The first time I tried Brandon Hurtado’s barbecue, three years ago, he was serving from folding tables outside the restaurant he was building in Arlington. He had neither the time nor the money to erect pop-up tents, so it was funny to see a retractable roof over his latest location in Globe Life Field. The new Hurtado Barbecue counter behind section 101 means the Texas Rangers will finally be able to offer some respectable smoked meat to baseball fans this season.
At the old home of the Rangers across the street (now Choctaw Stadium), I remember eating a sad plate of beef ribs some twenty years back. Hot dogs and nachos were a safe haven. In 2012, the ballpark introduced a two-pound hot dog called the Boomstick, and the concession innovations have kept coming ever since. This year has brought corn ribs, made from ears of corn quartered lengthwise, deep-fried, and topped with crema, cotija cheese, and Tajín. There’s a new Hot Cheetos–covered pretzel, a hot dog with pizza toppings, and a two-foot-long Boomstick burger. Fitting right in with the gargantuan portions is the massive beef rib offered by Hurtado Barbecue.
Coated in black pepper and oak smoke, the beef rib looks just like the one you’d find inside Hurtado’s original restaurant, a couple miles from the stadium. The big difference is this one—priced at $45—is less expensive than if you pay by the pound at the restaurant. The cooks take a three-bone rack of beef short ribs, remove the middle bone, and cut it in half for each serving. That’s a half rack of beef ribs, at least a pound and a half, with every order, which is more than the paper boat it’s served in can contain.
I got mine just as the national anthem was playing. The meat was tender and the flavor was great, although the bark was overcooked and tough on the thin side of the rib. “We’re still trying to fine-tune cooking on the pits they have here,” Hurtado said. Then he led me on a tour of the kitchen on the ground level of the stadium. Popcorn was being made in batches that would fill a bathtub, and the walk-in coolers were bigger than the ones in Costco. Down the hall was room LC.04.66, labeled “Smoke House.” Two Oyler rotisserie smokers were fully loaded with briskets in anticipation of MLB’s opening day, when Hurtado expects to sell 120 briskets and fifteen racks of beef ribs.
Beyond the beef rib, the rest of the Hurtado menu is brisket based. Brisket-topped elotes and brisket nachos have been popular. “We’re the only place in the ballpark that can provide sliced sandwiches,” Hurtado said, referring to the sliced brisket sandwich ($18 with a bag of chips). When I ordered one, it was definitely the first time I’ve been asked “lean or fatty” from a slicer on a stadium concourse. I got two thick slices of well-smoked fatty brisket on a toasted bun. It was easily the top brisket I’ve eaten from a stadium or arena concession stand, but the birria tacos were the best item I’ve ever enjoyed at a sporting event, period. They don’t come with a cup of customary consommé, but the shredded brisket stuffing had plenty of juice, and the melted jack cheese nicely held the generous portion of beef. The tacos are carefully crisped on a flattop and topped with cilantro and chopped raw onions. A pair easily make a meal at $14.
Circumnavigating the concourse, I found a few other barbecue options. The Go Deep Fried counter behind section 121 had the corn ribs mentioned earlier, along with brisket egg rolls. The latter were filled with shredded brisket that had a flavor closer to that of beef jerky than barbecue. That sad flavor note came through again at Sweet Baby Ray’s, near Section 123. The stand didn’t have its brisket croissant available during the preseason exhibition, but it did have a brisket-topped mac and cheese that would have been better without the brisket. Cased meats and baseball are a classic pair, so smoked sausage options abound at the ballpark. A jalapeño-cheese link came fresh off the griddle at Slugfest Sandwiches, behind Section 105. A soft, steamed bun cradled the link, and the cooks will add grilled onions if you’d like.
I certainly didn’t find any barbecue options to rival Hurtado Barbecue. Brandon Hurtado and his team are dedicated to producing barbecue that can impress the fans, even ones who know their smoked meats. They use all Nolan Ryan Beef, so Hurtado was invited to a recent dinner event hosted by the former Rangers great. That evening, there wasn’t anyone else to load the briskets and beef ribs and monitor the smoker at the stadium, so Hurtado stayed behind and missed a chance to meet a legend. “I had to,” he said. “We had to cook.”
While talking to Hurtado, I asked about the recent closure of his restaurant location in Little Elm. He said the business was doing great during the summer, when people were headed out to Lake Lewisville, but it slowed down over fall and winter. The restaurant was four times the size of the Arlington original, but it was doing just 20 percent of the volume earlier this year, so Hurtado made the tough decision to close. Having a third location with a view of the Rangers’ dugout isn’t a bad consolation.
Hurtado has been serving for months at events inside Globe Life Field, including the attendance record–breaking Morgan Wallen concert, so he’s not worried about handling the baseball crowds. Thankfully for impatient baseball fans, he’ll have less time to sell all that barbecue. I stayed until the end of the 5–3 Rangers victory over the Kansas City Royals, and the final out came two hours and sixteen minutes after the first pitch, thanks to MLB’s new pitch clock. The days of three-and-a-half- to four-hour baseball games are mercifully behind us.
Hurtado’s location inside Globe Life Field is part of a welcome trend for barbecue and sporting venues in Texas. Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ serves inside Q2 Stadium, which hosts Austin FC matches. Down in Houston, Killen’s Barbecue has concession stands at both Minute Maid Park, where the Astros play, and NRG Stadium, home of the Texans. Sorry, Cowboys fans—this seems to be one trend for which Jerry Jones and AT&T Stadium are behind the curve. If you want great barbecue at a sporting event in Arlington, make it a Rangers game.
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