Last year, a couple of our readers suggested we try Hard Eight BBQ after a somewhat disappointing visit to a train-themed BBQ joint in Panther City. The name really stuck in the back of my mind, and since there is a location in Roanoke, up near Texas Motor Speedway, I vowed to give it a try should I find myself in the neighborhood.
On a recent Saturday, I was heading up to the speedway for the annual Pate Swap Meet to look for parts for my Harley, and since I was looking at a few hours of tromping around in the heat, I figured I’d load up on an insane amount of smoked meat beforehand. Gotta keep my strength up.
The Roanoke Hard Eight is a different kind of joint. I typically like my “Holy Grail of BBQ” joints to come in run-down shacks (or old Dairy Queens). .
And Hard Eight falls way short here (it’s in a new, although rustic, building). But it does earn points for the multiple pits (not gas-fired smokers) displayed right out in the open when you walk in. You even get kinda smoky yourself.
Meat was served by the pit masters right there in the line, where you can just kind of point and grunt at what you want. I pointed (and grunted) at the brisket and ribs, and asked the pit master what he recommended for sausage. I got the spicy. No extraneous conversation or pleasantries needed; this is how barbecue should be served.
They weigh your meat on a scale, then funnel you through a door into a serving line, where you get prepackaged sides, a la carte. I got the coleslaw, potato salad and banana pudding, then pawned off the pudding on my friend when I learned they had blackberry cobbler in a heated cabinet at the end. Priorities.
Hard Eight prices its ’cue by the pound, which can sneak up on you — my plate of meat alone came to $16.75, and with sides and the governor’s cut, the total was $27.44.
I had high hopes for the brisket. Real pits out front with stacks of wood promised bovine magic. But this critter was cooked a bit past where it should have been. The brisket literally fell apart into a pile of strands, like a pot roast. There was a smoke ring, so we had smoke penetration, but the meat was a bit dry and mild. I tried it with both sauces (a thick, sweet sauce and a spicy, thinner sauce) and that helped.
The spicy sausage was excellent. When you take a bite, it bites back, but with nice flavor. It’s good with either sauce, but save it for last because the taste lingers and may mask the flavors of everything else.
The ribs are where Hard Eight really shines: pork ribs, St. Louis-style, with texture and flavor that are nearly perfect. These pigsicles had just the right amount of dry rub, and when you take a bite, the meat comes away cleanly. I left some brisket on the plate (as did my friend), but I could have inhaled a lot more ribs.
As for the sides, the potato salad was fairly standard and the slaw a bit dry, but I’ve never met a blackberry cobbler I didn’t like. The pudding was homemade and thick. All the sides were better than average.
So how does Hard Eight stack up? Service came in the form of that detached efficiency that a real Texas BBQ joint should have. Atmosphere was a tossup: The exposed BBQ pits made up for the newish building. The ribs and sausage were great, but brisket is the essential Texas ’cue and could have been better. And the meats are rather pricey. The Roanoke outpost of Hard Eight is the newest of three locations; there are also spots in Coppell and Stephenville.
So, for now, my hunt for the Holy Grail of Texas barbecue continues. If you think you’ve found it, let me know where in the comments on DFW.com, and I’ll hop on my Harley and ride.