Not too long ago, I got a cryptic message from the trail boss at DFW.com telling me about a new barbecue joint in Watauga called Twisted Hickory. The word was that it is located next to a farmers' market, so they get fresh produce (I'm guessing to feed to the cows and pigs they will be smoking). I called to get the hours, and then drove out there to find the place locked up and dark an hour before the closing time they had on the door. And it's in a strip mall.
Finding the holy grail of barbecue joints can be trying at times.
Desperate for smoke, I pulled up the barbecue finder app on my phone and found Red Barn Bar-B-Que just a few miles away. 'Cue in a barn sounded promising. Great barbecue should always be in a dilapidated building, served cafeteria-style by suitably surly employees on paper plates. So a barn sounded grail-like.
I followed my GPS until it took me to a new concrete building with a lot of neon. The place wasn't red, and if this is a barn, someone is really pampering their livestock. You could see the big screen TVs from the street. (Apparently the original Red Barn BBQ in Colleyville is in an actual red barn of sorts, but this is the new location with a sports-bar concept.)
Inside there was a live country band playing, and we were shown to a table. A not-surly-at-all waiter gave us nice glossy menus - in my barbecue Shangri-La, menus are supposed to be in yellowed plastic on the wall. OK, so these guys strike out on traditional ambiance, but it's the food that matters most. So let's move on to that.
I ordered the three-meat plate with sliced brisket, pork ribs and sausage. For sides, I opted for the potato salad and onion rings. Desert was banana pudding, and then I noticed they had fried pies. I've had this fried pie problem ever since that debauchery at Bakers Ribs in Deep Ellum. I ordered both.
The brisket, the hallmark of Texas 'cue, was pretty decent. Red Barn nailed the texture, and there was a nice pink smoke ring along one edge. Flavor was good, but somewhat mild. I'm guessing pecan wood.
The real test of good brisket is that it shouldn't need sauce, and this didn't. Two different sauces were provided at the table in squeeze bottles. Avoid the sweet sauce, it overpowered the meat, but the spicier sauce only enhanced the beef. The meat didn't need it, but it was good either way, and I found myself alternating between plain and sauced.
The ribs were a bit of a disappointment. I got a smallish end piece that had tiny little broken up bits of bone that I had to pick around. Customers shouldn't be served that part of the rack, but the ribs had good flavor. (I did show up late in the day, and since ribs take hours to cook, the restaurant may have been running low. Next time, I'd rather be told it's out of ribs.)
The sausage was solid, but standard fare, and did well with the sauce.
On the sides, potato salad was nothing special, but the onion rings were excellent. Next time I'll get two orders of those. The banana pudding was served in a mason jar (nice touch) and was some of the best I've had anywhere. The fried apple pie was good, too, and there were other flavors. Has there ever really been a bad fried pie?
While the 'cue at the Red Barn was appropriate, the atmosphere of this location isn't going to make the list. We are looking for the holy grail of Texas barbecue joints -- the perfect blend of building code violations, indifferent employees and fantastic smoked bovine. We'll keep looking, and you keep sending in your suggestions.