You'll have to go around the back for some of the best ribs west of Interstate 35. The front entrance didn't fit in with Mike Shannon's redesigned floor plan when he moved in and added his name to what had been Real Pit Barbecue in 2007. But if you find your way to the unassuming back entrance, you'll find one of Grand Prairie's best kept secrets.
From the outside, the term "joint" is a little generous. It resembles more of a sturdy brick shack, a welcome sight in the barbecue world and the hint that something great is waiting to be discovered inside.
At Mike's, that conversation begins and ends with the ribs. Everything else is above average, mind you, cooked low and slow over hickory smoke for 15 hours in Shannon's rotisserie. They're not breaking any new ground here, just keeping it simple, stupid, as Shannon likes to say.
Backyard barbecuers all over North Texas have the same ingredients Shannon uses in his rub and sauce at their disposal; he's just not letting go of which or in what proportions. The rub is primarily a salt and pepper mix with four or five other supporting spices, while the sauce is simple and sweet, reminiscent of Rudy's Country Store without going as far on the tang. It's more orange than red, it's best served piping hot and it's a fine complement to Mike's meat.
It's good on toast in the morning, Shannon says, thanks to five cups of sugar in every gallon, but breakfast isn't the most far-fetched application for his sauce. It's actually been sent to outer space.
"It's not every barbecue joint in DFW that can say their sauce is literally out of this world," Shannon says. "We sent our barbecue sauce into space on one of the very last NASA missions through a contact that eats here regularly who worked at Lockheed Martin."
The ribs, still only served terrestrially, are wrapped in cellophane and so juicy they really don't need any sauce. The meat plumps like a Ballpark Frank, achieving not only moisture retention but also helping the meat separate from the bone, so that once plated, gravity does the rest.
The fat is rendered effectively and most of the rib meat features a strong red smoke ring for a taste that's perfectly salty with a hint of hickory smoke. But the meat is the real conversation piece. Every bite and every rib is thick, juicy and a little smoky. Getting a two-meat plate is just a waste of surface area with ribs this good, which isn't necessarily an indictment of Mike's other offerings.
It's commendable to have ribs of this magnitude, but also to keep prices as low as Mike's. Though he's quick to rebut any passers-through suggesting his place is among "the projects" (that's actually the historic Avion Village neighborhood across Belt Line, built in the '40s to keep up with the area's massive growth during wartime industrial production), Mike's is sensitive to the price points that folks in the surrounding area can afford.
At $10.30 for a two-meat plate and $9.99 for the Friday rib special, Shannon is electing to stay on the right side of that equation, even as he skewers his regulars with playful banter.
"They must keep coming back because they like being treated like crap," Shannon said after playfully berating a regular. "Or it might be the ribs."
Mike's Real Pit Barbecue, 700 S. Belt Line Road, Grand Prairie
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