Right at a year ago, my quest for the Holy Grail of BBQ joints led me to a place called the Big Barn in North Richland Hills. It wasn’t the Holy Grail of ’cue, but it got some things right. The Barn made an attempt at a salt-free/heart-friendly barbecue, which wasn’t bad, but perhaps it was a bit too mild to keep the ’cue hounds like myself coming back. Whatever the reason, the Barn didn’t survive.
But it wasn’t hard to see that the building it was housed in was destined for barbecue. It was an old structure — a former general store that survived a fire back in the 1920s. The interior still had lots of the original brick and plaster and although it was too enormous to be called a shack, it had the right feel on my authenticity scale. Mark Payne, son of Cousins BBQ founder Calvin Payne, decided to pick up where Big Barn left off and opened Back Forty Smokehouse. It’s nice to know that smoke is in Payne’s DNA; he began his barbecue journey in 1978 at a joint out in Lubbock called Bigham’s Smokehouse.
Hearing that a barbecue joint had risen from the dead, I had to make my way out to North Richland Hills to check things out. Other than the sign now saying Back Forty Smokehouse, things didn’t seem much different. Once inside I queued up in the serving line and got my standard three-meat plate with brisket, ribs and sausage. For sides, I got potato salad and the nice lady behind the counter suggested the beans. For dessert, I got apple cobbler. I even got help carrying everything to my table — so right off the bat they lose some authenticity points for being nice and helpful. A barbecue joint should act like they are doing you a favor by letting you buy their ’cue (and they are). If they’re nice about it, I get suspicious.
But this thing is all about the meat, so let’s get right to it.
The brisket had a nice, slightly salty spice rub that enhanced rather than overpowered the natural flavor of the USDA choice brisket. Even though the brisket was a touch lean, it was not at all dry or tough. The texture was very nice — not falling apart like a pot roast but still tender. Sauce was served on the side in old Dublin Dr Pepper bottles (nice touch) and it was absolutely superfluous — no sauce needed on this brisket.
The pigsicles were made from a high-end St. Louis cut, but were just a touch tough. These ribs had a nice flavor, but could have used a bit more time in the smoke. On a return trip, I gave the ribs another shot, and I’m glad I did. They were porcine perfection. I wouldn’t use sauce on these either. Sausage was tasty, but not exceptional. Here’s where the sauce comes in handy, as it added another dimension to the flavor profile.
As for the sides, the potato salad was pretty standard fare. It was mustard-based potato salad and fresh enough. The beans, on the other hand, were exceptional. Sweet, with chunks of onion; I could have scarfed down a double order.
For dessert, we had apple cobbler, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a cobbler I didn’t love. This was no exception.
Back Forty may not be the Holy Grail I’m searching for, but it’s a good young ’cue joint with first-class barbecue in a good old building with enough room for live music. We’ll keep looking for that Holy Grail, and keep sending in suggestions.