Ever since Travis and Emma Heim introduced our city to the wonders of fatty brisket, T. rex-size beef ribs and bacon burnt ends, barbecue in Fort Worth hasn’t been the same. Heim BBQ, the couple’s trailer-turned-brick-and-mortar-turned-local-empire, has changed the way our city eats its ’cue.
The couple’s craft-inspired approach pays homage to the great ’cue joints found in Lockhart and Austin. Naturally, the runaway popularity of Heim’s Central Texas-style cooking techniques and from-scratch recipes has paved the way for others here to follow.
As a result, a new school of barbecue artisans has risen up. You’ll find them at pop-up events — selling their smoky wares outside of breweries and bars — at small restaurants they opened or built themselves, or at larger restaurants paid for by gambling investors. All have contributed, in their own unique ways, to a wildly popular craft barbecue scene.
“Fort Worth’s barbecue scene is on fire right now,” says Trevor Sales, a pitmaster who runs a mobile barbecue business called Brix Barbecue. “I’d say if we’re not on the same level with Austin, we’re definitely getting there.”
What may make our craft-’cue scene different from others is the sense of camaraderie shared by those who are part of it.
“It’s like a brotherhood,” Sales says. “We all know each other and support each other and eat at each other’s places. We share recipes and collaborate. I don’t really think that happens in other cities. Barbecue guys in other cities, seems like they just want to kill each other.”
Introducing Fort Worth’s new school of barbecue craftsmen:
Hometown: La Porte, Indiana
Like a bad cold or a good stock market tip, word about quality barbecue travels fast in Fort Worth. Mere weeks after Trevor Sales started setting up at area breweries last year, selling beautifully smoked brisket, ribs and handmade sausage, he was running out of food just a few hours after opening.
“We took off real quick,” says Sales, an Indiana native who moved to Texas two years ago. “That’s the power of social media and word-of-mouth, which is so vital in this business.” Soon the managers of Americado, a food hall concept in south Fort Worth, invited him to sell his smoked goods there on weekends. Unfortunately, a month in, Americado abruptly closed. “If anything, it got my name out there even more,” Sales says. “I was hitting a whole new audience.”
That new audience is now part of the following that trails Sales’ every Instagram post, waiting to find out where he’ll pop up next. He still has a day job as a project manager at a local manufacturing company. But he’s hoping to make barbecue his full-time gig when he converts a 31-foot, 1973 Airstream into a mobile kitchen. That’ll happen this summer, he says. An actual kitchen, will allow him to offer an expanded menu, with items such as chorizo cornbread stuffing.
“You see a lot of people using old Airstreams for things, but they’re usually the smaller ones,” he says. “This thing is huge. It’s like a yacht on wheels.”
Tools of the trade: Sales uses an offset smoker that he and a buddy from work built themselves; his woods of choice are post oak and pecan.
Signature item: Brix’s brisket is tough to beat, but try the beef cheek tacos, made with beef sourced from 44 Farms and topped with chimichurri and chipotle créma.
Where to find him: Sales makes the pop-up rounds regularly, parking at area breweries and clubs, such as Lola’s Saloon and Hop Fusion Ale Works.
Follow: brixbarbecue.com; instagram.com/brixbarbecue
Dayne’s Craft Barbecue
Hometown: Fort Worth
Like a lot of the guys in this new-school barbecue crew, Dayne Weaver started tinkering with barbecue in a very simple way — at home, cooking for family and friends and neighbors hypnotized by the smells of smoked meats. In January of last year, Weaver took it a step further, selling barbecue out of his backyard, straight off a smoker. “I called it underground barbecue,” he says. “I heard about some guys doing this in Los Angeles, so I thought I’d give it a try.”
With his fiancé Ashley Hays by his side, making the sides, Weaver became somewhat of a local sensation, attracting ’cue disciples who heard about him via a Dallas Observer story, as well as other local barbecue aficionados, such as Trevor Sales from Brix Barbecue; the two are now best buds.
The underground barbecue events became too much of a madhouse for Weaver to continue. “I kept running out of food, and they sort of caused a commotion in the neighborhood,” he says.
Last year, he began setting up at local breweries, hosting pop-up events that showed off his expertly smoked brisket from 44 Farms and a handmade sausage — a triple-cheddar pepper link — he and Sales developed. “It’s kinda funny,” Weaver says. “We couldn’t decide who owns it, so we both sell it.”
Weaver’s menu also includes pork belly burnt ends, beef and pork ribs and pulled pork, along with Hays’ sides: bacon-spiked mac and cheese, red potato salad and elote topped with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos dust.
Weaver recently landed a brick-and-mortar spot, in the old Americado building on the city's south side. He's planning on opening in the fall.
Tools of the trade: Like Sales, Weaver uses a mix of post oak and pecan. His offset smoker was built by El Cucaracho Smokers in Saginaw. Says Weaver: “They’re one of the go-to pit builders for the style of barbecue we’re doing.”
Signature item: Bacon brisket — basically pork belly that Weaver preps, rubs and smokes as he does a brisket. Also try the broccoli salad with red and green grapes and toasted almonds. You’ll never hate broccoli again.
Where to find him: 2000 W. Berry St., Fort Worth
Follow: daynescraftbarbecue.com; instagram.com/daynetxbbq
Smiley’s Craft Barbecue
A 1968 Airstream trailer, parked next to a pair of 1,000-gallon propane tanks, serves as the kitchen for pitmaster Brendan Lamb’s barbecue biz, found on the side of Farm Road 156 in the tiny town of Ponder. Dressed in clothes splattered with barbecue sauce, Lamb hardly resembles his former self — a Hollywood mover and shaker who modeled, acted and was once a casting director for Disney.
“The Hollywood stuff wasn’t my passion,” he says. “I did it for seven years. I made a lot of money and met a lot of cool people. But I gotta be where I’m happy.”
That meant Austin, where a family friend had recently opened a hot new barbecue joint called La Barbecue; the place needed some help. He worked there for nearly four years as one of the pitmasters. Wanting to open a place of his own, he headed to Fort Worth, where he slung barbecue in the Stockyards for about a year before heading to Ponder.
There he serves the type of craft-inspired ’cue he knew and did so well in Austin: high-quality brisket, short and fat pork ribs, snappy sausage, turkey and pulled pork. Spring for the $25 Prison Platter to get a little bit of everything, along with a side.
Tools of the trade: Twin decommissioned propane tanks, from 1972, converted into smokers. He uses post oak wood in those beauties.
Signature item: His smoked jalapeño creamed corn, accented with Fritos and parmesan, is worth the drive alone.
Where to find him: 1100 N. Farm-to-Market Road 156, Ponder
Hurtado Barbecue Co.
Arlington’s craft barbecue scene scored some serious points last month when Brandon Hurtado made a permanent home at Division Brewing, where he’d been hosting pop-up events off and on for the past few months. While Fort Worth has plenty of craft-’cue guys, Arlington doesn’t. Hurtado also attended the University of Texas at Arlington and has family in the area. “Just made sense for me to make Arlington my home,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of strong ties to this area.”
Hurtado’s play on Central Texas barbecue is a little different from that of his friends and peers, in that he puts a Tex-Mex spin on it. He does prime brisket and beef ribs, sourced from 44 Farms, but also housemade sausage stuffed with smoked poblano and queso fundido; smoked elote; chorizo sausage; and carnitas. Imaginative sides include coleslaw made with serrano peppers and lime.
“We each have our own little niche,” says Hurtado, who works at a nearby marketing firm. “That’s why I feel like we’re not super competitive with one another. We’re each doing something a little different.”
Tools of the trade: Offset smoker that burns post oak and pecan.
Signature item: Ridiculously juicy smoked quail, marinated in garlic butter.
Where to find him: Every Saturday at Division Brewing, 506 E. Main St., Arlington
Follow: hurtadobbq.com; instagram.com/hurtadobbq
Chris Magallanes and Ernest Morales
Panther City BBQ
Ages and hometowns: Magallanes, 44, from Plainview; Morales, 37, from Fort Worth
If Heim opened the door for craft ’cue in Fort Worth, Chris Magallanes and Ernest Morales, whom we profiled in these pages last year, held it open for others.
Their popular food truck, parked next to Republic Street Bar (where Heim’s original trailer used to be), helped lay the foundation for the DIY spirit that encompasses many of the new school of ’cue guys. “A lot of these guys are just like us,” Magallanes says. “They get up early, smoke the meat themselves, wait on the customers themselves and clean up the trash themselves. No investors, no employees. It’s not the way for everybody, but it works for us.”
So well, in fact, that the two — who met when Magallanes hired Morales to work on an audio/video project — are in the process of having a permanent structure built where their food trailer sits now. Designing the building is Studio 97W, the architecture firm that also designed or helped design Heim BBQ’s brick-and-mortar, Taco Heads’ Montgomery Street location and Melt Ice Creams. It’ll have indoor/outdoor seating, a full kitchen and a separate smokehouse big enough to accommodate three smokers.
“For us, it’s going to be a game-changer,” Magallanes says. “This is what we’ve been working for, and it’s kinda cool that we can say we did it ourselves.”
Tools of the trade: Offset smoker, with post oak wood.
Signature item: Pork belly poppers and brisket-topped elote are both musts.
Where to find them: 201 E. Hattie St., Fort Worth.
Follow: facebook.com/817PantherCityBBQ; instagram.com/panthercitybbq
Joe Riscky’s BBQ
Hometown: Fort Worth
The best way to find Joe Riscky’s recently opened brick-and-mortar is to point your GPS in the direction of Wild Acre Brewery. Then walk a few feet to the east, and there you’ll see it, a small shack — once a storage building — big enough to hold three employees and five or six people waiting in line. Snag a spot to eat on a picnic table outside or head to the brewery, which welcomes Riscky’s customers.
Joe is part of the storied Riscky’s Barbecue family, whose veins go back to 1927 when Joe’s great-grandfather — a Polish immigrant also named Joe — opened a food shop on the Northside, the first link in an eventual chain of Riscky’s Barbecue joints. Joe grew up in the restaurant biz, starting at 16 at Riscky’s in Dallas. He got away from it for a while, then came back to it about a decade ago. As was revealed in a recent Texas Monthly story, he split from his family and struck out on his own; he uses the family name but his own recipes.
“Keeping the name is sort of a double-edged sword,” he says. “I want people to know it’s Riscky’s because our name means something to Fort Worth. But at the same time, I want to make a name for myself, on my own.”
He’s doing that by using recipes and rubs he’d kept stashed away for years. “It’s my own style,” he says. “You could call it Central Texas style, but it definitely has a lot of me in it.” His tiny spot serves prime brisket, St. Louis-style pork ribs, pork sausage, turkey and smoked chicken, and housemade sides, such as creamed corn and butter beans; his sons Hayden and Hudson help out.
“I guess you could say I’m carrying on a family tradition,” he says.
Tools of the trade: Wood-burning rotisserie; like most others in this group, he uses post oak wood.
Signature item: Mac and cheese topped with a dollop of chopped brisket.
Where to find him: 1734 E. El Paso St., Fort Worth
Derek Allan’s Texas BBQ
Hometown: Fort Worth
Derek Allan’s eponymously named barbecue joint is a full-circle realization for the Fort Worth native, who was born less than a mile from where his spot is slated to open this month. Allan made a name for himself as a barbecue savant not in Fort Worth but in Grapevine, where he worked out of a food truck for two years. “I was living in that area at the time and just doing barbecue on weekends,” he says. “It was tough — I went door to door, asking businesses to let me park on their lots. This was a while back before food trucks were a thing. Finally, a manager of a Best Buy said, ‘OK.’”
After the truck’s popularity took off, the former IT worker and his wife, Brittany, then planned to open a restaurant in Frisco. That fell through at the last minute, he says. “And then I heard about this little place on the south side of Fort Worth, pretty close to Harris Hospital, where I was born. I thought to myself: I get to do what I love in my hometown. God brought me back home.”
Allan and his wife landed the tiny building once home to Paco & John’s. The couple has outfitted the spot with a patio and, out back, a smokehouse that holds Allan’s triplet of smoking pits, which he says he built himself.
While many craft barbecue spots use angus beef from 44 Farms, Allan is going in a different direction, using wagyu beef for his brisket, brisket sausage and beef ribs. “I tried all the different kinds of beef when I was doing the food truck, and I fell in love with wagyu,” he says. “It’s so well-marbled and buttery. I think it’s the best beef in the world.”
Brittany makes sides such as chipotle mac and cheese and pinto beans dotted with brisket. The couple even developed their own rub that you can purchase in the restaurant, called Dirty Dalmation, and they make their own vanilla for desserts. “When we say we do it all, we’re not kidding,” Brittany says. “We really do.”
Tools of the trade: A trio of offset vertical smokers, which Allan made by hand, and post oak wood.
Signature item: Allan is especially proud of his wagyu brisket, but pay attention to his wagyu meat loaf, a weekend special that may be added to the permanent menu.
Where to find him: 1116 Eighth Ave., Fort Worth.
Follow: derekallansbbq.com; instagram.com/derekallansbbq