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BBQ hunt: Off The Bone in Mansfield makes it on the 'best' list

Off The Bone

5144 Mansfield Highway, Forest Hill

817-563-7000; www.offthebonebbq.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday (lobby closes at 7 p.m.)

Additional location: 120 N. Walnut Creek Drive, Mansfield; 682-518-9715

Posted 10:00am on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012

So I get a call from my sainted mother asking where I'm going to take her to eat for her birthday.

This is a woman who was always there for us kids, kept a perfect house while earning a doctorate and teaching music in graduate school, and even bailed me out of jail once or twice. So this had to be special -- I wanted real Texas BBQ served in a former Dairy Queen with a poorly painted sign that reads "BBQ." (Old Dairy Queens have become a sign of real BBQ. Strange, I know, but definitely true.)

Since I'd been hearing that Off The Bone BBQ in Forest Hill hits the mark -- and it's housed in an old Dairy Queen -- we loaded up the pickup with three generations of family and headed out to Mansfield Highway.

The place was already filling up on a freezing cold Saturday, just minutes after opening. You go through the line and order at the counter. I ordered the three-meat combo with brisket, pork ribs and sausage for $15.99. Oh, and I couldn't pass up a massive homemade brownie for $1.95. Service was efficient but not creepy-friendly.

We shoved together a couple of tables in the dining area. Within minutes, the 'cue arrived: a pile of righteous meat on a plate with a couple of sides. Sweet, tasty sauce was in a squeeze bottle on the table.

The sides, potato salad and coleslaw, were better than most, and apparently homemade.

But we're here to talk about the meat. On top of the pile we had ribs. These were meaty, St. Louis-cut pork ribs -- good enough that I couldn't bring myself to sully them with sauce. The texture was spot on; and while they were a bit wetter than I usually like, they had great flavor, with just the right amounts of saltiness and spice.

The brisket was cooked maybe a hair past optimal but was tender and not dry. It also had an impressive smoke ring (a pink layer near the surface of the meat). The flavor was subtle, so much so that the sauce should never be used on this brisket. It completely overpowered the beefy goodness of the brisket. Good brisket needs no sauce, and this is good brisket.

I've saved the best for last: The sausage really shines at Off The Bone, and mixed with the sauce, it was pure heaven. It had enough spice that the sauce complemented it nicely.

As for that big homemade brownie, I was able to get only a piece off before it was set upon by the rest of my family. What I had was excellent.

Since we're starting a new year, let's recap the results of our search thus far for the best BBQ in Texas. Last year, we found that Roscoe's in Burleson had the best ribs; Smokey's on Lancaster in Funkytown had the best brisket and the best sausage; and Angelo's, also in Fort Worth, had the most authentic atmosphere.

Off The Bone gets us off to a good start for 2012 and takes the best sausage title (so far). If you have suggestions for places we should check out, we'd love to hear them.

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