Barbecue

BBQ Road Trip: An Escape From City Life Leads to Mesquiteville Bar-B-Q in Jacksboro

Mesquiteville Bar-B-Q in Jacksboro is the result of Jack Nichols' search for a simpler life for his family.
Mesquiteville Bar-B-Q in Jacksboro is the result of Jack Nichols' search for a simpler life for his family. Chris Wolfgang
After spending last year at home, we're ready to gas up the car and go somewhere. BBQ Road Trip is a series in which we take a day trip to visit barbecue spots outside of Dallas just in time for summer road trip season.

Westbound on U.S. 380, the pavement sweeps to the left as we crest a hill, and wind turbines sprout from the horizon. In our travels across the state, we've come to recognize wind farms as the surest sign that we've escaped the clutches of the big cities. But for the paved roads, the landscape looks today as it did 50 or 100 years earlier when times were perhaps simpler.

It was that desire to move away from the hustle and bustle that lead Jack Nichols, his wife, Ashley, and their three children to Jacksboro. Jack worked in the oil and gas industry and Ashley was a trauma nurse in Fort Worth, but the opportunity to live a quiet country life was too great to pass up, so they sold their home in Aledo and bought a large chunk of land in Jack County.

Then COVID came and Jack was laid off. He recalls a Sunday morning when he found inspiration for his next career, Mesquiteville Bar-B-Q.

click to enlarge Ashley and Jack Nichols (with their youngest daughter Carter and Merle the goldendoodle) of Mesquiteville Bar-B-Q. - CHRIS WOLFGANG
Ashley and Jack Nichols (with their youngest daughter Carter and Merle the goldendoodle) of Mesquiteville Bar-B-Q.
Chris Wolfgang
"I was sitting next to my smoker, smoking a brisket and reading my Bible," he says. "My wife came outside, and I told her, 'I think God wants me to open a barbecue joint.'"


Ashley's response was somewhat more pragmatic.

"He told me that Jesus wanted him to open a barbecue restaurant," Ashley says. "I said 'Jesus didn't say that; Jesus wants you to get a job!'"

Jack, however, was already persuaded. As he saw it, he already smoked with mesquite wood, his new home was surrounded by mesquite trees, and he was living in Jacksboro, which was known as Mesquiteville in the 1850s. The name for his new barbecue venture was at hand.

Mesquiteville Bar-B-Q's home is a 1950s camper that Nichols bought off of Facebook that was being used on a nearby deer lease. Nichols gutted the interior ("It was wall-to-wall green shag carpeting," he recalls) and turned it into the kitchen, then stripped the exterior paint and christened the side with the Mesquiteville name. He bought a small offset smoker on a trailer, which resides under a shed behind the camper.

click to enlarge The three-meat combo of brisket, sausage and pulled pork from Mesquiteville Bar-B-Q. - CHRIS WOLFGANG
The three-meat combo of brisket, sausage and pulled pork from Mesquiteville Bar-B-Q.
Chris Wolfgang
Seating is all outdoors, with picnic tables scattered about the property. Nichols opened this operation on Highway 281 in February, just before snow blanketed much of Texas, and hit the ground running.

"We opened right before Snowmageddon, then spent most of the spring getting rained on, and now summer is in full force," Nichols says, as we dine on his fare under the already blistering late afternoon sun.

For someone with no background in barbecue (save a six-month stint working at Cooper's Barbecue when he was younger), Nichols' food already epitomizes Central Texas-style.

"I just use salt and pepper and that mesquite smoke," he says. "People say mesquite is overpowering, but it's not as long as you're running a clean fire."

We're just a few bites in, and it's clear Nichols knows what he's talking about. Using slices of brisket as examples, the smokiness from mesquite is noticeable but not oppressive, and the simple salt and pepper rub formed an impressive bark on each slice. The flavor is noteworthy, especially when most places in North Texas lean towards post oak, which produces a milder smoke flavor.

click to enlarge Salt, pepper and mesquite smoke; three simple ingredients make this brisket magic. - CHRIS WOLFGANG
Salt, pepper and mesquite smoke; three simple ingredients make this brisket magic.
Chris Wolfgang
We also tried Mesquiteville's pulled pork and sausage, both of which were also smoked with aplomb. Nichols also had us sample one of his pork ribs, which he's most proud of. Again, a simple salt and pepper rub does the heavy lifting, joined with a tomato and vinegar-based sauce of Nichol's invention. The end result was cooked perfectly, with just enough texture to the pork that it pulled neatly off the bone.

At just $15.99 and including two sides, our three-meat plate reflects the economics of the small-town location, serving out of a trailer and sitting outdoors. We're keenly aware that this level of quality would surely cost more back in Dallas.

There's something relaxing about the drive out west, as Fort Worth melts in the rearview mirror and the sprawling beginnings of West Texas stretch out the windshield. Mesquiteville Bar-B-Q is a reminder of that easier more relaxing lifestyle, and is something Jack and Ashley Nichols are happy to share with visitors.

"It all worked out how it's supposed to," Nichols says of leaving a steady job and moving away from the city. "I'm here, I'm happy, my family loves it, and I'm doing something that I love."

Mesquiteville Bar-B-Q, 501 S. Main St., Jacksboro. Open 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday

Road Trip Details
From our downtown offices, the shortest route to Jacksboro involves getting to the west side of Fort Worth, then taking State Highway 199 west until it merges with U.S. 281 just south of Jacksboro, for a one-way trip of 95 miles. If your journey starts from north Dallas, Interstate 35E north to U.S. 380 is a better bet. Regardless of your starting point, once you're off the major highways, the drive is scenic and enjoyable.

Making A Day Of It
Admittedly, Jacksboro is a small town without much in the way of attractions, serving more as a home for people looking the peace and quiet of rural life. That said, Mesquiteville Bar-B-Q is hosting the Mesquiteville Music Series on Saturday nights. Jack Nichols cooks up extra food and stays open later while local musicians play for patrons. The events are BYOB. Eating barbecue al fresco, adult beverage in hand, while enjoying live music is the essence of Texas summer. Details about the upcoming acts are on Mesquiteville's Facebook page.

After the Civil War, Fort Richardson was once the largest Army installation in the country and protected settlers along the Texas frontier. Today, Fort Richardson State Park honors that history with interactive tours of remaining structures, with tours that can be taken on foot, bike, or horseback. Swimming, fishing and camping are also options.
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Chris Wolfgang has been a contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2015. Originally from Florida, Chris moved to Dallas in 1997 and has carried on a secret affair with the Oxford comma for over 20 years.
Contact: Chris Wolfgang