If I told you to find Newark on a map, you’d be forgiven if you went straight to New Jersey, but there’s another one, just north of Fort Worth. It’s a small town, not along any major highways, with a population just over one thousand. Residents there are quick to tell you that it’s pronounced “New-ark,” like the boat Noah built.

Brothers Steve and Jason Blount had driven through the town without taking much notice until they were looking for a place to house their new barbecue joint. A friend told them about a building available there, and they opened LocalCraft BBQ last March.

The Blounts aren’t new to the area, or to barbecue. They grew up in Fort Worth, where their grandmother would cook briskets for family gatherings on her Weber grill. Jason says, looking back, those briskets didn’t turn out all that great, but “the whole family coming around and loving it always stuck with me.” Steve left Texas for a small town in New York in 1992, but that didn’t keep the brothers apart. They participated in barbecue competitions together under the name High Voltage BBQ for a couple decades, with Steve coming back to Texas several times a year to cook. He moved back for good six years ago and worked at 407 BBQ, in Argyle.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Jason’s job with Interstate Batteries had him traveling all over the country. Spending time at home with his family made him reluctant to return to the job that kept him away so often. He and Steve had talked about opening their own barbecue joint for twenty years, and he decided it was finally time to make the dream a reality. “We didn’t want anything fancy,” Jason said. “We wanted a barbecue joint.” And they found one in Newark.

If my first visit last year was any indication, the transition from competition barbecue to cooking at a restaurant was rocky. The ribs were undercooked, a stale smoke flavor lingered after a bite of brisket, and the fat was still chewy on the sliced pork belly. The barbecue was better across the board on a return visit several months ago. Thankfully, LocalCraft kept the same freshly baked yeast rolls that come with every tray, a nice departure from slices of white bread.

But it was the double cheeseburger made with brisket trim that stole the show. “We could be a burger joint if we wanted to be,” Jason said, given the dish’s popularity. As for the barbecue, the Blounts said they solicited some honest customer feedback and took a few harsh comments to heart. The changes they made in the brisket process really showed, and that stale smoke flavor was gone once they started using their new offset smoker instead of the gas-fired rotisserie they’d cooked with from the start.

Last week, those improvements were even more noticeable. The seasoning on the perfectly tender pork ribs was more consistent, and the smoke flavor was there. A few slices of fatty brisket had a stout bark, and the fat had been rendered silky soft but hadn’t yet melted out. It was some damn fine brisket. I also appreciated the creativity of the new egg roll special. The Blounts roll all the ingredients of a bacon-wrapped jalapeño popper into an egg roll wrapper that’s fried crisp and served with a sweet and tart cherry-based dipping sauce. It’s a solid replacement for the Texas Twinkies, which weren’t big sellers in Newark. You won’t find beef ribs on the menu for the same reason.

Brothers Steve and Jason Blount.
Brothers Steve and Jason Blount. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn
The Holypeño sandwich.
The Holypeño sandwich. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn

The brothers say most every customer wants anything with brisket. Chopped brisket is featured on the popular OMG sandwich, which also gets slices of jalapeño-cheese sausage, fried onion strings, and a slice of cheddar. I tried the newest addition to the menu, a twist on the OMG called the Holypeño, which adds flash-fried jalapeños and subs the slice of cheese for a scoop of queso. Steve said he loves the queso at Torchy’s, and he tried his best to replicate it for the sandwich. “I must have made thirty-seven different batches,” he said. The effort was worth it, especially when piled onto a soft, buttery jalapeño bun.

Steve has been a cook for most of his adult life, and he came up with the side recipes. The loaded baked potato salad was rich and creamy, which Steve said he prefers over the more traditional version with yellow mustard in the dressing. He adds toasted breadcrumbs mixed with ranch seasoning on top of the white-cheddar mac and cheese. The day before LocalCraft opened, Steve saw the printed menu with creamed corn as a side, but he hadn’t yet made a batch, let alone developed a recipe. He started with butter, cream, and the seasonings he used for creamed spinach; added the corn; and topped it with Parmesan and cilantro. The herb sounds like an odd accompaniment for creamed corn, but it works.

Kathye Miller, who goes by Miss Kathye, makes the desserts. I was sad to have missed the chocolate peanut butter sheet cake that was the previous week’s special, but that let me try the bread pudding. A hefty block of it was spiced heavily with cinnamon and nutmeg and drenched in caramel sauce. The edges had a pleasant crunch, while the center was soft and warm. It’s sure to be a favorite as the summer heat gives way to fall weather.

Summer hasn’t been easy on the business. The Blounts say revenue was down nearly 30 percent compared to last year, which was their first in business. They’re hoping more people find them in Newark and that they’ve locked in a location with a good future. “Growth is coming this way,” Jason said, which the brothers will need, with the town being off the beaten path. Thankfully, they’ve improved the barbecue to a level that makes it worth a special trip.

LocalCraft BBQ
412 FM 718, Newark
Phone: 682-224-5370
Hours: Tuesday–Wednesday 11–3, Thursday–Saturday 11–7, Sunday 11–2
Pitmasters: Jason and Steve Blount and Tyson Thomas
Method: Oak in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2022