It should come as no surprise that in a city nicknamed Cowtown, barbecue is as important a part of Fort Worth’s culture as rodeos, ranching and 10-gallon hats. Ask almost anyone to name his or her favorite barbecue joint and it’s a passionate response only the fool-hearted dare challenge. While styles and techniques vary even within the Texas barbecue oeuvre, not to mention the half-dozen or so different spellings of the term, the common denominator tends to be the slow-smoking of quality meats as edible artistry. Some believe the secret is in the sauce, while just as many consider sauce unnecessary and even downright taboo. There are die-hards who favor hickory for their wood smokers and those who prefer pecan. And still others attribute their success to closely guarded recipes for spice rubs, generously applied to the meats before smoking. Even with Fort Worth’s oldest barbecue institution about to close out a century in business and a continued expansion of its sauce-covered empire, there is still room for newcomers to make their mark and carve their own piece of this cherished culinary tradition.
One of the biggest success stories in Fort Worth is also one of the oldest. In 1911, a Polish immigrant named Joe Riscky came to America to work at the Armour Packing Company in the Fort Worth Stockyards. A year later he met Mary Bunkervitch, a fellow Polish immi- grant, and started a family. By 1927, they opened Riscky’s Grocery & Market on the Northside of Fort Worth. It was there that their now-famous barbecue was born. All of the meats are hand-rubbed with “Riscky Dust,” a secret blend of seasonings applied before slow smoking the meats for hours. And even though the third-generation, family-owned and -operated business now has multiple restaurants, all the smoked meats are cooked at the central location on Azle Avenue in specially designed smoke pits that operate 24 hours a day. A visit to Riscky’s Barbecue requires an order of its lean, tender brisket and a basket of pork spare ribs. Then, it’ll be clear what all the fuss is about.
Naturally, there are other old-timers who have been carving away not just at brisket, but also their own piece of the market, including places like Angelo’s and Longoria’s that opened more than 35 years ago. And if one is lucky enough to be in Fort Worth on a Monday night, hit up Sammie’s Bar-B-Q, an establishment proud to be “under old management since 1946.” It’s here that for three glorious hours diners can work their way through the laundry list of smoked meats in an all-you-can-eat frenzy with all the fixin’s. Any other day of the week, visitors will sadly have to narrow down the meat selection to a top two or three. If it comes down to one choice—go for the ribs, definitely the ribs.
Load up that cafeteria tray at Angelo’s Bar-B-Que, just as locals have been doing since 1958. Diners will be hard-pressed to find a colder beer than the ones here, so make sure to grab one. With walls lined with huntiing trophies, the place has a down-home charm and character that can’t be faked. Hickory is the name of the game here, as well as a secret recipe rub, both of which work in tandem inside the specially made steel-and-brick smoke pits where briskets, turkey and even barbecue salami make for a truly memorable Texas-style sandwich. That means pickles, never relish. And at Longoria’s BBQ, the family has become famous for its inventive uses of brisket, and their recipe that hasn’t changed since 1975.
But decades of experience aren’t the only way to win the hearts and stomachs of barbecue lovers. Plenty of new-schoolers are quickly making their mark. One of the best places to put the no-sauce concept to the test is Randy’s Bar-B-Que, where only certified Angus beef briskets make it into the Oyler pit, rotisserie-style smoker and onto the menu. And it’s only been on the scene a couple of years, but Smokey’s Barbecue, from one of Dallas’ best-known barbecue guys Eddie Deen, says “slow and low” is the name of the game. Its small-but-focused menu delivers high-quality basics without frills. A combo basket of sliced brisket, ribs and hot links is punctuated by intense black pepper, which plays nicely with the slighty sweet-and-smoky sauce.
The newest of the bunch from one of Fort Worth’s best-known celebrity chefs, Tim Love’s Woodshed Smoke House, is barbecue with a gourmet twist and a place where nothing can escape the smoker, whether it’s olives, beets, brussels sprouts or hummus. Naturally, he’s serving traditional fare to keep the villagers happy, but there is a welcome inventiveness in dishes such as smoked redfish, pulled-pork ramen noodles or open-fire paella with seafood and rabbit-rattlesnake sausage that could usher in a new future for barbecue.
Plan time in Fort Worth wisely, and one could easily enjoy course after course of this incredible city’s history. Sauce on the side—napkins and tall tales, as always, are free of charge.