If you find yourself in a long line for barbecue at a central Texas joint, try this for entertainment. Tell the two guys in front of you that you overheard someone in back saying they were going to douse their brisket in sauce, and causally point behind you. Aspersions will be cast, pejoratives slung, and lineages will be questioned. You, quiet instigator, slip from the melee and load up on smoked meats while the two camps duke it out. A debate on using barbecue sauce in Texas ranks just below Ford/Chevy or Aggies/Longhorns for intensity.
If you're on the saucing side of the fence, Marshall's Bar-B-Q in Farmers Branch is on your side, too. Tucked in a strip mall near Josey and Valley View Lane, Marshall's has been smoking meats since 1965. There's a catering office to handle off-site events, and there is a second location in north Carrollton.
It bills itself as a "family" place, and I was told by one of the staffers that it's not just a gimmick; if a regular diner doesn't show up on his usual day, the staff and the other diners will discuss and make sure the missing fellow is doing ok.
As you walk in, a large stage occupies one end of the room. A sign advertises open mic nights, and regular performances (from Jerry and the Jerry Riggers!) that will resume in March, which is curious for a place that closes at 8 p.m. nightly. Chairs are upholstered in old blue jeans, and instead of kitschy faux Texas decor on the walls, the real stuff lives here; large American and Texas flags adorn opposite walls, and a TV in the corner was airing Fox News during the lunch hour.
The brisket is hickory-smoked for around 14 hours, then held and trimmed before being served throughout the day. The other meats offered include the usual suspects (ribs, sausage, pulled pork), but ham, turkey, and chicken are also on the menu. Sides include both barbecue and ranch-style beans, macaroni and cheese, cole slaw, potato salad, and corn on the cob; fried okra or french fries are fried to order and brought to your table.
Most everything I tried on a recent trip was solid, with the exception of the brisket. The slices I received came from the last part of a packer, and I think had been sitting out through lunch and were a little dry. They might have been saved had not every bit of discernible fat been trimmed from them.
The ribs were flavorful but slightly tough, and probably could have spent a little longer in the smoker. The pulled pork and pulled chicken were the gems of the visit, both moist and flavorful.
Marshall's regular "top secret recipe" sauce is available in the cafeteria line (and in bottles to take home), but the mecca for sauce lovers awaits in the dining room. The Marshall's Bar-B-Q Sauce Bar (yes, there's a sign) is nestled between the drink station and the complimentary soft-serve ice cream machine. Six different sauces are available, each kept warm and dispensed from large stainless steel urns that look like they were lifted from the coffee bar at Cafe Brazil. But better, since they're full of sauce.
There's a mustard and vinegar Carolina style that's perfect for the pork, and a Kansas City Sweet that wasn't as offensively sweet as it sounds. Other flavors included "East Texas Tangy", "Thick and Smoky," and "Hot and Spicey" [sic].
Purists will argue that if your barbecue is spot on, you don't need sauce; the flavors of meat and smoke will stand on their own. They'll also tell you that any barbecue that comes pre-sauced has something to hide. This may all be true. But sauce has its place, and Marshall's offers up regional versions of them all to slather on your meats to your heart's content. You just may not want to share this secret with your Chevy-driving neighbor who went to A&M.