Smack in the middle of DFW lies an abundance of meathead smokers and barbecue sandwich stops. From Arlington to Southlake, gas stations, shacks and barns turn around beef plates and classic sides ad nauseam, and it can all start to run together a bit, just like the towns.
But some Mid-Cities barbecue joints set themselves apart. Even among those that made the cut for this list, a clear delineation exists between good and truly great barbecue. So whose smoked meat reigns supreme in the middle of DFW? It's definitely a question worth asking that inspired a trip worth taking.
Drum roll, please.
8. Bartley's BBQ, Grapevine (413 E. Northwest Highway)
Want a free chopped beef sandwich? Text "BBQ" to 56274 from your mobile device and Bartley's will pony up. From opening in 1968 to now beaming free sandwiches through the air via text, Bartley's has seen every step in Texas barbecue's evolution, and it's still turning around a solid product. The fact that Bartley's comes in at No. 8 on our list is says a lot about the influx of really good barbecue joints around it more recently.
When I visited, the brisket was moist and good (not great) but did not exhibit much smoky char outside that would have helped the flavor along, and the sausage tasted like something from the deli meat section of your local Albertsons. The sides were done right, though, offering fantastically crunchy fried okra and green beans whose bacon-y flavor made the meal.
7. Back Forty Smokehouse, North Richland Hills (8021 Main St.)
Back Forty was not on my radar before this list was taking shape, but it was one hell of a find. Go for the fatty brisket that's juicy enough without applying sauce and the jalapeno cheddar sausage, and stay for the live tunes on the patio.
6. Bodacious Bar-B-Q, Arlington (1206 E. Division St.)
Bodacious is another oldie-but-goodie on the list, and one that, being within the shadow of Jerry World, should not be taken for granted. This gem opened in 1991 and is part of a chain started by legendary East Texas barbecue man Roland Lindsey. Lindsey says that each location within the chain does what they want as far as recipes go, and the Arlington location is one of the few spots around town smoking with mesquite wood. I stopped in for a pulled pork sandwich and was really impressed with how juicy the pork shoulder was for being mesquite cooked.
5. North Main Barbecue, Euless (406 N. Main St.)
The sweet glaze on the ribs at North Main is what pulls you in, and the wheelbarrow is what carries you out after you're done with you're all-you-can-eat ($15) lunch or dinner at North Main. Several recent Yelp reviews will tell you that this country-style gem has fallen off in recent years, but the staff there has either taken care of those issues in short order, or the reviews were flukes. Perhaps you're wary of a barbecue buffet line, as I was, but the brisket is charred and marbled appropriately, and the sausage has a good smoked flavor that some of the others on this list lack. Careful though, North Main is open only Friday through Sunday, as catering has become a bigger part of the business.
4. AJ's on Main, Grapevine (651 Main St.)
The sausage at AJ's is the best on the list to this point, though this spot seems to be the barbecue joint in Grapevine that even Grapevine people tend to forget about. It's definitely cozy, with just six tables and a bar at the moment, but former Grapevine police officer AJ Gillinger has struck very close to the sweet spot with his smoke engine pit on the side of the building that wafts smoke along Main St., reminding the foot traffic that they need to stop in.
3. Eddie Deen Crossroads, Arlington (1004 N. Collins St.)
Get the dirty rice at Crossroads, another stop on the list that is dangerously close to the Cowbows' AT&T Stadium. With the rib, brisket and sausage count at an all-time high along this journey, sometimes something as simple as a unique side item set one joint apart from another. And that dirty rice is the jam. The ribs had a sweet rub to them, reminiscent of North Main, but these ribs were just a mite more tender, with a slightly smokier taste, making them pretty delectable. The crew member at the cash register told me I'd be back, and I know now what she was talking about.
2. Hard Eight BBQ, Coppell (688 Freeport Parkway)
OK, so Coppell might not fall within the borders of everyone's definition of the Mid-Cities. But, to be fair, the chain has two locations (Coppell and Roanoke) that fall so close to the Mid-Cities that we grandfathered them in. And, to be honest, Hard Eight is the only joint on the list that is close to equaling the No. 1 finisher. The dinner line was out the door when I went, which is common and inspires comparisons to places like Pecan Lodge more than to the other contenders on this list. Yes, this is where you'll see the cutoff between good barbecue and great barbecue.
Even with numerous signs warning patrons not to let their eyes get bigger than their stomachs, going home with leftovers from Hard Eight is tough to do. Meats are served by the pound and sides are sold a la carte, so it can get expensive if you let it. They'll also grill you a sirloin or a rib-eye (prime rib Friday-Sunday), so answering the question "What would you like to eat tonight?" doesn't get any easier just because you've arrived at Hard Eight. The flavor of the ribs and brisket render barbecue sauce unnecessary here, which is good because neither of the sauce options (sweet or spicy) are worth a damn. The bottom line is this is one of those places that if you haven't been, you're just behind.
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1. Meat U Anywhere BBQ, Grapevine (919 W. Northwest Highway)
Yes, owner and operator Andy Sedino did come from a corporate gig at Rudy's Country Store and Barbecue, and yes, his crown jewel in Grapevine has (free) valet parking. But make no mistake, this is the Wu-Tang Clan of all the Mid-Cities barbecue joints. Expert crew members cut generous portions of lean, fatty, top cut or brisket from the ends, while the ribs are as soft yet super smoky.
Meat U Anywhere has a whole menu full of those unique sides that really set a barbecue joint apart, even though they'll never be the main draw. The jalapeno-bacon mac-n-cheese was one of the first casualties of lunch, while the creamed corn seemed to float in white cream gravy. Meat U Anywhere offers two different takes on cole slaw: one traditional and one that is Notcha Mommas. It's all good at Meat U Anywhere, but try to sneak in on Friday or Saturday, when they do pork loin, prime rib and beef tenderloin for meat treats beyond traditional barbecue.
One last note.
This list could be receiving a bit a shakeup in the near future, as Rendon barbecue favorite Jambo's is moving into Arlington next month. The middle of DFW has one more great spot, and Jambo's won't just be looking to join the middle of the pack here. We'll have the skinny (and the fat) on the new Jambo's when it's up and running.