F1 Smokehouse in Fort Worth isn’t a barbecue restaurant. I’ve been reminded of that repeatedly by the owners and chefs of Far Out Hospitality, which last September added F1 Smokehouse to the eight other restaurants in its portfolio. The brand’s vice president Vernon Erickson told me, “Let’s not call it really a barbecue restaurant,” preferring the term “American smokehouse.”
Far Out founder Felipe Armenta convinced celebrity chef Graham Elliot to leave Chicago for Fort Worth in 2022 to help develop the brand’s culinary direction. Elliot told CultureMap that their aim with F1 was to “redefine the barbecue experience.” Chef de cuisine Wes LeFevre describes F1 as an “American smokehouse–inspired restaurant.” His message to the established local barbecue joints that might consider F1 to be competition is, “We’re not competing. We’re playing a different sport.”
The playing field certainly looks different. F1’s dining room is lined with plush booths and leather chairs, a neon cowboy hangs on the wall, and houndstooth-patterned stools surround a marble bar where the bartender might release a puff of smoke from your old fashioned just before serving. This isn’t your typical barbecue joint, sure, but emblazoning “brisket” and “baby back ribs” on the windows wasn’t an accident. They want to draw in a barbecue-loving crowd, but serve them a little differently.
Gone is the counter Austin City Taco previously had in the building (it’s full service now), but F1 kept the J&R Smoke-Master cabinet smoker that was left in the kitchen. LeFevre fuels it with oak wood, but its small footprint makes for limited capacity. That’s why F1 didn’t include barbecue by the pound on its original menu.
They couldn’t cook enough for trays or big takeout orders. A small paper insert has recently been added to the menu to allow for à la carte ordering. Otherwise, all of the meats are plated as entrees with dedicated sides. The well-cooked salmon filet comes with a side of Mexican corn relish, while the smoked jalapeño-cheese sausage made with Wagyu from Rosewood Ranch gets smashed fingerling potatoes brushed with garlic butter. All the side pairings are suggestions from the chef, though, so feel free to mix and match.
What every pitmaster wants to hear is how well they nail broccolini, so here goes. At other restaurants, the thin stalks are usually undercooked, while the crowns are over-seasoned and burnt. Alongside several entrees over a couple of visits, the grilled broccolini was flawless. It typically comes with the Korean-style double-cut Duroc pork chop, which was the star for me. Everything about it looks like too much. It’s too big, too charred, with too much sauce and too many sesame seeds, but together, it’s just enough of everything. The whole loin is brined for two days, smoked, then portioned and grilled before serving. The tender meat was flavorful throughout; the Korean barbecue sauce had just enough gochujang kick; and the layer of sesame seeds mimicked a crunchy skin. It’s big enough for two, and thankfully there are two bones to clean off once the knife and fork have done all they can.
The method of brining, smoking, then grilling worked well for the skin-on airline chicken breast as well. The crisp skin over the moist white meat is glazed with a peach barbecue sauce while on the grill, and it smelled like a backyard barbecue when it came to the table. The mac and cheese served on the side was plenty cheesy, but a heavy-handed garnish of finely diced raw bell pepper was distracting. A thick slice of smoked prime rib was also satisfying. Though cooked closer to medium than medium rare as requested, it was still juicy. A small cup of au jus and another of horseradish sauce were welcome additions, and I appreciated the humorous nod to the old school with a lone sprig of curly parsley garnishing the beef.
A plate of six baby back ribs with a side of crunchy celery root slaw was a decent-enough portion for the $28, but the ribs needed salt and were badly undercooked. St. Louis–cut ribs will replace the baby backs soon. Brisket was unavailable that day due to an issue with the smoker, so that may be to blame for the ribs as well. I returned for the sliced brisket another day. For $26, about a third of a pound of brisket was nestled into the truffled potato salad, whose flavor was dominated more by capers than truffles (sliced brisket à la carte is $30 per pound). LeFevre said they reserve the fatty portion for the brisket entrée (the lean goes into the popular brisket melt sandwich), but I got the barkless lean portion that sits under the fatty end, which was a disappointment. In a city blessed with so many barbecue joints serving great brisket and ribs, F1 needs to up their game in these basics.
I dined with a large group during one meal, and we had the most fun with the appetizers, labeled “snacks” on the menu. Crisp tater tots loaded with queso, bacon, and green onion were an obvious hit. A bowl of smokehouse chili was hearty and flavorful, but might need a disclaimer for all the mashed pinto beans in the mix. LeFevre credits Graham Elliot with the corn dog. “He and Felipe had visited the state fair that day, and I guess he got a little of the state fair bug,” LeFevre said. “He came in excited, wanting to make a corn dog.” The batter-dipped link of the smoked jalapeño-cheese sausage is served with a drizzle of whole grain mustard aioli, herbs, and thinly sliced jalapeño. After one bite, we ordered a second for the table.
Our group received a trio of desserts with mixed results. The bread pudding was more dry and crunchy than expected. The mixed berry cobbler was warm and gooey, but thankfully my nut-allergic son had only a slight irritation to contend with after a small bite. (The chopped walnuts in the crumble topping aren’t mentioned on the menu.) I preferred the banana pudding, layered with crumbled cookies and whipped cream and topped with slices of brûléed bananas.
LeFevre’s barbecue background goes way back to his dad’s barbecue joint in Stephenville that closed many years ago. He also worked the pits for Heim Barbecue in Fort Worth. His first restaurant job was when he was fifteen years old in the Chuck Wagon Steak House in Dublin, Texas. There he fell in love with the pecan cobbler. He worked on his own version with Armenta, and it will be on the new menu that should be released next week.
The new menu will also include a revamped Cuban sandwich using house-made ham from cured pork loin. They’re also curing and smoking their own bacon. Thick-cut slices will go on the smokehouse burger and into the bacon jam that’s swiped onto the smashburger. With the additions of ham and bacon, it seems F1 is willing to embody its smokehouse moniker. It should be as open to embracing barbecue as part of its identity.
517 University Drive, Fort Worth
Hours: Sunday–Monday 11–9, Tuesday–Thursday 11–9:30, Friday–Saturday 11–10
Pitmaster: Wes LeFevre
Method: Oak in a cabinet smoker
Year opened: 2023