With most good barbecue spots comes a caveat or two: a long drive, a long wait, something that’ll make you hope it’s worth it.
Heim Barbecue has its share of hoops to jump through. For one thing, it’s not a brick-and-mortar restaurant; it’s a trailer. The dining room is the lawn of Republic Street Bar, where owners Travis and Emma Heim park their trailer. Also, they’re only open two days a week, and only for a few hours each day.
Endure the idiosyncrasies of this south-side newcomer and you’re in for some remarkably good barbecue.
The Fort Worth couple takes the high-road approach to making ’cue, smoking meats up to 16 hours in a steel, wood-burning smoker — built by Travis Heim’s uncle in East Texas — that uses no electricity or gas. While most local pitmasters use readily available woods such as mesquite or hickory, Travis uses post oak, which is more difficult to find but isn’t as abrasively smoky as other woods.
Scribbled on butcher paper and hung on the trailer, the menu is small, made up mainly of barbecue essentials: brisket, ribs, sausage, pulled pork; two sides, potato salad and coleslaw; and banana pudding for dessert. You order at the window on the left, pick up on the right. It takes 10-20 minutes to get your food, which you can eat at picnic tables outside or take inside the bar. As with many food trucks and trailers now, you can pay with cash or a credit card.
Brisket ($10 per half-pound) is some of the best in Fort Worth. Order it however you’d like — lean, moist, crusty. Travis Heim, a Fort Worth native and self-trained ’cue aficionado who learned the ropes by cooking at parties, meat clubs and barbecues, speaks the language fluently.
Moist brisket, with the fat still intact, is the best way to go. A quarter-pound came in the form of a long, thick strip, its tip outlined with a healthy pink smoke ring and layer of black crust. It was like the brisket of Central Texas greats such as Snow’s or Louie Mueller, admirably vivid and rich in flavor, tender in texture. A simple rub of salt and pepper allowed the high-quality Angus beef to stand on its own.
Pork spare ribs ($8 per half-pound) were excellent too, small yet meaty and juicy, with candied edges and red outer smoke rings that clearly illustrated the sweetness and smokiness in each bite.
Travis Heim says he hopes to start making his own beef sausage soon. For now, he’s serving a Texas-made pork sausage ($7.50 per half-pound) that’s instantly likable, with a snappy red casing, a smooth texture, and dots of jalapeño and cheddar. That casing took a second to crack — a plastic knife wouldn’t do it. A good, sharp tooth was required.
Word in the barbecue community has already spread about Heim’s signature item: bacon “burnt ends” ($6), a play on the more traditional brisket burnt ends. These consisted of oblong, bite-size pieces of pork belly — crisp and smoky on the outside, chewy and sweet inside. Imagine tiny balls of candied bacon. They were highly addicting.
A pulled-pork-shoulder sandwich ($8.50) was the only thing that didn’t dazzle. The meat had a good, mild flavor but was dry. If anything, it gave us a good excuse to try a very good and slightly spicy house barbecue sauce, made with Avoca coffee. If you want pickles or onions on your sandwich, you’ll need to ask for them.
Potato salad and coleslaw ($3 each) were both welcome respites from the usual. The former was basically two healthy scoops of crushed, loaded baked potato — bits of bacon, chives and cheddar cheese included. It was a tad dry but we loved the flavor and approach.
The julienned red cabbage slaw was also a nice surprise — creamy and sweet, with a good blast of black pepper.
In addition to the sides, Emma Heim makes the banana pudding ($3), traditional with a unique twist: While we stood waiting to pay, she hand-crushed vanilla wafers, then sprinkled them over the sweet, soft custard — a nice change of pace from the usual mushy, submerged wafers. This gave it a good crunch.
A word of advice: Arrive early. Especially on Saturday, lines can be long. To help trim wait times, Travis Heim says he’s in the process of adding a smoker as well as another employee. With barbecue this good, though, he really needs to add four walls and a roof.