He's been on the hunt since February 2011, so it's time for DFW.com contributor Steve Watkins to belly up to the barbecue, and start naming names. Throughout this quest for the Holy Grail of Texas BBQ, who's had the best brisket so far? Best ribs? Sausage? Here are his awards, with his optimistic disclaimer: these are the best he's tried ... so far.
Best in brisket
5300 E. Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth
What he said: The brisket had a nice smoke ring, was sliced thin, was incredibly tender and had the best flavor of any brisket I've had -- including (and it kills me to say this) my own. ... (Click here for Steve's full review.)
Saucy tales: The sauce is tasty and thick -- and it is totally not needed because the meat is so flavorful.
Also smokin': For dessert, the staff practically insisted I try the vanilla buttermilk pecan pie -- also made from scratch, and also incredible. Don't skip this, even if you have to take it with you.
How close to the Holy Grail? Although Smokey's on Lancaster is getting close, we'll continue our search.
Runner up: Roscoe's (Steve's very first DFW.com BBQ Safari, in Feb. 2011)
1541 S.W. Wilshire Blvd., Burleson
What he said: Traditional Texas BBQ is made from cow, more specifically brisket, and on this front Roscoe's doesn't disappoint. They hit all the marks: The meat is tender and cooked long enough for the collagen to break down but not so long that it is stringy like an overcooked pot roast. It's a little leaner than I like, but the flavor is fantastic and the hickory smoke is evident but not overpowering. There was a visible smoke ring, a pinkish ring around the outer edge of the meat that comes from the reaction of nitrogen dioxide in the smoke to the water in the meat. These guys are doing it right, and their brisket is first-rate. (Click here for Steve's full review.)
Saucy tales: Roscoe's serves its sauce warm in a squeeze bottle, and it has just the right kick, but I rarely needed sauce.
Primo pigsicles (ribs)
1541 S.W. Wilshire Blvd., Burleson
What he said: Almost all Texas BBQ joints now serve pork ribs instead of beef, and this is where Roscoe's really shines. They use only St. Louis-cut ribs (which means the gristly rib tips have been removed, leaving the best part of the pig). The astoundingly meaty ribs are smoked to perfection, mopped with sauce then tossed on the grill for the sauce to caramelize. Ribs should not be "fall off the bone tender" (that's pulled pork); they should be slightly firm, but not tough or chewy. Texture and flavorwise, these were perfect.
Saucy tales: The sauce added a little spice and sweetness.
Also smokin': Although it is not really BBQ at all, Roscoe's chicken breast is astounding.
How close to the Holy Grail: If you're just looking for authentic atmosphere and history, maybe this isn't the place. This is a new-generation BBQ joint, state of the art and squeaky clean. But if you are looking for consistent, good BBQ, Roscoe's is hard to beat.
Runner up : Off the Bone
5144 Mansfield Highway, Forest Hill
What he said: 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. (Click here for review.)
How close to the Holy Grail: [He wrote last February] Off the Bone gets us off to a good start for 2012 and takes the best sausage title (so far).
100 Christopher Drive, Fort Worth
What he said: I'm rarely impressed by sausage, but Longoria's sausage 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.
Also smokin': The ribs were meaty, flavorful and the texture was exactly what I look for.
How close to the Holy Grail: Longoria's is as close to our Holy grail as any place we have found so far. ... In any case, this is some righteous Texas BBQ, and a great start to our BBQ season. (Click here for Steve's full take on Longoria's)
Runner-up: Off the Bone
What he said in Feb. 2012: 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.
Also smokin': The brisket was cooked maybe a hair past optimal but was tender and not dry. It also had an impressive smoke ring. The flavor was subtle, so much so that the sauce should never be used on this brisket. It completely overpowered the beefy goodness.