uptown. In Austin, everyone loved Iron Works and the Salt Lick. But the BBQ bar has been raised so much higher across Texas that now the very mention of those BBQ spots generate groans of disrespect/boredom among the new generation of BBQ fans.
“I also believe the cost of the real estate in the center of Dallas is now prohibitively high for a young pitmaster, like Justin and Diane (Pecan Lodge) or Aaron Franklin when they started their restaurants. The truth is anything other than an established chain would fail before they could develop a following. As you well know, most of these young upstarts are wildly under-capitalized. Even if they had the money to make a go, can you imagine the residents of the Park Cities or Preston Hollow being supportive of large smokers producing copious amounts of smoke in their neighborhoods?. . . Most of the commercial areas are just too high tone for a really good BBQ joint. It would not fit the image of a HP Village, Preston Center or Preston Royal. They want Sprinkles Cupcakes, Nick & Sam's Grill, Mi Cocina, French bistros and/or high end smoothie/juice bars and gelato.
“Don't get me wrong, I would LOVE to have a short drive to a great BBQ joint. But I don't see that happening in my lifetime, unless Aaron Franklin (who now has the same kind of celebrity chef status among foodies as Bobby Flay) decides to open a second Franklin's in Dallas. Now that would be a real game-changer.”
“I think Michael is on to something with the north Dallas area not being very hospitable to BBQ joints.
“Heck, Aaron Franklin's joint is adjacent to houses and apartments. I can't see that happening in Dallas.
“Cattleack is thriving, but in an industrial park. The Slow Bone is also popular and also in an industrial area.”
“Agree. And Park Cities won't tolerate the smoke.”
“No question that's true of the Park Cities and Preston Road corridor. But it seems that there are lots of viable sites on Lemmon Ave, Maple Ave, W Mockingbird (near Love), and, farther north, near Midway or Marsh. . .But what do I know, except that I have to get in my car and drive a ways for a decent brisket.”
“Rents are not the problem. Neither are city codes and zoning. The cost to open a bbq joint is high but so is the potential to get rich as hell doing it. The bbq demand is here and is willing to pay the price, north of $20 a pound. But where has the bbq talent gone? From the 50’s thru the 90’s, Dallas had some great bbq when the old timers were still alive and hand cooking it on old school wood pits. A few of the best joints were in Preston Center (Solly’s, Lobello) where rents have always been high as hell.
“The original Dickey’s at Central @ Henderson when Roland was cooking and cutting – east Dallas.
“The original Sonny Bryans when Sonny was cutting at the block – hospital district.
“Red Bryans in Oak Cliff and Off Denton Drive at Manana or close to it – Central Dallas.
“Penny Pincher’s in Lake Highlands at Skillman and Abrams – East Dallas.
“Solly’s BBQ in Preston Center. North Dallas/Park Cities.
“Lobello’s BBQ was in Preston Center North Dallas/Park Cities.
“Peggy Sue’s in Park Cities was damned good in the 50’s-70’s until the owner changed.
“Mike Anderson’s BBQ, tops through the 90’s – hospital district.
“Every one of these bbq joints was damned good. Each one of these pitmaster/owners cooked on old school wood fires, cut the meats on the block. Most of these original entrepreneurs died by the mid to late 90’s. Perhaps the old local, old-school bbq techniques were not absorbed by young guns. Maybe chains, gassers and franchisees took over our bbq in Dallas. . .But not in Austin. When bbq exploded there in 2008-2009-2010 the ATX young guns shigged Lockhart and Taylor masters – regardless of real estate values and rents. Does Dallas have a shortage of real bbq talent, compared to ATX? Michael is right, let’s transplant some ATX bbq talent to Dallas. The opportunity and real estate is here.”
(NOTE: Cooper, when he's not cooking great barbecue, is a commercial real estate broker.)
“Marshall: Great stuff! Totally agree with you on every point, except one. That is the real estate part in the center of Dallas. I just cannot see any BBQ spot being able to afford the commercial areas along Preston Road from Uptown to Forest Lane. They would have to charge crazy money for their Q and not sure all of the high end fashion stores, etc., would dig the smell of smoke permeating their shops. But if you could avoid the area between Midway and Central Expressway and south of Forest, I think there are some good options. I think the old Kel's Kitchen location at Tollway and Forest would be ideal!”
“I’ve been following this discussion with great interest. You guys really know what you're talking about.
“And I'm thinking now that Bon Appetit should slightly modify its recent description of us. . .i.e., ‘The savvy online herd that calls itself the Texas BBQ Posse.’”
“Michael, I too totally agree with you. Golden corridors such as Preston Road, would probably be cost prohibitive for sure. Interesting you mention Kel’s. That real estate is in pretty high cotton as well being on Forest Lane between the Tollroad and Inwood. But I’ve had the same thoughts on it for a good while and have mentioned it to three BBQ joints! The parking, access and location is king.
“Let’s meet at Cattleack sometime soon.”
“Somebody buy Kellers on Northwest Highway and Abrams. That would be such a cool BBQ joint!”
At about this point, we took a hiatus from our e-mail conversation about the state of Dallas BBQ 2017 while Wilkins pulled together his preliminary list, short a few joints from his final list. Then the debate continued.
“I might add Ten50 in Richardson.
“As much as I like the idea of Baby Back Shak, the BBQ just ain't that good. And I can't include Lockhart Dallas. It's just too hit-and-miss. Lockhart Plano, on the other hand, seems to have it down.”
“I have to agree with Bruce. I have never enjoyed the BBQ at Lockhart in Oak Cliff. . .I much prefer 18th and Vine.”
“Totally agree on all your points, Bruce.
“Ten50 is on my approved list...Baby Back Shak is certainly not on the same level as others on thls list...I'd also bump down Meshacks...I've never been blown away there.”
“I’ve been to 18th and Vine five times, all for lunch. The BBQ wasn’t good for me. . .I look for non-q options when I’m there.
“Agree on Lockhart OC.
“1050 is better than both. I’ve never had an outstanding meal there (at least one meat seems to be below average) but it’s generally good. I’d take an out-of-towner there if there were no other options.”
“If we are going out to Argyle, Fate, Forney and McKinney, are we going to include Heim and BBQ on the Brazos?”
“Great stuff folks, I love it when the email string lights up!
“I added Baby Back Shak and Meshacks for sentimental reasons, have a weak spot for those places but thanks for the reality check.
“Interesting question on geography, Jim. BBQ on the Brazos is a long way out, but probably not much further than Argyle or Forney. “
“I share your sentimental attachment to Meshack's. But as our Founding Father (Wilkins) wisely said:
“‘Let the meat speak for itself.’”
“List looks great to me but is making me hungry!”
And there you have it. The State of Dallas BBQ in 2017.