DALLAS: Pecan Lodge
1010 South Pearl Expressway
(Dallas Farmer's Market Shed #2)
Dallas, TX 75201
Open Thur-Sun 11-Sold Out
Update: You may have heard that this joint is getting a bit popular. While I may lament not being able to visit my go-to barbecue joint without braving a long line, I'm happy for the proprietors. Justin and Diane Fourton are friends in the barbecue world, and I've sought some bit of smoking advice from Justin on what were once bi-weekly visits. During those many visits I watched their menu evolve and sampled just about every special they ever offered. There isn't much that Justin can't successfully transform under a bath of mesquite smoke.
|Wagyu brisket left, regular brisket right|
Wagyu brisket is an indulgence at $25 per pound, but it must be ordered if it's on the menu. My preference is to splurge for slices from the lean side where the intense marbling of the wagyu beef creates a difference from the standard cut that is more evident than on the fatty side. The buttery slices melt and fat envelops your tongue as chewing commences. The bold smokiness takes the meat to another level. There are few briskets in the state that can touch it.
After many meals, I knew Pecan Lodge was up for a re-review. They'd provided the most consistently great brisket in Dallas over more than a dozen visits, but I wanted to see how the Fourtons handled real pressure. Two months ago they appeared on Diners Drive-Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri. The following week, the Fieri factor was already working. Lines that before had never exceeded about twenty people on the busiest of days was now stretching all the way across Shed #2 in the Farmers Market. To meet demand, they have started smoking double what they had done previously. Would the quality suffer? For this visit I needed a buddy who could keep me company in line (it would be eighty minutes on this Saturday) and could order for me at the front. I wanted a standard plate of meat, so Scott Slagle was happy to be my proxy.
After he retrieved our order from Justin (the now famous pitmaster still doles out the orders up front) we retired to a back table. The pile of meat in front of us caused a few onlookers. Fatty brisket was my first stop, and the meat didn't disappoint. The tenderness was perfect as was the heavy smoke. They've always used a heavily salty seasoning, and today was no different. I was loving those tender fatty slices, but it was an end cut from the lean end that put me over the moon. A layer of nicely rendered fat cap was black with smoke. Juice oozed from the meat, and the first bite was brisket perfection. Justin hadn't lost a step. In fact, he had improved. The best ribs I've had at Pecan Lodge were served to me on this day. Instead of a thick coating of sauce, it was a more restrained glaze that had cooked on nicely to the glistening bark. The meat came easily from the bone, and it was both hot and moist with rendered fat. These were excellent ribs.
The only quibble I had with the entire exceptional meal was that the pulled pork received a heavy handed post-applied rub which created some overly salty meat, but the pork sausage quickly made me forget. These house made links were taut, juicy, well spiced and satisfyingly smoky. Even after tripling the amount required, every link is still stuffed by the Fourtons and their staff. They just had to buy a bigger stuffer.
Even with the added pressure of living up to their television fame, and the sometimes suicidal move of doubling output without upgrading smoking equipment, Pecan Lodge is still matching the consistency of the meat they were putting out before all the hype. Just like at Franklin Barbecue in Austin, I can confidently tell people that Justin will deliver meat that's worth the wait.
2011: After nearly a two month hiatus (that felt like years to some BBQ fanatics) Pecan Lodge is back up and running. Justin and Diane Fourton have a wide menu of Southern food favorites so they weren't exactly closed, but there's no doubt that a celebration was warranted. A banner exclaiming "BBQ is Back" was hoisted over the counter, and two new items were chalked up on the menu. While I was there to try the new homemade sausage and pulled pork, it was nice to have some Deep Eddy sweet tea vodka to sip on while in line.
With SideDish proclaiming this the best fried chicken in Dallas, I had to add a leg and thigh to my BBQ order of a pulled pork sandwich and a homemade sausage link. A soft white bun held nothing but large chunks of moist pulled pork. This is Texas BBQ, so they ditched the slaw and the sauce. A small cup of spiced vinegar was there if you needed an extra zing. The smokey meat, covered in a deep dark crust doesn't need anything extra, but the sauce was certainly complementary. For the links, the Fourtons decided that only a homemade pork sausage would do. The links were deeply smokey with a great snap and pleasing spice level. With such a large crowd that included the Texas BBQ Posse, I'm sure the owners were nervous about how their new menu items would be received, but I'd say 'don't change a thing'.
I didn't have many doubts, but the new BBQ items were worth the wait. It wasn't just the BBQ that made this one of my more memorable meals I've had anywhere in quite some time. The mac & cheese has that extra kick from the jalapeno and bacon, the okra was crispy from the cornmeal crust, and the blueberry fried pie was hot, crisp and not weighed down with grease. Now I'll just have a tougher time deciding what to order on my next visit.
2010: During my trip to Kansas City, I learned the beauty of burnt ends. I've looked for them around the DFW area with little luck. Up N Smoke in Keller offers them for lunch on Fridays only, and Flying Pig in Mansfield doesn't do them justice. I went to Pecan Lodge last Thursday to see if they could match the quality I found in KC.
At lunch the previous week, I got a sneak preview of this new menu offering. The owners Justin and Diane know me by now because I'm a regular, so they asked my opinion. I thought they were too heavy on the sauce, but looked forward to the finished product when they finally offered them. I learned from Pegasus News and from the Pecan Lodge twitter account that they were going to be available for lunch last week in a limited supply. I rushed over and grabbed an order.
These intense nuggets of flavor did not disappoint. The meat was deeply smoky with an intense flavor from the second trip to the smoker and that baked on sauce flavor. These chunks had been cut from the fatty, crusty end of the brisket, basted in a mixture of the house sauce and brisket drippings, then returned to the smoker for another hour or so. The result could have easily been dry and crunchy, but these chunks were tender and moist with just the right amount of chew. There were only about eight chunks of meat, but I couldn't take much more of the intense flavors. A nice counterpoint were the crispy onions served on the side. The whole basket was just $6.
A few friends wanted to go back the next day, so I opted for the chopped beef sandwich. It wasn't so much chopped as chunked, and the meat came from those same fatty end cuts used for the burnt ends. This sandwich was a satisfying mess of smoky meat and sauce, and I'd gladly order it again if I'm not feeling man enough for the more intense burnt ends. A note on those burnt ends - they won't be on the menu and will not be available every day. Even on the days they can be ordered, there will only be about a dozen orders each day given the limited amount of end cuts available on the briskets. The only way you'll know if the burnt ends are ready is to follow the Pecan Lodge on twitter. They'll make it worth your while.
2010: You'd think a BBQ joint named Pecan Lodge smokes with pecan wood. Nope. Okay, so they serve pecans in some form? No to that too. Owner and pitmaster Justin Fourton named it after a ranch that was in his family long ago, and he insists on using mesquite in his custom made mobile smoker. His wife and co-owner, Diane, helps create all of the savory side items and tempting sweets. You can learn more about this couple's journey towards Pecan Lodge in a great article in Edible DFW.
Before their opening in March, Shed #2 at the Farmer's Market was looking pretty bare. Now it seems to be packed with mini storefronts offering everything from BBQ, pizza, cakes, wine, tamales, grass-fed beef and sausages. The design of Pecan Lodge gives it a real presence as you enter the renovated shed, and with all the tables in front of the main counter, it feels like a regular restaurant. Now let's get down to the meat.
This might just be the finest brisket in the Dallas city limits. The mesquite smoke was evident, but had been subdued to the perfect level by timely foil wrapping in the pit. The crust was nicely formed, and helped deliver the punch of intense flavors that ran through each slice. A beautifully deep smokering capped the top of each tender slice from the flat, and a thin line of nicely rendered fat was left along the bottom for extra flavor. Ribs were nearly as good, but were sullied a bit by the sauce brush. Their sauce is definitely homemade, and has a spicy, grainy earthiness that I think goes better with the brisket than the ribs. However, the restrained sauce application allowed the smokiness of the meat to shine through. The ribs could have been more tender and moist, but they were well smoked and flavorful.
The sides were also great. Mac & cheese was creamy and cheesy, and it had bacon on top. Nice touch. The beans were also plenty meaty with shredded brisket blended into the well seasoned beans. After a great meal, I got a behind the scenes look at the smoker out back with Justin. There wasn't a propane tank in sight, just stacks of mesquite wood.
I had to make a return trip just to verify that it was really this good. Justin was working the counter at lunchtime on a Friday, so I was spotted immediately. They had just rolled out a new (wider) menu, and Justin was trying a new rib glaze. My friends tried the shredded brisket tacos and the brisket stuffed sweet potato known as the "hot mess". They all were more than happy with their orders, but I went right back to the brisket and ribs (which usually aren't available on Friday).
The brisket was nearly identical to the previous week's offering, but the ribs had shown improvement. Instead of the house sauce, there was a sweeter glaze, and these ribs were smoked to tenderness with plenty of moist meat and well rendered fat. Crispy okra was a great accompaniment. I'm glad this joint is just a few minutes from my office. I have a feeling I might become a regular.