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Barbecue recipes differ by locale and all Southerners (including residents in nearby Austin) swear that theirs is the supreme leader. But Dallas might have a real argument for their superiority. The Texas special is sometimes sweet, sometimes smoky, but always guaranteed to make your taste buds sing.
If there’s one thing that Texas is known for, it’s going big—and their barbecues are no exception. Top-notch joint Cattleack Barbeque in North Dallas cooks an entire hog on the first Saturday of every month and they’re only open two and a half days per week. The eatery tells Chowhound that Dallas barbecue “is cooked with wood—it’s 60 percent beef and 40 percent pork, it follows as much Texas tradition as it can.” At Cattleack, the atmosphere is similar to a backyard party and the restaurant boasts that customers “feel part of the event.”
Barbecue is nothing new in Texas, but in Dallas, the industry is exploding. Less than a decade ago, there wasn’t much variety in the city’s barbecue scene. But today, there are dozens of barbecue joints that smoke a mean meat.
These new spots are humble places where patrons can let their hair down and go to town on some serious grub. You’ll find that the backyard atmosphere and no-frills approach to great food is a commonality in Dallas’ many restaurants, like the Pecan Lodge where the line is almost certainly out the door but well worth the wait.
And there are plenty of options for great eats in this Texas metropolis. The aforementioned serves a barbecue chicken that might just have you considering swearing off swine, but after digging into a brisket at the Slow Bone Barbeque, you’ll wonder why people ever eat anything else.
Barbecue has a long and winding history that leaps across continents and populations. In the South, pit barbecue—the process of cooking meats in a pit that is sometimes buried—is a favored method. But, more often than not, pit barbecues use charcoal. Most Dallas barbecue spots shun that recipe, instead favoring a wood fire that gives the meat that extra smoky tinge.
As a Texas tradition, barbecue dates back to the wilder days of the state, when cowboys and cattle thieves lived as vagabonds, eating under the starry skies. In fact, that image has become so associated with the Texas stereotype that it can be a tiresome cliché. When was the last time you watched a Western that didn’t flash at least one scene in which the scowling main character hunches around a fire, rubbing his palms together and rotating some carcass on a spit?
But that stereotype is also a proud theme for Texans and, in Dallas, the locals take barbecue seriously. The cuisine has even stretched into the suburbs where you’re guaranteed to stumble across a top-of-the-line barbecue joint. In nearby Garland, Meshack’s BBQ Shack looks exactly like you’d expect—a small and simple sign advertising a small and simple red-roofed building that serves up a meat that’s anything but small and simple. And in Fort Worth, Woodshed Smokehouse boasts an impressive beer list to go with their badass lamb brisket.
But all Dallas barbecue spots agree that their food is the most important thing on the menu. You’ll have a tough time finding a chandelier in any of the city’s eateries, but that never means that you aren’t in a five-star joint.
Even more authentic, most of these places are serving up fresh beef or pork sourced from local farms. And that’s definitely one thing that out-of-towners will notice when venturing into this hotbed of great meats. You won’t find many places dishing out frozen food that spend days in corporate box trucks, traversing the country. Instead, you’re almost guaranteed to be sinking your teeth into something that’s fresh. Just like those cowboys in the movies did.
Dallas is known for a lot of things—the Cowboys, long and straight highways, the State Fair—but if there’s one thing that these Texans do really well, it’s barbecue.
Header image courtesy of David Hale Smith | Flickr
Alex is a DC-based freelancer scribbling about politics. He spent two years as a staff writer for Cox Media Group and is an editor at the Washington Examiner and a contributing writer for The Daily Dot and Playboy.