Recently opened but already ahead of the pack
Berry Best BBQ
6257 Rufe Snow Drive, Watauga,
» Newly opened in Watauga, this tight squeeze of a spot, found in the parking lot of a strip mall, is a barbecue shack in the truest sense of the term: There’s nowhere to sit. You get your food to-go, either via the walk-up counter or drive-thru window. Part of Berry Best’s tiny footprint is devoted to a custom wood smoker, in which pitmaster/owner John Berry tends to brisket, ribs, bologna, pulled pork, chicken and hot links, all smoked over pecan. The longtime barbecuer and first-time restaurateur does a praiseworthy job, particularly with brisket, whose skin is etched in red smoke rings and lined in spines of black crust — sure signs of well-smoked brisket. All his meats are seasoned with a slightly spicy, seven-blend rub, the recipe for which Berry guards with locked-lips secrecy.
Don’t miss: Sweet baked beans, spruced up with ground meat.
Hot tip: Get a side of the dynamite smoked cornbread.
425 U.S. 377 S., Argyle,
» Good thing you’ll smell Bumbershoot before you see it. Otherwise, you may miss this new ’cue trailer in Argyle, hidden behind pizza joint Earl’s 377 (whose owners also run Bumbershoot). This is one of the few local barbecue spots that caters to families, offering a big fence and paintbrushes for kiddos to create their next Mona Lisas and family-friendly live music on weekends. Barbecue is served Central Texas-style: Big, messy slabs of brisket and ribs come on metal trays lined in butcher paper. Pay attention to the sides, especially the pinto beans, made with brisket and rib meat.
Don’t miss: The $10 tater tots topped with chopped brisket, grated cheddar, sour cream, housemade barbecue sauce and bright green jalapeños.
Hot tip: Sandwiches are the way to go. Instead of buns, Bumbershoot uses thick buttery slices of Texas toast.
1109 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth,
» Relative newcomers Travis and Emma Heim, who in 2016 opened their self-named barbecue joint on Magnolia Avenue, perfectly represent what’s happening in barbecue right now. They source all-natural meat from the respected Niman Ranch. An experimental nature led them to creating bacon burnt ends — dangerously addicting bite-sized portions of candied pork belly. They have a full bar and a whiskey program — a smart way to get drinkers in. And they have found success where other ’cue spots give up — on the sides, such as potato salad that tastes just like a loaded baked potato and a sublimely rich green chile mac and cheese. They’re not the first ones in North Texas to bring a more craft-inspired approach to their barbecue, but they’ve done it well — well enough to already have a second location in the works.
Don’t miss: Jurassic-size beef ribs.
Hot tip: Monday night is the only time the restaurant serves the Heimburger, a terrific hamburger constructed out of two Texas Akaushi beef brisket patties, topped with American cheese and bacon-burnt-end jam.
Jambo’s BBQ Shack
1724 W. Division St., Arlington,
» Jambo’s BBQ Shack is the fastest-growing mom-and-pop ’cue chain in Tarrant County. Competitive BBQ’er Jamie “Jambo” Geer opened the first store in Rendon four years ago, then sold the business to local husband-wife duo Paul and Ashton Lovato. The Lovatos opened additional locations, including this one in Arlington, which took over Arlington Steak House, a historic restaurant that dates back to 1931. Meat is smoked for hours over pecan wood, in an Ole Hickory smoker, usually with very good results. The best way to sample every meat on the cheap is the Jambo Texan, a skyscraping sandwich consisting of bologna, sliced brisket, chopped brisket, pulled pork, sausage and ribs, all stacked in layers and all sandwiched between two thick slices of Texas toast. For $15, it’s a steal; you’ll get a couple meals out of this.
Don’t miss: Bologna here is hardly the floppy meat of our youth. Jambo’s rendition is thick-cut, hearty and smoky through and through.
Hot tip: A freshly made yeast dinner roll, a menu holdover from Arlington Steak House, is a wise way to spend a quarter.
Smokey Mae’s Pit BBQ
8120 Rendon Bloodworth Road, Mansfield,
» This massive new restaurant in Mansfield is similar in style to Hard Eight, Cooper’s and other Central Texas-influenced spots, in that you pick your meat right off a smoker. What makes Smokey Mae’s unique? Three pitmasters, working in eight-hour shifts, man the all-wood/no-gas pits 24 hours a day. Such attention to their craft comes through the most on brisket, colored with Corvette-red smoke rings, and monolithic beef ribs brimming with moist and smoky meat. Fat plays a significant role in the taste and texture, so if that’s not your thing, let the pitmaster know and he’ll saw it away. Worthy sides include creamy and finely diced cole slaw (good luck not having a KFC flashback), complimentary pinto beans, and smoked corn on the cob. Smokey Mae’s got off to a rough start, closing just a few days after it opened to retool and retrain; it has since found its groove.
Don’t miss: Jalapeño-bacon mac and cheese, which tastes every bit as good as it sounds.
Hot tip: Pitmasters will give you bite-sized samples of any meat.