Big Al's Smokehouse BBQ
3317 Inwood Rd.
Dude Factor: 6, or Tony Romo, on a scale of 1 (Brad Johnson) to 10 (Roger Staubach)
Texas being one of the reddest of red states, medical marijuana isn't going to happen any time soon without intervention by the federal government. But if you're, say, a chemotherapy patient in clinical need of an appetite stimulant, the next best thing might just be the photos in D Magazine's February cover story, "The Best Barbecue In Dallas (That's Not Really In Dallas)" by Full Custom Gospel BBQ's head BBQ Snob, Daniel Vaughn.
Vaughn names Baby Back Shak, a past Dude Food favorite, to his Top 16 list. But it's a rare Dallas entry in a list mostly populated by Fort Worth and suburban 'cue joints. It's hard to argue with his convincing expertise on the subject. But based on my experience from two separate visits, I do have to take issue with his inclusion of Big Al's Smokehouse on his recent list of near-misses.
Even after its move from the endearingly run-down location a block or so south on Inwood, the place still looks the part of a great barbecue joint, not to mention a Dude Food destination. But during a Dude Food lunch field trip with Noah and Alex, a single word kept coming up over and over as we talked about our food.
I got the daily special, baby back ribs with two sides and Texas Toast, which came to a not-unreasonable total of $10.33 after drink and tax. Mine was a bargain compared to the others: Noah opted for a turkey sandwich, baked beans and drink for more than $9, while Alex's two-meat combo rang up at an incredible $16.
None of us is a stranger to good barbecue. Any self-respecting dude should be perfectly willing to pay dearly for great 'cue. This, however, did not qualify. Even if it did, though, asking nearly $10 for a turkey sandwich is ridiculous.
The salty, smoky crust on my pork ribs was OK, but the meat beneath was more chewy than tender. Fortunately, the sweet, slightly tangy sauce rescued it. Alex was more than willing to share his dried slivers of sausage links, which tasted more like Slim Jims than anything recognizable as sausage. In fact, the only main course that didn't draw complaints was the turkey.
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Of course, this being Texas, the primary meat by which a barbecue chef is judged is brisket, and none of us tried it on this visit. But I had it the last time I visited, and my only memory of it is that it was underwhelming at best.
The problem might have been that we ate at 2 p.m. In fact, even the dinner roll I tried tasted stale. The possibility that the food had been sitting out since the lunch rush might explain it, but that's no excuse. If you can't serve good food at 2 p.m., close at 1 p.m.
Still, the place gets some points for its serve-yourself sides, the free vanilla soft-serve and for the cool collection of vintage Cowboys memorabilia like signed Roger Staubach paintings and old NFC pennants. Alex and I were both happy with the meaty green beans, and I've had worse potatoes au gratin.
But potatoes au gratin and wall decorations shouldn't be a redeeming factor at a barbecue place--especially if the best you can come up with for the other wall is signed Lenny Kravitz and Jimmy Buffet T-shirts.