Succulent smoked meats dominate the menu at former Dallas Cowboy and Pro Football Hall of Fame–inductee Randy White’s restaurant. The cooks rely exclusively on wood-burning pits to sear all of their sliced beef, pulled pork, and baby back ribs, avoiding any gas burners or lightning bolts entirely. Seven pieces of fried catfish don cornmeal crusts for the Big Catch platter, and two patties of 100% Angus beef add heft to the Tough Man burger. Stained wood of different shades pervades the dining room's décor, from the light-brown vertical boards that form the walls to the dark-gray planks that compose the booths and act as a backup in case the fire pits run low on logs.
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 jalapeño 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 1941, Travis Dickey decided his barbecue was too good not to share, and he lit the fire in his inaugural pit to craft brisket and ham for hungry folks. Over the years, his menu grew and his sons took over and expanded the operation, but those first recipes remained, sauce and all.
The chefs at the Rowlett location still hickory smoke each tender piece of meat behind a brick serving counter, which clatters beneath plates of polish sausage and glasses of iced tea. Black-and-white photos bedeck walls of corrugated metal siding and hardwood walls, and powder-blue checkered tablecloths re-create the feeling of dining in a rustic farmhouse without all the hours spent trying to figure out what a cornucopia is for.
Whoever said everything was bigger in Texas must have been referring to Fred and Dianne McDonald's company vision. As Fred says, they “put a lot of L-U-V” into barbecue that they hope will one day reign as the best in the state. It's on its way—the barbecue is so painstakingly produced that many customers don't need to sauce it, and instead sop up the eatery's tangy, housemade marinade with bread or use it to paint the faces of children sleeping at nearby tables. Aside from the ribs, pulled pork, and preservative-free sausage the McDonalds smoke over Texas wood, Fred ignites palates with tamales his grandfather taught him to make while growing up in the southern part of the state. On Friday nights, live blues musicians—featuring house band Kenny Strauther and Second Hand Smoke— take to a stage that has been graced by Jimmy “Preacher” Ellis and a former member of The Gap Band, both of whom, according to NBC DFW 5, also stuck around to nosh on the restaurant's eats.
Grill masters at Chasin' Tail BBQ slow-smoke meats kneaded with special seasonings and slathered with a homemade sauce, and they regularly enter their tender treats in barbecue competitions. Diners can gerrymander plates after electing two meats from a trio of candidates that includes slow-cooked pulled pork, beef, or chicken—all drizzled with savory barbecue sauce and body guarded by a hunk of bread. Pairs of sides—with options such as mac 'n' cheese or barbecue baked beans—evoke the down-home comforts of swinging on a back porch and whittling a second back porch out of cornbread. For dessert, peach cobbler or pecan pie shoot down gullets in sweet streaks reminiscent of sugared stars.
If the Aue family didn’t put Texas on the map, they at least made it tastier. Max Aue founded the town of Leon Springs, Texas in the 1800s. Years later, his son Rudolph founded Rudy’s, a country store and barbecue joint that eventually spawned more than 30 outposts throughout Texas and the American Southwest. Each one of them possesses a 100% oak-fired BBQ pit that slow cooks tender slabs of meat, adding a smoky flavor and tender texture to every bite. St. Louis pork ribs, lean and moist brisket, and jalapeño sausages are a few examples of the succulent morsels that emerge from the wood-fired pits straight to the plate. Classic sides such as potato salad and corn on the cop prove delicious accomplices, while banana pudding and peach cobbler grant every meal with a sweet and satisfying coda.