We’re coming to the end of another BBQ season, which in Texas lasts from Jan. 1 until just after Dec. 31. A few years ago, I began a quest to find the Holy Grail of Texas BBQ joints, and while I’ve come close several times, I haven’t found smoked nirvana just yet.
For beginners, the quintessential joint should meet the following criteria:
1: It should never use words like “quintessential.”
2: A BBQ dispensary should be in an old shack of a building (or a Dairy Queen). Extra points are rewarded for the place having burned down at least once, and deducted for proximity to a strip-mall.
3: The staff should be indifferent, if not surly. They’re doing you a favor by letting you buy their meat.
4: None of the above matters if they don’t serve the ultimate in smoked meat.
So for my last BBQ safari of the year I headed to Billy’s Oak Acres on Las Vegas Trail in west Fort Worth. I rounded a corner and saw an old building with a flashing, seizure-inducing beer sign and I figured that must be the place.
The building was built in the early ’40s as a beer store, then became a BBQ joint in the ’50s, and was resurrected when pitmaster Billy Woodrich found the place a year or so ago. That’s right, not only did he open a BBQ dispensary in an abandoned building, he opened it in an abandoned BBQ joint. Inside, you can see open ceilings from when it burned down the second time, and the original cooler from the original shop. The floor slopes at random and the decor is as authentic as it gets.
I’ve never seen any BBQ joint hit it out of the park on ambience like this.
Ordering was confusing, however. You sit down at the table and a super-nice waitress brings you menus. They lose a few authenticity points for being so friendly and for the table service. This is Texas, you’re supposed to get your ‘cue from the counter, like God intended.
No matter, we’re here for the food. Now, on the menu there was a line about not being able to get the ribs on the three meat plate. Billy happened to be wandering by and I asked him about it, and he responded “I don’t know why that’s there. We can bring you ribs.” I ordered my customary ribs, sausage and brisket ($15.95), and for sides I got potato salad and coleslaw. Mrs. BBQ Hound got the brisket and pulled pork ($13.95), with the beans and coleslaw. For dessert, we tried the buttermilk pie and the pecan cake.
All the sides and desserts are homemade. The potato salad was a nice chunky affair, and the coleslaw was crunchy with a bit of a sneaky bite to it. The heat comes from that Sriracha sauce all the kids are talking about these days. Since he uses the coleslaw on the pulled pig sandwiches, he wanted something that would stand out. Very nice, indeed.
The buttermilk pie was dangerously good, and the pecan cake was something special — a hunk of cake with a praline melted on top of it. I’ll have a hard time deciding which to order next time.
The pigsicles were possibly the best I’ve had yet. These are St. Louis cut ribs, with a nice glaze and smoked to perfection. Each bite came away clean, but with very little resistance. Texture-wise it just doesn’t get any better.
The sausage had a nice snap to the casing. It wasn’t as outstanding as the ribs, but overall it was well executed.
Brisket IS Texas barbecue, and Oak Acres did not disappoint here, either. My brisket was moist, and just starting to break down. A few minutes longer in the smoker and it would have been overcooked, but it was still tender without falling apart. I tried the homemade sauce — ketchup-based with a bit of spice to it — but it is a sin to cover up ’cue this good with sauce. The brisket had a nice mild, bovine flavor with just enough pecan smoke (yeah, it says oak on the sign, but they burn pecan).
Speaking of smoke, this place came with its original pit intact. The thing is built out of Thurber bricks and fire mortar. Billy says that once loaded and burning it maintains a perfect 120 degrees all night. Building honest wood-fired pits like this is a lost art. Most people use computer controlled gas/wood hybrids, and while I’ve had some incredible ’cue out of those things, this is the real deal.
In the short time he’s been open, Billy Woodrich has built a reputation for great ’cue (and chicken-fried steak, but that’s another story). More importantly, he’s integrated himself into the community so much that the locals called him at home during the icepocalypse and insisted he open up. Maybe he’s a bit too nice for this to be the quintessential BBQ joint, but if you want great ’cue served by people you’d hang out with even if they weren’t feeding you, this joint should be high on your list.
That said, my quest for the Holy Grail of Texas BBQ joints presses on into 2014, so if you think suggestions, leave us a comment and we’ll get to it.