In Wyatt McSpadden’s book Texas BBQ from 2009 there are two evocative early-morning photos of the tall smokestack at Mack’s Split Rail Bar-B-Que in Mineola. Other than these photos, I hadn’t seen or heard much about the place and wondered if maybe it had closed. On a trip to Tyler for a barbecue festival, I took the long way from Dallas through Mineola, and I found Mack’s very much open for business at the corner of Highways 69 and 37.
The old smokestack looked just like McSpadden’s photo (my photo below is a poor re-creation of his scenes), minus the rolling smoke. It was about noon and evidently the smoking for the day was through.
Possibly, the smoker hadn’t even been lit that day. Both the brisket and ribs were less than fresh, and both had the wan hue of baked meat. A pale pink line had seeped along the sad slices of beef. As I chewed, the meat just seemed to grow in my mouth. I needed a few sips of iced tea just to get it down. Now wary, a smaller bite from the rib was all I needed to confirm the visual. I set aside the mostly intact rib and pondered the tragic fact that an animal died for this. Hopefully there were some good chops and ribeyes on plates elsewhere in East Texas.
Once beyond the barbecue, the rest of the plate was fantastic. I happily got my fill of hand-breaded fried okra dipped in a tangy sauce. The homemade potato salad was tart with dill pickle, and the pickled green tomatoes were a nice option outside of the standard dill chips. Even the golden Texas toast had me coming back for more. I could have made a meal out of sides, but that’s not really the point. Although temptingly prominent on the menu, I didn’t try the fried shrimp or catfish and I skipped the crawfish étouffée. Those might be the best options here because it’s evident from the sides that someone on staff knows how to cook. It’s the smoking that seems to be the challenge.