It’s the start of the 2014 BBQ season, which in Texas runs from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31. And we’re still looking for the Holy Grail of Texas BBQ joints. It’s somewhat of a moving target.
When I heard that Bartley’s BBQ in Grapevine had been in business since 1968, I had to try it. But the place is located in a newish strip mall — not in my preferred run-down shack. Well, Grapevine is the land of gentrification, so if Bartley’s had stayed in its original location I’m sure it would have had to turn into one of those boutique ’cue joints with silverware and smoked tofu. We’ll go easy on it.
You get your meat by standing in a line and ordering from the guy with the big knife. I went for the brisket, hot links and ribs. For sides, I dumped some slaw in a little bowl and looked around desperately for a spoon for the potato salad. All the staff had headed to the back room, leaving customers to contemplate the bovine flesh we were about to consume. This is the service level we are looking for — a little surly, with an understanding that they’re doing you a favor by allowing you to partake of their ’cue.
Eventually they loaned us a spoon and we made our way to the dining room, filled with mismatched tables, banquet chairs and Western decor — all hallmarks of a good BBQ joint. Things were looking up, so on to the meat.
First, the brisket: a good, thick chunk of cow, with a nice smoke ring. This was cooked quite nicely, not dry or tough yet not falling apart like a pot roast. On the side, a thick, mild sauce didn’t hide the flavor of the meat. That said, this was good meat, no sauce needed.
Next up, the ribs. These pigsicles were pork spareribs coated with a slightly sticky glaze. The texture was perfect and the porcine flavor required no sauce whatsoever. It would have been nice if they were St. Louis cut (where the ribs are pretrimmed to get rid of some of the perpendicular bones and gristle), but these were quite good and I’d order them again.
Finally, the sausage. While Bartley’s doesn’t make it in-house, it does smoke it, and this was a quality hot link. The skin had a nice snap to it, and bits of red pepper flake gave it just a little bite. It didn’t stand out like the ribs or brisket, but you can’t go wrong with this either.
The potato salad was pretty much standard fare, while the slaw actually had chunks of apple. Nice touch.
This joint was started in 1968, and bought by present owner H.L. Owens in 1990. Owens’ brother owned Owens’ smokehouse in North Richland Hills, so going into the ’cue business was a natural move. Bartley’s is on only its second BBQ pit since the ’60s, a hickory wood-fired Oyler model that only uses electricity to run the rotisserie.
Judging from the locals crowded around consuming ’cue, the place has quite the following, and deservedly so. Though it’s not smoked perfection, Bartley’s does hit quite a few of the marks on the way there. I’d drive past the fancier places in town any day to get to this one. If you’re in Grapevine, check it out.
We’re still on the lookout for the Holy Grail of North Texas BBQ, so if you think you know where the Templars hid it, let us know in the comments.