The "Don't mess with Texas" motto comes from an anti-littering campaign, but that phrase could easily be applied to Texas-style barbecue. And regional differences mean there's no one dominant style, though brisket is king throughout. Southern-inflected saucing in East Texas tastes totally different from the central hill country's dry-rubbed German- and Czech-inspired techniques, and the cooking and spicing goes full cowboy once you're west of the Pecos.
It's from that west side of Texas that Barney's BBQ owner Jack Fortune draws his inspiration: West-Texas style, smoked over direct heat. Fortune adds hickory and cherry woods to the traditional mesquite and smokes his meats for 14 hours in a Cookshack Fast Eddy smoker. Once the 85 pounds of meat he fills it with sells out, he calls it a day. His background is in cars, not kitchens, which reads in his folksy but cocksure persona. While he may not have a degree from Le Cordon Bleu, the time he's spent refining his recipes shows.
Fortune uses a dead-simple rub for his brisket: half salt, half black pepper. The meat, sliced for plates or chopped for sandwiches, comes tender, rich with smoke and a cornucopia of nuanced peppercorn flavors, and bearing a nice bark. Unfortunately, the fifty-fifty balance makes for salty meat. But it only takes a little bit of the badass house barbecue sauce to rein things in. It's a tangy sauce with a mild kick and a balancing sweetness, made from brown sugar, ketchup, vinegar, apple cider vinegar, black pepper, salt, cumin and Worcestershire sauce. Fortune has had a second, espresso-based sauce in the works since before we spoke to him for Side Dish in June, but it remains in testing stages.
It's unlikely to become a top priority — Fortune says he doesn't trust barbecue joints that offer too many sauces, suggesting that they're probably distracting from sub-par meats. Perhaps he'll appreciate the irony that his sauce helps with the only flaw in his brisket.
In a decidedly un-Texan twist, the pork comes out better here. Its rub gets salt and pepper plus paprika and garlic and onion powders. Each bite lands blissfully rich, smoky and juicy, gorgeous on its own or with sauce. Try it on a sandwich under vinegary coleslaw. Or try it as part of the gigantic Barney's Mile-High Sam'mich, which also includes brisket, sausage and more vinegary coleslaw. Unfortunately, the ribs don't hold up as well. Though the bark is beautiful, mine come dry, the least impressive option on the menu.
Barney's offers mild or spicy sausage — sourced locally, though Fortune has yet to settle on one vendor. While the meaty mild beef sausage tastes plenty pleasant in its savoriness, I'm sold on the spicy sausage, with vinegar and mustard warmth adding yet more depth to each bite.
Moving onto sides, Fortune's cowboy beans resemble a thin chili stew. Kidney and pinto beans see brisket drippings, burnt ends, jalapeños, onions and mild sausage. Every bite is plenty meaty and Southwestern satisfying. There's coleslaw, as noted above, which succeeds more on a sandwich than alone. Macaroni salad comes creamy but one-note, with scant carrot shreds as the only visible veggie. And while the dressing for the potato salad has a pleasant mustard flavor, swimming in mayonnaise is for stupid human tricks, not potatoes.
But hey, Texas barbecue is about the meat, and with that, Fortune doesn't mess around.