Throughout this week, we're sharing DFW.com contributor Malcolm Mayhew's profiles of five people who are making their mark in North Texas barbecue. Our final installment introduces us to Leroy Wilson, who keeps it simple in his small east Fort Worth joint, Wilson's Bar-B-Q. Our previous installments profiled Justin Fourton of Pecan Lodge in Dallas; the family who runs Hickory Stick BBQ in Everman; the woman behind the sign at Mama E's in Fort Worth, and Bryan McLarty, a Southlake man who takes his smoking skills around the region in competition barbecue events. And don't miss Malcolm's quick snapshots of some other favorite North Texas BBQ restaurants.
In North Texas, it's almost a pastime for us to be ragingly passionate about barbecue.
We go round-and-round, in endless debates, over who's better, Angelo's or Railhead, Cousin's or Riscky's.
We all but carry around magnifying glasses, studying the width, length and color of brisket smoke rings and measuring the amount of fat-to-meat ratio. We love the sound of the cleaver hacking away at a rack of ribs and are hypnotized by the slow strokes of a pit master slicing brisket.
It's Page One news when we wait in line for a burger at In-N-Out, but no one bats an eye if there's a line out the door at Uncle Willie's BBQ. And in that line, instead of heavily sighing or complaining, we talk barbecue, turning the misery of a 30-minute, on-your-feet wait into a communal experience.
And when it comes to using sauce or going without, we're like a couple of kids geeking out over which is better: Star Wars or Star Trek.
"Barbecue is like a sports team," says Daniel Vaughn, whose Full Custom Gospel BBQ blog has been instrumental in raising awareness of local and regional barbecue. "Rooting for your local joint is like rooting for a sports team. People are passionate about what they like, what they don't like. Barbecue is the only type of cuisine, in my opinion, that really lends itself to such debates."
Over the past five years, this passion has done nothing but grow and spread, as the popularity and appreciation for barbecue has significantly increased. There are now reality and cooking shows that focus on barbecue and, closer to home, restaurants such as Tim Love's Woodshed and Tim Byres' Smoke that are rethinking barbecue dishes and smoked meats, presenting them in clever, new and delicious ways.
Drew Thornley, who runs the Man Up Texas BBQ blog and also conducts bus tours of Texas barbecue joints, says social media has been a huge factor in the rise of barbecue.
"People in Texas love to see pictures of meat, pictures of smokers, pictures of their favorite barbecue restaurants," he says. "Barbecue has gotten such a bigger platform, thanks to being able to check in on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and other social media outlets. Everyone can be a critic or a photographer. Every time someone checks in at a barbecue place, they're not just checking in at that place. They're elevating the profile of barbecue that much more."
These images are also bringing light to the faces behind the barbecue, those who often rise before the sun to cook, smoke and prepare their food for that day's onslaught of customers. A seemingly countless number of people in the Metroplex have devoted portions of their lives, big and small, to this timeless Texas cuisine. Here, we take a lingering look beyond the brisket, at five individuals who have made their mark on the North Texas barbecue scene: a ribbon-winning, town-hopping competitive barbecuer; an upstart whose restaurant has become the toast of the town; a plainspoken woman smoking in the boys' room; a small-town barbecue veteran with sauce in his blood; and a pit master whose under-the-radar, east side shack is one of the area's best-kept secrets.
First up, let's get to know the woman they call "Mama E."
Faces of BBQ: Mama E's Ernestine 'Mama' Edmond
Mama E's BBQ is an anomaly in North Texas barbecue circles for one very simple reason: Mama.
While running a barbecue restaurant is widely considered, perhaps unfairly, to be man's work, Ernestine "Mama" Edmond has been doing it for seven years. Her daughter Gina and granddaughter Nicole help, along with her husband, Sammy, but most of the time, Mama E's is a one-woman show.
"A lot of people are surprised by that," she says. "Some people think it's just a name, but, no, that's me back there working the pit, working the brisket. I figured out a way for me to load a 16-17-pound brisket into the pit -- long forks and long turns."
Mama E's occupies a tiny shell that once housed a Kentucky Fried Chicken, as well as the regarded east side stop Frank's BBQ; there are four tables inside. The menu is written daily on a dry-erase board. Along with barbecue, Edmond serves daily specials, such as meatloaf, pork chops and fried catfish.
But barbecue is Edmond's specialty -- and the reason why her kids and friends encouraged her to go into the restaurant business. Using a small outdoor firebox to fuel her indoor pit, she uses a combination of woods -- mesquite, oak and pecan -- in an effort to set her barbecue apart from other restaurants.
"Some people try to figure it out, 'Is that mesquite?' 'Is that oak?' 'Is that pecan?' No, it's all three," says Edmond, who was raised in Temple and has lived in Fort Worth since the 1970s. "I wanted to do something a little different, try to create a unique flavor."
Prices are reasonable (most plates are $9-$11), and portions are huge. As if she knows you're not going to be able to eat everything, food is served in to-go containers. Unless you specify otherwise, your spare ribs, brisket and sausage links will be draped in sauce. Mama E's is not the place to poke around for smoke rings or to admire meticulously rendered fat or to argue that good barbecue doesn't need sauce; you go to Mama's to get full.
"I believe in giving you what you pay for," she says. "You're not going to get a tiny piece of brisket or one itty-bitty rib. I'm going to fill you up."
Of the sides, the smooth textured potato salad is outstanding, and so are the mini-pies, served in small aluminum-foil pie pans.
Edmond is on the eve of turning 60. That's about the time that most people start thinking about retiring, about slowing down and settling down.
"I'm going in the opposite direction," she says with a chuckle. "I am ready to open a second location."