Find a Que joint.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Back Forty Smokehouse

Not many ghost towns exist in the suburbs of Dallas-Fort Worth. But if you stumble upon Smithfield, you may have just found yourself one. Congratulations on this minor victory. 

Having been established before 1870 and never growing over the population of 400, Smithfield was annexed – though I would like to imagine a bitter feud – rather peacefully as a part of North Richland Hills in 1958. What you will find remaining along the main street are a small handful of the original buildings and Smithfield Cemetery, sans victims of my imaginary bitter feud. 

Photo by Cody Neathery

Housed in a rebuilt feed store that was destroyed by a fire in 1929 is the Back Forty Smokehouse. Opened this past May 2013, it has quickly become a popular destination as a live music venue. What may be overlooked by the chords from an acoustic guitar is the surprisingly good barbecue.

Arriving shortly after opening, I was able to take my time exploring the sizeable menu while asking questions pertaining to the food. A good rule of thumb is to catch a barbecue restaurant as close to opening as possible to ensure the meat’s freshness and that there is no shortage of protein. Too many times the customer will arrive late afternoon and complain about both – unfortunately on Yelp because Americans have nothing better to do than bitch. Unless your soft serve ice cream is commendable enough to garner a 4 star review.

Photo by Cody Neathery

A quick conversation with Pitmaster Mark Payne taught me that he is of the same Payne family who started the longtime Ft. Worth favorite, Cousin’s BBQ, which has now appeared twice on the Texas Monthly top 50 list. He emphasized (without needing to explain in depth) that he has no ties to Cousin’s anymore and is 100% Back Forty Smokehouse.

After learning on and using a Bewley smoker for 30 years, Mark now uses the Southern Pride smoker that was previously installed by the former tenant of the building. After tasting the Hickory smoked brisket – I believe his technique has transitioned from an all wood to gas assisted smoker quite successfully. The bark presented a nice pop from the well-balanced rub and rendered fat.

Photo by Cody Neathery

The ribs, smoked with White Post Oak, were well above average in flavor but had a bit of a dry texture reminiscent of being exposed to open air. Anticipation is good but don’t allow it to take away from the proper presentation. Rounding out the Texas trifecta was the Jalapeno sausage. It's shipped from Miiller’s Smokehouse which has its own history being located in the serene Hill Country town of Llano, Texas.

Both the coleslaw and potato salad were found to be average and by that I mean good enough for me to eat. Whether they’re homemade or not, I didn’t ask. I would like to believe they were made in house but I would also like to believe that Elvis didn’t die on a toilet.

Photo by Cody Neathery

With a spacious outdoor patio, complete with an additional bar and TVs, it would be quite easy to locate oneself here to get away from the city for a few beers and a good time. For those who reside in the mid-cities suburbs and inside the Ft. Worth city limits, this is a great option in the region’s growing barbecue scene and for die-hard Meatheads. If Mark Payne continues smoking this noteworthy barbecue, he may be joining his family on the next Texas Monthly top 50 list.

And hey, they're open on Sundays too. So if you're like me and need something to take the edge off after sitting for an hour and half in church, there ya' go.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Camp Craig Allen's 7th Annual Amateur Cook-off.

This past weekend at the Bass Pro Shops in Grapevine, Texas, 48 teams braved the great monsoon of 2013 for charity Camp Craig Allen's 7th annual Amateur BBQ Cook-off. Participates included some new amateur teams like The Catalina Swinemixers and Scruffy Duffies' owner, Jerry Elliott's team, Ribs for Your Pleasure, to returning and not-so-amateur teams like Tim's Tailgate and Meat Meisters -- who were the charity sponsored team.

Camp Craig Allen was started by Dawn Cruzan in memory of her late brother, Craig, who suffered from Muscular Dystrophy. His dream was to build a camp for both disabled children and adults which would be a completely barrier-free facility full of activities without obstacles while providing personal growth and education. The mission is simple: "Camp Craig Allen is dedicated to the “overlooked” physically disabled children and physically disabled adults of North Texas. We will encourage self-awareness, positive influence, and independence in therapeutic and educational programs in an accessible environment that promotes abilities and talents of those with the most physical challenges."

(Catalina Swinemixers team members enjoying the fruits of their labor)
Teams assembled all day Friday and immediately fired up the smokers -- filling the air with robust hints of smoke and meat. Friday night was a Dallas Margarita Society sponsored party for $25 per ticket that included live music, a barbecue meal, and a casino tent. The following Saturday, the general public was able to purchase tickets for $10 which provided live music, contests, games and food samples provided by each team. To help increase fundraising, a silent auction was held over the weekend.

(Award winning brisket - photo by Cody Neathery)

Not only was I able to participate in an amateur team -- I had the privilege to judge the Bloody Mary and dessert categories. As a very reluctant fan of Bloody Mary's, I felt I had the upper hand as a judge. There would be no error deciding between a pungent mix and one that would immediately convert my taste buds to the greatness of this concoction. Now I understand why Willie Nelson penned a song about them.

The reward ceremony was held Saturday evening after the crowds had dispersed. The anticipation was high for every team waiting for a call. After months of planning, cooking, and hard work that go into such a competition, we walked away with three top 10 calls. A special thanks to Ye Ole Meat Market and Hirsch's Meats in Plano, Texas for their food contributions.

(Pork belly - photo by Cody Neathery)

While winning as an amateur team was fine and dandy, knowing that cooking for a greater cause outweighed that notion. During the event, disabled children and adults were visiting with each team to show their appreciation. Being able to interact and get to know the members and beneficiaries of Camp Craig Allen was the true reward.

With more local sponsorship coming from ESPN-Dallas and WFAA-Channel 8, and all those involved, the charity BBQ competition raised nearly $100,000 for Camp Craig Allen. Next year's charity cook-off will take place at the Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco.