My lifes mission is to find the holy grail of DFW barbecue, so Im always on the lookout. Last Sunday I was really feeling the need for some good cue, but the problem is that a lot of the best local joints are closed Sundays. So unless you fire up your own smoker Saturday, you may be without barbecue goodness come Sunday. Its just the way it is.
When I came across the website for Big Barn in North Richland Hills, and saw that it was open Sundays, I started looking for my keys.
To find this place, get off Loop 820 at Texas 26, then immediately veer off on Davis. Head north till you think youve gone too far. Its just across the street from an irrigation supply store.
For those of you who have been following my rating system, you know barbecue dispensaries should be housed in an old, beat-up building. Points are deducted for new buildings, strip malls, or the place never having been on fire (old Dairy Queen buildings are an exception). The Barn is in an old brick building that was a general store in the 1920s and was built to replace a wooden building that burned down in early 1900s. Points for the building, the fire, and points off for spelling out Bar-B-Cue. Only copy editors and carpetbaggers spell out barbecue.
Inside, there was a serving line rather than wait staff (like God intended), and although an authentic Texas cue shop should have surly, indifferent employees (good meat sells itself) these guys were friendly and helpful. They lose points there, but gain em back for being willing to hand you samples of meat across the counter. That shows confidence.
I ordered the five meat combo, called the Barnyard. It included brisket, ribs, pulled pork, rope sausage and jalapeño-cheddar sausage. For sides, I ordered slaw and potato salad. It was $14.95. Now, I know what youre thinking theyre going to give me tiny amounts of each meat. The sign said a pound of meat, and I think they missed a decimal point. The meat was piled so high on the plate you could barely see plate. Not one to be intimidated, I also ordered some blackberry cobbler just to show I wasnt going to back down.
Once in the main dining room, I could see why they call this place a barn. Hands down, this is the largest barbecue joint Ive been in. The Barn even does live music. Its an old building, but its been remodeled. Its going to take a few years of smoke and grease to break it in and make it feel like a real barbecue joint.
But enough of that, lets talk about the food. All the sides are made in-house and all the meats are smoked on a Southern Pride smoker using pecan wood, which gives you a little smoother taste than hickory smoke. Interestingly enough, no salt is used on the cue at the Big Barn (although it is on the table). Heart Healthy cue? Im not sure what to think about that.
The brisket had a nice, heavy smoke ring after 14 hours in the box. The texture was perfect. You could pull it apart with your fingers, but it didnt break into strings like pot roast. The piece I had was maybe a touch on the lean side. There was a nice beefy smokiness, and while not the kind of lingering I gotta have more of that flavor I got at Smokeys in Fort Worth, it was good, solid sliced brisket. As far as flavor, all the meats were pretty mild, perhaps as a result of the low amount of salt. Not bad mind you, just mild. They gave me a big bowl of the spicy sauce on the side and it balanced out nicely with the brisket, ribs, and sausage adding a little kick without overpowering it. Great barbecue doesnt need sauce (and this one doesnt), but sometimes it adds to the experience.
Ribs were babyback instead of the more traditional St. Louis cut. Babyback ribs have a nicer texture and are generally more expensive, but dont have quite the flavor the larger ribs do. These were very good, and the bark that formed on them from the rub and smoke was delicious. Definitely my favorite of the night; dont skip these.
Both sausages were first-rate, and while they didnt make the sausage themselves, they did smoke them. That makes all the difference. I especially liked the jalapeño cheddar. While not as important as the meat, the sides at the Barn deserve a mention. The potato salad was good, the slaw crunchy, and then when I started talking about my sacred quest with the boss, she insisted that I try the mashed potatoes, the stuffed jalapeños and mac and cheese. (They really were trying to kill me with food at this point, and I was happy to let them.)
The mashers were great, obviously homemade. I dont like mac and cheese, yet I would eat this stuff by the bucket. It was amazing, and if I drove all the way there and found out they were out of barbecue, I would stay for the mac and cheese. The jalapeños were stuffed with brisket and colby-jack cheese, then wrapped in bacon. I cant imagine a scenario where this would not be awe-inspiring.
So is the Big Barn the Holy Grail we are looking for? The quintessential blend of perfect cue, culture and dilapidation? Maybe not, but its a relatively new joint and it has a world of potential. The meat is excellent, the owners take pride in what they are doing, and I wouldnt hesitate to recommend this place. In the meantime, well keep up our search for the smoky perfection. If you know where the grail is located, let us know by posting a comment below this review.