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You have to eat a lot of barbecue to come up with a Dream Tray. Thankfully, we're up to the challenge.
You have to eat a lot of barbecue to come up with a Dream Tray. Thankfully, we're up to the challenge.
Chris Wolfgang

The Dream Tray: Building the Perfect Meal From DFW’s Best Barbecue Joints

Even casual sports fans know about the Dream Team. Finally allowed to tap professionals to participate in the Olympics in 1992, Team USA picked the best basketball players the NBA had to offer and assembled what is widely considered the greatest sports team ever. The Dream Team ran roughshod over the competition, winning by an average of 40 points, wowing teams with their on-court feats and off-court popularity. Eleven of the team’s 12 players ended up in the Hall of Fame. Head coach Chuck Daly said, “It was like Elvis and the Beatles put together.”

We started imagining our own dream team of barbecue after sliding down yet another social media rabbit hole about where DFW’s best barbecue resides. Naturally, everyone has their favorites, and everyone has the one thing they get at each place that makes each trip worth the visit. But it got us wondering: If we assembled our own dream team — a dream tray, if you will — of smoked meats, with the best single thing served at some of our favorite spots in the area, what would it look like?

Before we get to our answer, let's make two points. One, we’re gonna need a bigger tray. Nobody in their right mind should ever attempt to eat this much food in one sitting, so recreate this at your own risk. Second, by nature, compilations like this are subjective. Just as it’s fun to wonder if Steph Curry and LeBron James would match up against Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley in their heyday, we know others will have an opinion, too, and it may look a lot different than ours. We get it: DFW is ripe with amazing barbecue, and there are plenty of barbecue spots that are top notch in our book but don't have a spot on our tray.

With that, let’s revel in this oversized tray of greatness that we think is Hall of Fame-worthy.

Brisket: Cattleack Barbecue

13628 Gamma Road, Farmers Branch

To be honest, this pick is our Michael Jordan. Much like MJ, Cattleack’s excellence has been well-documented, both on the pages of the Observer as well as countless other stories, reviews, tweets and blogs. And if that weren’t testament enough, witness the masses who line up for the stuff twice a week at Cattleack's unassuming spot in North Dallas. If His Airness was a brisket, he would be the Akaushi brisket from Cattleack. Once you experience the greatness yourself, it’s hard to argue for anything else.

The brisket is amazing, but the sausage is sublime at Smoke Sessions Barbecue.EXPAND
The brisket is amazing, but the sausage is sublime at Smoke Sessions Barbecue.
Chris Wolfgang

Sausage: Smoke Sessions Barbecue

7126 Farm to Market 548, Royse City

We get it: jalapeño and cheddar are like the peanut butter and jelly of the barbecue world. Together, they make a great sausage that everyone loves. But we also love it when someone’s not afraid to shelve what works in a bold effort to try something new. And that’s what Chad Sessions has done with his garlic/pepper jack/habanero sausage creation being served at Smoke Sessions Barbecue. The links are an explosion of flavors unlike anything else we’ve tried in recent memory.

Winners' five-meat barbecue potato. Yes, ribs on a potato.EXPAND
Winners' five-meat barbecue potato. Yes, ribs on a potato.
Dalila Thomas

Ribs: Winners BBQ

3200 14th St., Plano

Winners BBQ owner De’Andre Jackson isn’t afraid of flavor. When it comes to the rub that Jackson created for Winners’ ribs, it feels like no spice jar was left unturned. There’s salt, pepper, red pepper, sugar, caraway seed, garlic and who knows what else. Then each rack gets a liberal dousing of the rub. If it sounds like too much, believe us when we say it’s not, and you’ll find yourself reaching for bite after flavorful bite.

Heim's bacon burnt ends were photographed when this Fort Worth restaurant was just a barbecue truck parked outside a Cowtown bar.
Heim's bacon burnt ends were photographed when this Fort Worth restaurant was just a barbecue truck parked outside a Cowtown bar.
Beth Rankin

Burnt ends: Heim BBQ

1109 W. Magnolia Ave. and
5333 White Settlement Road, Fort Worth

Traditionally speaking, burnt ends are made from beef. Purists will tell you that those bits of extra smoky brisket point and rendered fat are barbecue’s true north, and everything else is bunk. They’re not wrong. But Heim BBQ, which recently opened a second location in Fort Worth, turned the barbecue world upside down with their delectable pork belly burnt ends, and they've spawned multitudes of knockoffs, homages and even espionage. Travis Heim tells us his employees get interrogated by other restaurants and people go through his trash trying to learn the recipe.

Dayne's Craft BBQ turns out some stellar Central Texas meats, including pulled pork that should make you a believer in its greatness.
Dayne's Craft BBQ turns out some stellar Central Texas meats, including pulled pork that should make you a believer in its greatness.
Chris Wolfgang

Pulled Pork: Dayne’s Craft Barbecue

2000 W. Berry St., Fort Worth

Pulled pork often gets the short shrift when it comes to Texas barbecue, and honestly, we think that’s a shame. To sway the minds of those who haven’t seen the light, we’d serve them pulled pork from Dayne’s Craft BBQ. It’s smoky, it’s seasoned, it’s moist and it's cooked until it shreds to bits. Dayne Weaver serves his eponymous barbecue at pop-ups across Tarrant County, but look for his permanent location coming to Berry Street in Fort Worth later this summer.

You have to eat a lot of barbecue to come up with a Dream Tray. Thankfully, we're up to the challenge.
You have to eat a lot of barbecue to come up with a Dream Tray. Thankfully, we're up to the challenge.
Chris Wolfgang

Beef Rib: Zavala’s Barbecue

421 W. Main St., Grand Prairie

For the time being, Zavala’s new brick-and-mortar spot in Grand Prairie is still a Saturday-only proposition. And if you’re not in line early on a Saturday, there’s a chance the breathtaking beef rib may be sold out by the time you place your order. It really is a thing of beauty: a 44 Farms rib that’s brilliantly executed, encased in an ebony bark that shields strands of epic beef flavor underneath. Don’t sleep on Zavala’s secretly sourced tortillas or chimichurri sauce while you’re there, either.

Turkey: Lockhart Smokehouse

400 W. Davis St. (Bishop Arts District)
and 1026 E. 15th St., Plano

Maybe we eat so much turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas that we forget about ordering some when we go get barbecue, but we never forget when we stop in at either location of Lockhart's. The slices of turkey glisten with impossible levels of moisture, thanks to a buttery glaze that reminds us of all the good things about the holidays, without all the family drama.

Slow Bone brisket with four glorious sides. Yes, fried chicken should be a side.
Slow Bone brisket with four glorious sides. Yes, fried chicken should be a side.
Nick Rallo

Sides: Slow Bone

2234 Irving Blvd. (Design District)

Frankly, it’s hard to settle on one or two sides at Slow Bone, because it’s impossible to make a bad choice. Turnip and mustard greens will fill your mouth with soul, and the mashed sweet potatoes with pralines blur the line between side and dessert. Brussel sprout and cauliflower au gratin are so popular, they should have their own Instagram. Push it all onto your fork with a piece of cornbread that would make your granny proud. And did we mention the fried chicken? That should totally count as a side, too.

Beer: Intrinsic Smokehouse & Brewery

509 W. State St., Garland

We love a good beer with our barbecue, and plenty of joints have curated some decent beer lists. Yet others, not wanting to jump through the hoops of licensing, simply put out a cooler of free beers, which is something we’ll never complain about. But if you’re looking for something more exotic in your brews, point yourself to Garland’s Intrinsic Smokehouse. For as much time as Intrinsic spends working the smoker, they spend more time in the brewhouse creating their own ales, lagers, stouts and porters. They keep a healthy rotation of other brewerys' products on tap as well.

Banana pudding, so thick that the spoon stands up straight, is kept chilled until you're ready to eat it.EXPAND
Banana pudding, so thick that the spoon stands up straight, is kept chilled until you're ready to eat it.
Chris Wolfgang

Banana Pudding: Tender Smokehouse

224 W. Pecan St., Celina

Banana pudding is as much a part of barbecue as sliced pickles and white bread; we may not always order it, but we notice when it’s missing. And the first time we ordered it at Tender Smokehouse, we thought it was missing when our food arrived. Fear not; the staff at Tender will keep your pudding chilled until you plow through your meal, as if mom is watching to make sure you clean your plate. It’s a simplistic splurge: vanilla wafers and discs of banana live in a pudding so thick that the spoon stands straight up on arrival.

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