If there’s one thing barbecue chasers love more than barbecue, it’s the chase itself. The easier the place is to find, Texas barbecue lore often dictates, the worse the barbecue.
Briar Creek Smokehouse in Azle certainly meets the “good Texas ’cue” criteria. You find it, or at least try to, by driving along FM 730, where eventually you’ll see a small directional sign that says “BB-Q” with an arrow pointing north, up FM 2257. From there, it’s about a quarter-mile, on the right — in the most unusual of spots: someone’s yard.
The “restaurant” sits on the former carport of Mark Smalling and his wife, Vickie, who cook out of an enclosed, steel building that resembles a food truck. The carport’s covered driveway is where you eat, at patio tables. A little boombox blasts country music; it doesn’t get any more charmingly Texasville than this.
It’s quite a different scene from Arlington’s dapper Shady Valley Golf Club, where Mark Smalling was once executive chef. Barbecue is one of his culinary passions, however, so into the barbecue pit he dove, opening Briar Creek with Vickie in October.
Their small menu consists of sliced or chopped brisket, ribs, pulled pork and sausage, sold by the pound, plate or sandwich (sandwiches start at $4.50, plates $10.95); a handful of house-made sides; and Mrs. Baird’s fried pies for dessert. To smoke his meats, Mark uses a custom, wood-burning smoker, rotating — and sometimes combining — oak and pecan. Ribs get five hours of smoke, then 2 1/2 hours in the oven; brisket gets seven hours on the smoker, three hours in the oven.
Of the meats we tried, pork ribs were best. They were St. Louis-style, small and meaty, and cooked perfectly, their edges trimmed with a dark, black crust, the meat brandishing a nice shade of pink. Meat didn’t fall easily from the bone, a sign the ribs weren’t overcooked, and it was tender and well-seasoned with salt, pepper and a slightly spicy rub. Perfectly rendered chunks of fat melted in our mouths.
There were two sausage options: a hot link and pork sausage. Neither were house-made, but both were likable — the thinly sliced hot link a bit more so. Casing had a nice snap to it, and the smooth-textured meat itself had a refreshing, citrus-y flavor.
A quarter pound of brisket, made up of lean and fatty slices, yielded mixed results. Ribbons of fat on the moist slices were a bit chewy, meaning they should have been cooked longer. Lean slices were better, with a pronounced smoke ring and a thin layer of crust. But they were a bit dry; Smalling’s good, housemade sweet sauce came in handy.
Of the sides, also house-made, we loved the chunky, dill-flavored potato salad and a wonderful, cool and rich honey mustard slaw, protruding with carrot strips. Pinto beans were a bit of a bore, and they were out of mac and cheese. As barbecue chasers know, sometimes you gotta get there early.