It's the start of barbecue season, which, in Texas, lasts from Jan. 1 until Dec. 31st -- the perfect time to dive back into our hunt for the Holy Grail of Texas BBQ.
I started this quest in 2011, with the goal of finding not only the best food, but the ultimate in authentic Texas BBQ experience.
Who has the best brisket, ribs and sausage so far? Be sure to check out Steve's "greatest hits" list.
My criteria are as follows:
The meat has to be slow smoked to perfection. Texas BBQ is traditionally cow, but pork ribs have gained acceptance in the last couple of decades. Only brisket, ribs, and sausage will be considered. Chicken can be barbecue-flavored, but you cannot barbecue anything that had feathers, so fowl is a foul.
The building should be basic, old, and in poor repair. BBQ is about making great things with what you have, and if you are spending money on a fancy exterior, you're trying to hide something. Former Dairy Queen buildings are rapidly becoming the standard. If the structure has had a fire at some point, even better.
The staff should be surly and/or indifferent. Good BBQ sells itself, and people will take abuse to get it.
You should get your 'cue in a serving line, as God intended. The cows had to go through a line to get to your plate; you should honor them by doing likewise.
The sign should say BBQ, not barbecue, or Bar-B-Cue. Only carpet baggers and copy editors spell it out.
There are a lot of good BBQ joints in the Metroplex, and even some great ones. But so far, I haven't found any single one that nails all five categories. This time, however, we got close. I'm talkin' Longoria's BBQ in Everman.
Longoria's is at the intersection of Enon and Christopher, technically in Fort Worth but right on the edge of Everman. The building is a small tin shack with a sign that just says Longoria's BBQ (BBQ is even stenciled on the roof), and it's in the middle of nowhere. The hours are short (see box, above). This is a good sign: BBQ does not adapt to your schedule, you adapt to it.
Inside there is a short stainless steel serving line, and a couple of booths. Nothing fancy, nothing distracting. I ordered the three-meat combo for $12, which got me a pile of sausage, ribs and brisket. For sides, I got potato salad and beans.
The sides were nothing special, the sausage was another story. This is Longoria's specialty -- a brisket-based sausage. The flavor and texture of this stuff is amazing, and it is such a closely guarded secret that Longoria's once turned down the opportunity to be on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives rather than give away the recipe.
I'm rarely impressed by sausage, but Longoria's is in a class all its own. When meat is cooked by smoking, a pink layer called a smoke ring forms just below the surface of the meat. It's a good indicator that you are getting real 'cue, and you can even see the smoke ring in the chunks of brisket in this sausage.
Not surprisingly, the brisket was also sporting a good smoke ring, perfect texture and world-class flavor. The brisket was tender, moist and not overcooked to the "pot roast" stage that you find in lesser 'cue joints. Seasoning was just about perfect, and Longoria's brisket is easily in the top five of all the places I've tried (see sidebar).
The ribs were meaty, flavorful, and the texture was exactly what I look for. Ribs should not fall off the bone, but they should come away cleanly and easily. In recent years, the trend has been to use a rub on ribs that has a high sugar content so that a sweet crust (called bark) forms, but these ribs had a more savory, traditional seasoning. There is nothing wrong with either style, and these are first-rate pigsicles.
So the decor was good (although maybe a little too clean and well-lit), the meats were all well executed, and the only category that really fails the authenticity test is the friendly staff. The people who run Longoria's are polite, helpful and just plain nice. Too bad.
Longoria's comes as close to earning the title of Holy Grail of Texas BBQ as any place we've found so far. I'd say they take the lead for best sausage, but they are edged out by Roscoe's (in Burleson) for ribs and Smokey's (on Lancaster in Fort Worth) for brisket. In any case, this is some righteous Texas BBQ, and a great start to our barbecue season.
We're going to keep searching until we find the Holy Grail, and if we're being honest, afterwards as well. If you have a suggestion for a place we haven't visited, please post it in the comments on dfw.com.