Sunday, September 5, 2010

Big Racks BBQ

1720 Texas 26

Grapevine, TX 76051

Open Daily 11-2am

My connections to this former Cutie Pies location run deep. The owner asked me to provide consulting services while they tweaked their menu with the goal to provide high quality barbecue. After several tasting visits, the new 'cue, the new menu and a new name all rolled out together. This joint has officially been Big Racks for several months, but I needed to coordinate with Smokemasterone on a visit. The dreaded validation bias could have struck with me tasting food that I was supposed to have a hand in improving, so I needed his unbiased opinion. I'll provide my review below, and SM1 will follow with his take.

BBQ Snob - When I see a 'Bacon Explosion' on a menu I get it excited. This was actually the first time I've ever seen it on a menu. It hasn't been an internet darling since about two Super Bowls ago, but smoked pork wrapped in smoked pork does not go out of style in my world. More surprising was the response from the server when we ordered it. "Most people end up sending it back. Are you sure you still want it?" Huh? Yes I'm sure, now bring it to me.

Four generous slices of well smoked and nicely seasoned pork were wrapped in a not-so-crispy bacon weave. While the flavor was good, I think this explosion was missing the important texture of crispy crumbled bacon on the interior. More successful in the crispy department were the exemplary onion rings. They were the best side item alongside boring beans, crispy slaw and a passable dish of mashed potatoes.

The meat here is offered in pleasing bundles. A 'Grand Slam' includes ribs, sliced brisket, ham, turkey, sausage and pulled pork. We also ordered another half rack of ribs. Curiously the half rack came out as large spare ribs already sliced and arranged in a fan pattern while the ribs on the combo plate were uncut St. Louis ribs covered in a thick, dark, sweet and smoky sauce. Both versions had great texture and moisture. They also were well seasoned with good overall flavor. What they lacked was smoke that could have come from a well formed crust that was also missing. Brisket was the item that got most of my attention during my consulting stint, so I was sad to see a ho-hum version on the plate. It lacked fat, crust and smoke. The meat had decent flavor, and was well cooked, but it just wasn't great brisket. A few items were very good including a luscious pulled pork. The meat had a beautiful crust, great meaty texture, good smokiness and great overall flavor. I just wish there were more of it on the plate. A real turkey breast was used for the smoky and herbaceous slices of poultry. This cut is hard to keep moist, so this stuff was exemplary. The ham on the plate tasted just like ham.

Overall, I was pleased to see how well the kitchen has continued to improve the pork shoulder and the turkey. The ribs were as expected, but the brisket failed to impress. This is more maddening with the knowledge that Big Racks has placed very highly in a few local BBQ competitions in the brisket category. That winning brisket was not on display this evening, but what they do well was good enough to bring me back to try it again.

Smokemasterone - Ribs arrived both with and without sauce. The naked ones had a very nice level of doneness and pleasant "tooth". There was no strong smoke or rub presence but a little of each. There was also a wayward note that suggested to me a mix of woods in the smoker, maybe some kind of fruit tree. The ribs from the combo were heavily sauced. It was thick, sweet, slightly spicy and overpowered any other flavor. These ribs were slightly more cooked, just bordering on overdone but still pleasant. The sausage had a finer grind with little to add flavor except a bit of black pepper. They were nice and juicy, but there was no smoke and only a little snap to the casing. Not bad, but lacking anything memorable. Ham tasted just like ham and nothing else. It could have been prepared any of a dozen ways, none of which require a smoker or more than an hour. Of course, I love ham so that isn’t a critique as much as a missed opportunity. The turkey was solid. Tender with enough moisture but still good texture and a light but pleasant smoke presence. The standout of meats was the pork shoulder. There was a definite crust and good smoke, very nicely done.

The only side dish I thought worth mentioning was the onion rings. It seems like most places these days feature extra large rings of yellow onion with a thin and extra-crunchy batter. I don’t have the Alton Brown angle on this, but it doesn’t seem like any of the onion caramelizes. At best, it is cooked enough to soften. At worst, it forms a skin on one or both sides that prevents the batter from sticking. Big Racks does what I think of as old-school onion rings. I guess that probably means early 80s cafeteria, but I like thin rings with a square profile, a softer, more tempura like batter and enough time down that they can be bit through in one chomp. I got what I wanted there.

Big Racks provides what most people in North Texas know and want, but not much more. They definitely do not hit the chord that makes you stop, close your eyes, and take a slow breath in before the next bite.

Rating ***
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Way over generous in your review. I was disappointed from beginning to end. Not even enough to make me feel it was worth a second visit, despite the semi-naked waitresses


Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.