Local Yocal is a well-known brand in McKinney. Their meat market, Local Yocal Farm to Market, has been a fixture in the suburb northeast of Dallas since it opened in 2010 selling Wagyu beef. The same beef can now be found on the menu of their restaurant, Local Yocal BBQ and Grill, which opened a few blocks away from the market last year. The similar names can cause confusion, and owner Matt Hamilton has invested in an electric shuttle to take customers between the two. “If you show up there, we’ll get you a ride here,” he said as I waited at the bar for a platter of barbecue from the kitchen. I was hoping for better food than what I’d gotten from their short-lived barbecue truck a few years back. This time Local Yocal delivered that and plenty more.
The old food truck is parked in a lot across the street from the restaurant. Despite being integral to McKinney finally allowing food trucks in 2015, it doesn’t get out much. That’s an irony not lost on Hamilton, who had to fight city hall to amend local ordinances to allow it to operate, but he’s happy to have a permanent place to call home. He’s just not sure if Local Yocal BBQ and Grill is a barbecue joint or a steakhouse. “We definitely have an identity crisis,” he told me as we split my second lunch course, a smoked chicken-fried steak. I just wanted a taste, and Hamilton wanted an excuse to eat his not-so-healthy favorite item on the menu. “I have to limit myself to one chicken-fried steak a week,” he said while taking a bite.
Hamilton said the customer desires are split almost evenly between barbecue and burgers for lunch and steaks and chops for dinner. A favorite for both meals has been that chicken-fried steak. It starts with a wagyu sirloin that’s tenderized in the kitchen before going on one of two Oyler rotisseries for a thirty-minute bath of hickory smoke. After smoking, the five-ounce portions are breaded and deep fried. The golden crust clings well to the tender beef, and there’s just enough of a smoky hint to know this isn’t your average steakhouse. It normally comes with green beans sautéed in bacon and mashed potatoes, but given how good their crispy, hand-cut fries are, I think they’re a worthy stand-in.
“There was some concern about how this was going to work in the beginning,” chef Adam West told me when I asked about bringing barbecue into a steakhouse, or vice versa. He feels like they’ve found a happy medium, and so does Hamilton, who said, “I wanted to be the nicest place you could get barbecue, and the most casual place you could get a wagyu bone-in ribeye.” West’s duties are just like that of any other chef. He might not smoke the meat, but he has to make sure the barbecue from pitmasters Pete Gonzales and Mike Brown passes muster.
Brisket is the most popular barbecue item. The standard is from the 1855 brand, an upper Choice grade Angus brisket from Swift. On Friday and Saturday you can pay a premium for wagyu brisket. I happily ate the 1855 on two visits and saw no need for an upgrade. At lunch it was moist, tender, salty, and smoky. At dinner it was even better. The fatty slices were luscious, and three generous slices came as part of the barbecue sampler appetizer. Four ribs, pulled from the smoker just before they got too tender and shellacked with a sweet glaze, and two different kinds of house-made sausage (the hot link is far hotter than a jalapeño sausage) joined the brisket on the platter along with Texas toast and a side of crunchy slaw.
“It’s the best-value four-meat plate in North Texas,” Hamilton said, and at $17, it’s hard to argue. He also noted that if the platter were an entree instead of an appetizer, it would be the number-three seller on the dinner menu. Meanwhile, barbecue plates are the centerpiece of the lunch menu. A brisket and rib plate can be had for $15. There’s smoked turkey and sausage too, and most of the meats can be added to one of three salads. “Usually a salad is your civic duty,” Hamilton said, laughing, but the kitchen puts a focus on the lighter side of the menu, which includes a grain bowl. I didn’t come for a salad or a grain bowl, but a little fruit didn’t hurt for dessert. Rather than the standard banana pudding, Local Yocal’s comes in the form of a pie, and not your standard banana cream version. Crushed vanilla wafers (from Slaton Bakery) make up the crust, which is filled with a stiff banana pudding that forms a slice with integrity. It’s topped with whipped cream and a brûléed slice of banana.
Fewer smoked meats are featured at dinner, but don’t miss the smoked half-chicken. It’s partially deboned, topped with a smoked pecan pesto, and sits on a succotash made from fresh sweet corn. My wife, who’s not a big barbecue fan, is still talking about this incredibly juicy chicken. I rarely drag the whole family to review meals, but we ate together at this dinner, and never have the four of us been so equally happy with our orders. My daughter let me steal a few bites of her wagyu sirloin and fingerling potatoes. I would have liked more char from the hickory-fired wood grill. It’s hard to do on a thinner cut, but it was executed nicely on the chef’s cut that evening of wagyu hanger steak, which came with a caponata and the best wax beans I’ve eaten. Awfully tony for a barbecue joint, eh?
That chef’s cut was designed as a way to feature lesser-known cuts of beef, the hanger being one of them, but that’s not always easy. The meat market is the beef supplier for the restaurant, and part of Local Yocal’s mission has been to educate the public about steaks that aren’t strips, ribeyes, or fliers. They even hold a Steak 101 course for customers to sample cuts like sirloin flap, teres major, and culotte. Now those value cuts are often sold out too quickly at the market to be able to serve them at the restaurant. Then again, having to settle for a wagyu ribeye isn’t much of a burden. Another bonus is that if you like a cut you ate at the restaurant, you can buy it at the market another day. “Whatever you can get here, you can get the raw version of there,” Hamilton said.
Sides at both lunch and dinner are far more sophisticated than at most barbecue restaurants. Cheddar, Gruyère, and brie cheeses unite in the decadent mac and cheese. There are also chunks of beef bacon in there, under the golden bread crumb topping. Chef West said everyone seems to order the grilled broccolini with their barbecue lunch to feel better about eating fatty brisket. The charred stalks and pleasantly salty florets were so good, I had to get it on both visits.
I’ve been to plenty of restaurants where chefs have added a barbecue option because they think it will sell well. They rarely understand the craft of smoking meat, which is what makes Local Yocal BBQ and Grill unique. They began with a foundation in beef, added the barbecue component, then became a steakhouse. I think that progression served them well. Identity crisis or not, Local Yocal might be the best option for dinnertime barbecue in North Texas, even if it’s just as an appetizer, and it doesn’t hurt that they’ve got a lot more than just barbecue to offer.
Local Yocal BBQ and Grill
350 E. Louisiana, Suite A, McKinney
Hours: Tue-Thu 11-9, Fri-Sat 11-11, Sun 11-3
Pitmasters: Pete Gonzales and Mike Brown
Method: Oak in a wood-fired rotisserie
Year Opened: 2018