Derrick Harris loves to share his barbecue.
He began by selling it from a trailer on a Grand Prairie street corner to make a little extra cash on the weekends. Customers told him it’s the barbecue they’d been searching for. But after 10 years, he says, a nearby pizza restaurant's manager called the police on him for stealing business, and the popular operation was shut down.
The setback turned out to be the threshold to a new dream, however. An employee of AT&T for 18 years, Harris says he felt he had more in him, and he still wanted to share his barbecue. So when he saw a storefront available for rent at West Camp Wisdom and Duncanville roads, he had his wife, Katrina, call to find out how much the rent was. They went for it and opened Smokey D’Z.
After securing their grab-and-go space, the family worked together to revamp the front with new walls, doors and railing. The only available seating aside from a few chairs consists of four wooden benches they constructed by hand. On most days, you can find Harris’ mom, Marjorie, in the back working on potato salad and peach cobbler while dad Malvis preps and surveys the meats. Four of his six children are also on duty, along with Katrina, who works the front and is still training Derrick on their new point-of-sale system. This is his first business venture, he says, but he’s proud to say he hasn’t had to dip into his own funds to keep it going.
When asked where he learned about the art of smoked meats, Derrick points to his father, who grew up watching pitmasters in his hometown of Longview. He never read any books on technique or received direct instruction; he merely learned through observation and said to himself one day, “I can do that.”
Years later, when raising his family in Oak Cliff, Malvis fashioned his own pit from two bathtubs set on top of each other. They drilled a hole in the bottom tub to act as a drain and a hole in the top tub to serve as the flue. Between the two tubs was a grill, and the bottom they filled with hickory wood. The makeshift pit is a memory that brings a smile to Derrick’s face today.
The Harris family still uses hickory wood as their smoking medium, but the pit at Smokey D’Z has been upgraded to a new Southern Pride smoker. “Good barbecue is about timing,” Malvis says. Briskets are cooked low and slow at 190 degrees for about 10 hours, then are left to sit in the still-warm oven for hours afterwards. Harris wouldn’t share his entire spice rub recipe, but says it’s heavy on the garlic and onion, and that seems like a good choice. They also make their own barbecue sauce, even though many customers say it isn’t necessary.
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When they first opened last October, the family advertised by inviting shoppers and passersby outside to come in and try their food. Five months later, they don’t need to do that anymore. During our visit, two men outside begged to be let in 30 minutes prior to opening, asking for whatever meat Harris had ready. They walked away with four sandwiches, saying how happy they are to have good barbecue in the neighborhood.
Smokey D’Z bestseller is the loaded potatoes filled with meat and all the baked potato fixings. The loaded fries, an item you don’t see on many homestyle barbecue menus, are also drool-inducing. Go Tuesdays for smoked turkey, and don’t forget to try a sandwich, too.
Derrick Harris already has a business vision for the future: mentoring young boys from Oak Cliff and Duncanville in entrepreneurship and having enough Smokey D’Z locations for each child to have their own.
Smokey D'Z BBQ, 215 W. Camp Wisdom Road, Duncanville