Dickey?s Barbecue Pit has smoked beef brisket in-house nearly every night since 1941, painting each morsel with a tangy house-made sauce. Pulled pork, turkey breast, and polish sausage round out the menu with meals that are heartier than a burrito wrapped in Paul Bunyan?s plaid shirt. Boxed lunches and catered buffets brim with homestyle sides such as coleslaw, mac 'n' cheese, and jalape?o beans. Once the last pickle has been crunched and the last finger has been licked, guests can savor one of the restaurant?s most cherished traditions: a vanilla cone, on the house.
The scent of barbecued meats fills Railhead Smokehouse, the aromas of chicken, sausage, and beef all blending together. Those meats appear in the dining room on platters alongside staple sides like slaw and potato salad or on sandwiches dripping with sauce. That sauce is so well known that the restaurant sells it online all over the country, though they also sling smoked turkey, jalapeno sausage, and ribs dry rubbed in the Saint Louis style. Neon signs and framed photos above the bar encourage diners to stay a while for a beer after their meal, though there's also a sunny patio ideal for post-lunch chatter.
Dickey's Barbecue Pit may have expanded into hundreds of franchises throughout the country since first opening in Dallas in 1941, but each restaurant's dedication to creating the best Texas-style smoked meats remains the same as the original's. Every new franchise goes through a training process called Barbecue U, where owners learn the ins and outs of food preparation and customer service as founder Travis Dickey practiced more than 70 years ago. And considering two of Travis's primary tenets were authenticity and barbecue sauce, it's not surprising that both of those things rank high on Barbecue U's curriculum.
Yet despite all these other points of focus, pit-smoked meats—from beef brisket to fall-off-the-bone pork ribs—are still the core of what makes Dickey's great. Because these tried-and-true staples never fail to keep customers coming back for more, Dickey's changes very little about its menu. In fact, the first major change in 50 years happened just recently: a spicy cheddar sausage intended to be a limited-time offering was so popular that it was inducted onto the menu permanently. Aside from that, Roland Dickey, Jr. (Travis's grandson) stays true to his family's original vision, aiming for a friendly, down-home ambiance where guests can help themselves to free extras such as buttered rolls, soft-serve ice cream, and breathable oxygen.
The tradition of Sonny Bryan?s award-winning barbecue started more than a century ago on February 13, a date that would become circled on the calendar again and again throughout Bryan?s Barbecue history. February 13, 1910, marked the opening of Elias Bryan?s Oak Cliff restaurant, Bryan's Barbecue. Exactly 20 years later to the day, his eldest son, William ?Red? Jennings Bryan, launched his own restaurant. When February 13 rolled around again 28 years later, Elias? grandson, William "Sonny" Jennings Bryan Jr., and his wife, Joanne, opened another restaurant, the first Sonny Bryan?s Smokehouse.
Although a different Dallas family now manages multiple locations of the restaurant chain in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the legendary barbecue lives on. Sonny Bryan's original barbecue sauce spices up its savory pulled meats and ribs, which have been devoured by famous entertainers, sports legends, and A-list celebrities alike. Sonny's seasoned chefs also cater heaps of smoked brisket and jalape?o sausage to parties and events.
Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse has been on the culinary radar since 1989, snapping up awards and publicity from Food Network, the Travel Channel?s Man V. Food Nation and 101 Tastiest Places to Chowdown, and Emeril Lagasse?s The Originals with Emeril. The modest joints have also earned some highbrow epicurean chops through a 2006 Zagat rating and a 2000 James Beard Foundation award for Culinary Excellence and Achievement.
In 1961, J.B. Wilson founded his own barbecue eatery and populated the menu with recipes of his own design. These recipes remained unchanged throughout the years, as did his signature welcome—greeting customers in a top hat and cane. When he fell ill in 2004, he passed the business’s reins to his close friend Amos Adetula. Afraid that J.B’s recipes would otherwise be lost forever, Amos graciously agreed to lead the restaurant into the future. His legacy now secure, Mr. Wilson passed away three days later.
Today, Amos still makes all the original sauces for the restaurant's ribs, brisket, and pork himself, including the sweet sauce that adorns the restaurant’s signature baked beans. Savory dishes complement sweet-potato or buttermilk pies, which the staff makes by hand from scratch each day. A number of longneck brews stands at the ready to cool diners’ tongues in the wake of smoked meats, hot baked potatoes, and periodic fire-breathing competitions. Inside the original location on Apache, large plasma televisions adorn the exposed log cabin–style walls, hanging above booths bedecked in the original black and red checkered style. Outside the eatery's confines, breezy outdoor seating around an original built-in concrete fire pit encourages frequent fresh-air feasts. When lovers of Wilson's require the food to come to them, culinary crews transport the eatery’s fare with full offsite catering services for events such as tailgate parties, where staffers set up and break down after the meal.
Those who have visited the original Cooper's in Llano might have an odd sense of déjà vu upon arriving at the Forth Worth location. That's because the sprawling 26,000-square-foot establishment is a carbon copy of the restaurant that started it all, right down to the wafting scents of mesquite-smoked meats that have been tantalizing appetites since 1953.
Any visit to Cooper's begins at the pits, where barbecue masters hoist open large, metal doors to reveal rows upon rows of ribs, brisket, sausage, and chops—all cooked over the flavors of the mesquite coals. Once you have selected your bounty of tender chicken and succulent pork or beef ribs, head toward a counter packed with Southern sides such as corn on the cob, coleslaw, and potato salad.
Though some have trouble making it to one of the communal dining tables before digging in, those who do will be thankful to find rolls of paper towels in lieu of wimpy napkins. Lively chatter rises from the restaurant’s patio, where diners enjoy views of the Fort Worth skyline and distant rigs pumping barbecue sauce from the earth’s depths.