Shawn Eagle and Cody Smithers opened a Denton barbecue joint in a strip mall with $5,000 from a Kickstarter campaign and a big dream. A week into running the business they shared with the local paper the desire to make the Texas Monthly Top 50 barbecue list. Five months into it, they still have the passion and enough business to have already expanded the dining area. They’re also still tweaking ingredients and recipes, but it’s the fire that needs some modifications.
The smoke flavor created from mesquite wood is heavy and can be overwhelming. The only way to counteract this in an offset smoker is to burn it hot. The brisket here was chokingly smoky on my first visit a few months back. After the meal, co-owner Shawn Eagle guided me to the pit, housed in a small corrugated metal building behind the restaurant. He explained that he had no one to watch the fire overnight, so he packed the firebox with wood and battened down the hatches. This might provide enough heat into the pit to extend the cook into the morning, but starving the fire of oxygen also creates hours of heavy, dirty smoke from a low, smoldering fire. Just a bite of that brisket left my tongue and lips numb from all the creosote that had been transferred to the brisket.
Since that visit they have burnt through most of their mesquite, and changed meat purveyors to get prime briskets. It’s heartening to see their attention to quality beef, but the oak and pecan fire that they now use is still being stifled overnight. A few juicy slices of fatty brisket were expertly cooked, and exhibited just the texture I want in a brisket, but I couldn’t get over the uncomfortable level of smoke.
The sides have changed a bit too. From one visit to the next the beans went from soupy to meaty and bold. The mustard potato salad got a bit wetter, but is still heavy with mustard tang.
Opt for the turkey on the poultry side of the menu. It was juicy, well spiced, and pleasantly smoky. Chunks of saucy chicken breast, on the other hand, were dry and chewy.
The most improvement from one visit to the next was in the pulled pork. It went from being a wet, mushy pile of pork strands to a good, smoky sidekick for the ribs. The heavily peppered pork ribs with a sweet finishing glaze was a strong point.
Eagle and Smithers have brought something new to Denton – thoughtful barbecue that’s gone when it’s gone. They have the potential, and seemingly the intentions, to make a real mark in North Texas, but a clean fire is what’s needed to attain their lift goals. If it was all about effort and drive, this place would be a shoe-in for the Top 50, but in terms of execution there’s still room for improvement.