In honor of Sunday's sold-out Meat Fight, we're celebrating smoked animal flesh all week long in our inaugural Meat Week, in which we celebrate the procuring, cooking and face-stuffing of dead-animal flesh.
Trying to compare two barbecue restaurants with meals from your distant memory is always tough. Eat at them back to back and the differences stand out like broccoli in a smoke shack. Either way, when two meats fight, your belly always wins.
Lockhart Smokehouse Tenderness These ribs put up a serious fight.
Smoke flavor Deep, rich and black but not acrid or bitter.
Moisture Extremely moist due to serious fat content. These pigs obviously ate well and now so are you.
Meatiness Pronounced porky flavor with almost buttery tones.
Cost $6.50 per half pound
Baby Back Shak Tenderness The meat clung to the bone but was tender enough to easily pull away without a fight.
Smoke Flavor A subtle smoke that was obscured by much more prominent flavors of pepper.
Moisture Bordering on dry, but pulled from the smoker just in time.
Meatiness The pork flavor was very mild but not overwhelmed by the rub or smoke.
Cost $9.79 for half a rack.
In the world of barbecue there are pedigreed smokehouses that use high-quality ingredients, custom-built smokers, elaborate dining rooms and thoughtful branding to offer a comprehensive smoked-meat experience. There are also pedestrian shacks that do little more than smoke some meat and hope enough people come to eat it. Both approaches have been known to produce exceptional barbecue, and both have been known to produce smoke-flavored sawdust that even the best barbecue sauce couldn't fix.
Lockhart Smokehouse is one of the fancy places. It opened in the Bishop Arts District in 2011, near fancy restaurants like Lucia and Hatties. If you order up a half-pound of ribs here you'll get two spare ribs -- long curving bones draped in pink-tinged meat. They come in a wad of white butcher paper and smell of what might have once been coriander, a load of other spices, pork and smoke.
While I couldn't fault Lockhart's ribs for moisture or flavor, they required a bit more chew than you should expect from barbecued pork ribs. Ribs that are cooked till they fall off the bone have been pushed too far, and often end up dry and chewy. Ribs that are undercooked, as Lockhart's were, require you to really bite in and pull. That doesn't mean I didn't finish them before I headed to my second stop.
Over in South Dallas, Baby Back Shak is a world away from the Bishop Arts District. The smokehouse is just two blocks away from the development projects that are redefining The Cedars, but it's hanging on tightly to the neighborhood's past. You don't get fancy butcher paper when you order a half rack at the Shak. You get a Styrofoam takeout box. You don't get fancy rubs with so many spices your tongue will dance. You get black pepper, and enough to leave you in a long, slow burn. You also get enough cheap white bread to make a club sandwich, some pickled jalapeños and thinly sliced onions.
I ate the first rib without embellishment. It was a little dry and the meat pulled from the bone without much persuasion. The second rib I dipped in a little sauce, which was sweet and tangy at the same time, almost as dark as molasses.
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The third rib I stripped the meat from the bone and used to anchor an open-faced sandwich, with jalapeños, onions and more of that sauce. It was good enough to change my outlook for the day. The bite of crunchy, cool and pungent onions against sweet and tangy sauce, and vinegary jalapeños worked perfectly together. My mouth was singing. And then warm, mellifluous thrum of a pack of Harley Davidsons filled the parking lot outside. As if I needed another reason to like the place.