Here's a fact that drives pageviews and purchases -- everyone loves a list. They do. It's easily digestible, it's automatically controversial by dint of ordering and omitting things that people concerned enough by the subject to click on the list care deeply about, and it's endlessly repostable. It's the entire philosophy behind websites like all-consuming comedy behemoth Cracked.com. Furthermore, if you compile said list by using statistics and numbers, you can add the ever-exciting secondary debate over what relevance numbers have to qualitative subjects.
As you can tell from my opening paragraph, I don't find lists particularly exciting. However, when Bible of Being a Texan, Texas Monthly releases a Top 50 Barbecue list, you kind of have to pay attention, if only to complain. I especially have to pay attention for I am meant to know what the bejesus is going on, a task I often admirably fail at within seconds of being asked a question. So, among the expected DFW suspects on the TxMo list, we had Bartley's BBQ in Grapevine. You guys are meant to advise me on good places to go, and we all missed this one. I can't do research; I'm foreign. We don't even use Google, we just shout words into the sky in the hope someone tells us the answer.
So, I mean, I had to go. It's right by my house. Bartley's is an unassuming and pretty small strip-mall joint, with the "B" from Bartley's missing off the sign over the door. Inside, it's a festival of wood and old, yellowing pictures. This has been a family-owned barbecue joint since the year 8, as is evidenced by a man who I imagine is the owner being the only guy cutting the meat when I get there. My reasoning for this is him loudly telling everyone he just turned 83, and calling one of the other employees to bring his driving license so he can prove it. Bartley's atmosphere then, when you combine all these facts with a deep smoky smell, is excellent. Everything inside is totally legit; it's just the fact it's in a strip mall that isn't.
The meat being under heat lamps at the front is usually a bad sign, and after I pick up the expected brisket and sausage (I am left rib-less and alone due to it being the evening) I pick up some mac and cheese (which seems to be made with mayonnaise rather than actual cheese because I guess that's a low-calorie option compared with cheese) and a potato salad before retreating to my table by the window. I've got some of the fattier brisket, and it has a nice smoky taste to it, but it's been dried out by heat lamps to the point where it's kind of ... chewy. It's pretty thick too. When you get some of the bark by itself, it's delicious, but everything is dry. On the other hand, the sausage is fantastic, with a snappy case and a delicious smoky inside that verges on Polish sausage levels of smoked. It is amazing. Still though, top 50? Over Smitty's? I shouldn't get wound up over lists. The stress will lower my life expectancy even more than the several years that the mounds of brisket have already cost me.
The people that compiled the TxMo list claimed that they went to each place several times and at different times of day, and indeed I've noticed that barbecue can be of extremely variable quality from afternoon to evening depending on a bunch of different reasons I won't pretend I understand. So I go back to Bartley's for lunch a few days later, feeling emboldened by my commitment to quality information for you, my valued reader. Predictably, it's much better, and I even manage to get ribs this time. The fat on the brisket is liquified and so is great, and just as smoky. The sausage is similarly excellent, and the ribs have a lovely sweet glaze and are probably above average. They still trim the brisket of most of the good stuff, and my dining companion gets lean brisket and thus is sad, but it's night and day compared to evening here. (I realize the last part of that sentence was confusing as fuck but it's staying, all right?)
While I'm not sure how this place is better than Smitty's (I found Smitty's brisket to be divine if a little bit undercooked, and their ribs made my mouth collapse in on itself in a saliva landslide of joy), it is pretty good and for sure above average for DFW. Just make sure you go for lunch (it's conveniently located in that lunch capital Grapevine, by the airport!) rather than dinner. That's the danger of lists, I suppose, especially ones that are compiled using an average score from ratings of multiple people. Sometimes weird things happen. People die, businesses are ruined and all with a single sweep of TxMo Barbecue Editor Daniel Vaughn's spreadsheet. One row accidentally goes missing and a barbecue joint disappears from the face of the earth. He's like a third-world dictator, only with Microsoft Excel and qualifications in architecture.