For weeks 4-T’s Bar-B-Q courted me via Twitter. They would regularly send out photos of their brisket or of the Friday-only burnt ends. All of this was with the intent of getting me to drive the twenty minutes east of Dallas to try their barbecue in Forney. When I finally made the short trek, I popped in quickly for a to-go order. That’s when I got sauced.

Listen, I get that many people love barbecue sauce. I too enjoy it, in moderation. I also prefer to have the option to consume it by having it served on the side instead of ladled on top of my barbecue. After weeks of sauce-free photos featuring immodest proteins getting directed at me, I was surprised to find my sliced turkey and brisket swimming in the stuff. After a bit of digging I retrieved a nice slice of brisket untainted by the liquid smoke-laced condiment. It was good…exceptionally good, in fact. Enough to warrant a return trip indeed, but there were other meats to evaluate as well.

Not so long ago 4T’s served both spare ribs and baby backs. The spare ribs are now gone from the menu. As owner and pitmaster Mike Thomas explained, there just wasn’t enough demand for two types of ribs, and he preferred to smoke the baby backs. He also said they hold better and don’t dry out as much as the spare ribs. Before these baby backs are finished, the racks are coated with a sweet tomato-based glaze. There’s not too much of it to mask the black pepper rub, but any semblance of bark was gone. The flavor and texture of the meat was more what I’ve come to expect from a good smoked pork loin. The meat was taut, but not tough, and the smokiness was faint.

A heaping pile of fries that comes with the rib basket was crisp and hot, but after a few bites the sugary rub used to season them just became overwhelming. Pinto beans and cole slaw would be a good substitute, or just ask them to skip the fry seasoning altogether.

Minus that one great bite of sauceless brisket, the half chicken was the star of the first visit. The meat was moist, the skin crispy, and the next day’s leftover smoked chicken salad was fantastic.

A few weeks later I returned. This time I enjoyed lunch at one of the few tables inside the small dining room. It was Friday so burnt ends were the special. At 11:30 they were already gone, so get there early if you want a taste. I’d say skip the hassle and just order the excellent fatty brisket which they have every day that they’re open.

Thankfully, on this second trip the meat came without sauce. Mike Thomas came out to deliver my plate from the kitchen and said he was a bit embarrassed about serving his meat with sauce on top on my last visit. He has since made  sauce-on-the-side a 4T’s policy. That’s good news for lovers of peppery brisket bark. These slices from both the point and the flat were well seasoned, smoky, and picture perfect. The lean side was as moist as you could hope for, and the fatty side was nicely rendered with an admirable pull-apart tenderness. This was great brisket.

A plate of smoked turkey, chopped brisket, and pulled pork wasn’t bad either. It was hard to pick a favorite, but the pulled pork was about as good as you can get. There was plenty of crust in the mix of moist, smoky chunks. A bad bite couldn’t be found. If you prefer white meat, then this turkey will keep you satiated. The juicy slices might even be enough to get my wife to come along next time.

It was hard to choose a dessert, so I tried them both. I quickly abandoned the banana pudding that started from a boxed mix and went headlong into the pecan pie. Instead of a dazzling array of whole pecans, this one is topped with a crisp layer of chopped pecans. It might not be as pretty, but the nice chewiness is a welcome companion to the sweet layer beneath. If you have room after all the meat, it’s worth the splurge.

Finding great barbecue at an otherwise unknown barbecue joint anywhere in the state is a satisfying feeling, but finding it close to home is all the better. With all the great barbecue coming to Dallas in recent years you don’t have to leave the city to eat well, but 4T’s is reason enough to get out of town. The brisket is not only worth the trip, it also worth asking for that sauce on the side, just to make sure.