When some friends convinced us to try one of DFW’s top BBQ joints that is only open two days a week for lunch, and only the first Saturday of the month, we were skeptical. These same friends are our “BBQ Palooza” buddies. Let me explain the intimacy of our friendship. For the last three or so years, the four of us, take an annual weekend trip to Central Texas BBQ spots touted as being “the best” according to “this or that” publication, or an online definitive resource like Google (of course.) For our little four person group of BBQ enthusiasts, we simply want to know, what is the best BBQ in the grandest state in the union of BBQ land. We trust these friends and their tastebuds. Mostly. With these friends egging us on like pubescent peers making you jump into the roller rink with 3 wheels per skate, we have stood in long lines at Franklin’s and Snow’s in Central Texas. Of course those experiences were in the summer heat, where the standard is sweating, dehydrating and wishing we were floating in the cool swimming pool at the hotel where we slept. I mean, were not spring chickens, we’re in our forties and like sleep! Trips like that usually result in short sleepless nights due to the anticipation of eating at some of Texas’ BBQ mecca’s of sorts, as well as the meat sweats of trying to digest three back to back BBQ meals that would make any college football player cry for his Mommy. Friendships have limits. Especially in the quest for BBQ. Should we have allowed this pressure in going to Cattleacks on a Saturday morning? Let’s see.
In the days leading up to this hyped up peer pressured visit, we knew we would have typical Texas style weather, which equates to a chance of severe thunderstorms, hail, and maybe a rendition of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Texas Flood”. Did that deter us? Of course not! We do BBQ tours….no matter the cost to life, limb or price. One of our friends can tell you the story about risking limbs and butt, in a line of 100 people….that is another write up that I have to publish in “Psychology Today”. Apparently, I missed an opportunity as a friend that day.
The four of us decided the quest for the ultimate Texas BBQ was worth fighting the storm clouds and personal pride or the possibility of looking like drowned felines by the time we ate. The question, similar to our experience at Franklin’s near Austin, was estimating the wait. How long were we willing to wait for Q this time? Should we bring chairs, coolers, umbrellas, maybe an RV camper? In this case, the wait lasted about two hours and twenty-two minutes to be exact, in the rain, with all these other crazy BBQ fanatics. Oh yeah, we are THOSE people!
With our backs sore from standing in line that moved a small bit every 20-30 minutes or so, we got to the main door of the restaurant. Taped on the glass door, was what seemed like Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation nailed to the church door 500 years ago. It was a piece of butcher paper you commonly see Brisket wrapped in. It appeared to be a list. Not just any list, it was “The List.” It was one that propagated news out to the BBQ line population and of course, was administered by the town Crier. There was no fancy tech, no email, no text, no instant news on our phones, just a piece of paper with asymmetrical columns by sharpie. Then, there were letters that formed words on that despised list. This List, was the nucleus of the Cattlelack operation. The information therein told us, after salivating and smelling sweet hickory smoke in the parking lot for hours, what we would NOT be able to delve into! It was the short list of items that the restaurant was “86’d”, or out of. It was a sad List. As one of the red apron adorned Cattleack employees walked up to either of the two lists posted, one near the meat counter, and the one at the door, at least 100 people groaned or moaned about a specific side or meat that was no longer available. Secretly, we plotted to remove the red apron man, and hog tie him in that back. But that was just hangryness. We thought surely there could not be any main staple that would be 86’d before we made it to the promised land of meat counters. We were wrong! Demand exceeds supply at this place like many of the top notch Q joints in Texas. Once they sell out, they’re done. Close it down, lock the door, done.
By the time we got to the counter, the staff had listed multiple sides like Corn, Greens, Mac n Cheese, Potato Salad, Cheesy Jalapeño Grits, and ALL the 3 varieties of sausage were gobbled up by those hardened souls that had no humanity in their ordering technique. They were secretly cursed in our minds. Good thing Church was later on or tomorrow we surmised. Their souls needed saving! We were just hoping as we magically, in our minds, had the Jedi ability to push the line forward faster, there would be at least 700 lbs. of Brisket and Ribs left so we could get our share. We were not disappointed!
My wife and I ordered almost two lbs. of Brisket “half and half”. In Brisket terms, that refers to the Point and Flat, a designation of fat marbling in the full Brisket piece. The Point is the thicker more fattier portion of the chunk, the flat is the tapered, more “lean” section of the piece, and typically not as marbled with delicious beef fat. In addition, we ordered one lb. of Pork Spareribs, a quarter pound of Whole Hog (pulled pork) and some condiments of pickled onions, pickles and a small side of a Caroline style Cole Slaw and Loaded BBBQ Beans.
Let’s talk meat. Cattlleack does some great things in what they produce. All the meats we sampled were moist which is hard to do consistently on a large scale. It also goes to show, that quality meat or product, makes the difference in making a BBQ joint top notch. Also, like Franklin’s or other well known Texas joints, it is well documented that these places are willing to pay a premium for their Brisket or other cuts they serve. At Cattlleack, it is the same philosophy. For their Brisket they use Akaushi Beef in all of their menu items. This is a descendent breed of beef from a line of Wagyu cattle from Japan. The meat is sourced from a supplier called HeartBrand Beef out of Flatonia Texas. Not sure if they massage or sing to the steers in the meadows there, but whatever they do, it works! The Brisket we had, was marbled just enough throughout. Even the Flat, which is the notorious problem piece of the Brisket for drying out in the slow and low method of BBQ, had beautiful texture and moisture.
For the Pork side of things, they make sure that pigs do fly! Throughout the joint, the owners have several little figurines of pigs with wings, they undoubtedly have a story to tell. Cattlelack advertises within their menu, that they source Duroc swine for all of the pork offerings. Duroc is a specific breed of pigs that originally came from New England by the way of Africa in the 1800’s and were crossbred with Jersey Red pigs. Some consider Duroc some of the best Pork you can buy due to the end product being a meaty, with good marbling (for moisture) and a more reddish flesh throughout for eye appeal. Another important trait of the Duroc piggy, is a consistent usable carcass of meat. Minimal waste of good cuts of meat is important in expense management within the BBQ biz.
For preparation of the said meats we ate, I did not have an opportunity to speak with the Pitmaster. From cooking Q myself for many years, I can tell you even though this joint has only been open since 2013, they know what they are doing. From the four huge thousand gallon smokers in the back, to wood they use to get the kiss of smoke, to the rub, all of these items are undoubtedly scrutinized and paid the attention they deserve.
When we finally bit into the deliciousness of Brisket or Pork Spareribs, it was a transformation of all things good in life. Memories of BBQ Palooza trips gone by, backyard BBQ’s, comfort of family and friends and sunsets. All of those things, wrapped into one moment from just biting into that first piece of mahogany colored peppered smoky moist piece of Akaushi Brisket or Duroc Spareribs. It did not disappoint. There was nothing outlandish or gourmet that I could tell in the rub, except salt and a slightly lower mesh of black pepper. Some in our group agreed that there was a higher ratio of pepper than they would have preferred. The rub used on Cattleack;s Brisket seems to be more in the tradition of Central Texas. I personally liked the pepper. The pork oinked in the same pattern. However, to all of us the Pork Spareribs were the real winners of the event and rainy excursion. The pork was tender, moist and had a beautiful pinkness that was not an indication of too much salting, but the quality of meat, smoke and rub. This rib rub, was a little less pepper based, but had a sweetness to it. We were not sure if this was a mopping or within the rub. My guess, based on appearance of the rib, was that it was a thinned out BBQ sauce and mopped at the end of cooking and wrapped in butcher paper to set a bit before serving. The ribs were slightly over cooked however, because the meat readily came off the bone of the Sparerib. Some believe this is how a rib should be. Others will argue that there should be an ever so slight tug to the meat off the bone. This was a small issue that did not impact the beautiful quality and texture of the Duroc piggy that flew!
As for the sides, all were good. The pickles seemed to be carefully curated with the right pickling spices. The pickled red onions were exceptional, there was a hint of Juniper berries that were pleasing to the palate. The vinegar based Slaw was a nice palate cleanser between bites of rich meats and fat dripping off our chins. My favorite side we could try that was not on the hated 86’d List, was the Loaded Baked Beans. There were nice pieces of shredded pulled pork with pinto style beans that were slightly sweet, but not overly done. It was a great accompaniment.
In summary, if you are in the area of Dallas, take a trip to Cattlleack. It is a good place to enjoy some great BBQ. In our BBQ Palooza scale, it came in the middle of the pack of some great places. It was not at the top of our list mostly due to the majority of our BBQ Palooza judges aversion to black pepper, but Cattlleack was definitely better than some local joints in North Texas. Keep in mind, our scale is just what four people, making their own rules, and flying by the seat of their Briskets, do for fun and the love of Q. In the end, our friendship remained in tact, there was some healing and mending of gravity related issues in the waiting line. Did I mention Physiology Today? One of our illustrious judges slipped and bit it on the wet pavement was almost caught down-flight by another innocent BBQ bystander. I missed the cause and effect of Newton’s Law science class thing-albeit we were standing right next to each other! I apparently lost some friend points based on the Palooza group’s doling out of guilt that I was given on the ride home. LOL. All was forgiven in the name of BBQ!