The first barbecue article I ever wrote made Off the Bone BBQ famous. After I included it as one of the best barbecue joints in the DFW area in 2010, owner Eddie Brown saw lines of customers like he’d never imagined. He doubled the size of his barbecue pit and added steam tables at the counter to serve customers faster. Recently, I stopped in at the Forest Hill restaurant to taste whether the ribs were as irresistible as they used to be.
“It’s all about consistency,” Brown told me. I’d just taken a bite of a smoky, tender baby back rib that took me right back to my first visit. These ribs aren’t tricked out. There’s no glaze, and not much more seasons them beyond salt, a little black pepper, and garlic powder. The garlic flavors the meat and the sweet pecan and oak smoke tastes leap out. Brown also offers a lemon pepper pork rib, but I enjoyed the simplicity of the original, which he calls his “seasoned” ribs. The raw ribs are brushed with olive oil before the seasoning is sprinkled on. Brown doesn’t rub the meat, but admits his son, Eddie Brown Jr., can’t help himself.
The briskets are never trimmed. Brown leaves the fat on—as he sees it, “if you got fat, you don’t need foil.” They smoke overnight and come off early in the morning. That’s when Brown cranks the smoker up to 275 degrees for the ribs. He needs 42 racks just to get through one Wednesday. They’re done in just four hours, and contrary to the name of the place, they thankfully don’t fall off the bone.
Brown has been smoking ribs this way since his backyard cooking days. He recalls a Dallas Mavericks watch party at a friend’s house in 2004, two years before the restaurant opened. He brought a few racks of ribs for the group. “They had mine and they had some from [another local barbecue joint]. They were eating all mine,” he says. After watching the lines grow at his table a year later when he was selling ribs on a hot day at Texas Motor Speedway, he knew it was time to get into the barbecue business. “I wasn’t gonna do it sitting out in the sun,” he said, which made sense for a guy who installed air conditioning equipment for a living.
When he was getting a haircut next door, Brown noticed that the building where the restaurant is currently located, previously a Dairy Queen, was up for lease. The owner was one of his HVAC customers, and he signed a lease soon after. He and his wife Marilyn scrambled to open, learning on the fly what it meant to cook the quantities of barbecue required for a restaurant. Brown had wrapped his ribs in foil in the backyard, but once he started cooking for the restaurant “things speeded up on me” and he ditched the foil. When he opened the doors, he didn’t have any barbecue sauce until a customer complained, but Brown thought quickly and ran to the store to grab a big jug of Kraft.
Today, the Browns make their own sauce. They offer the original, a simple tomato-based version that’s not too sweet, and a honey habanero version. The ribs need neither, but I did like how they paired with the original sauce. The latter helped liven up the potato salad, which, like all the side recipes, comes from Marilyn. The mac & cheese is creamy and the slaw is crunchy. Instead of using pork to flavor the pinto beans, she simmers the beans in beef broth. It’s a nice change of pace for a Texas classic.
If you want sliced brisket, it’s going to be lean. Brown separates the two sides of the brisket after smoking. The fatty end, or the “crown” as Brown calls it, is all chopped, mixed with barbecue sauce, and placed on the steam table for scooping. That’s a fate better suited for leftover brisket, and is one of those ways in which Off the Bone could improve after over a decade in business. Offering lean or fatty slices has become the norm for Texas barbecue and a chopped brisket sandwich is always best when the fatty brisket is chopped on the block. The Sloppy Joe style they offer is fine on a sandwich, but the lean brisket slices are merely passable.
That chopped brisket does best as a filler for the “horseshoe” baked potato, which comes stuffed with brisket and cheese. A generous helping of bacon is crumbled on top and butter is drizzled heavily over the whole package. It’s ringed by three of the excellent ribs. At just $11, the potato is one heck of a filling lunch. You can fill it with other smoked meats if you prefer, like thicks slices of bologna and smoky, juicy chicken. I could keep going back to try it all, but on both of my two visits, I just kept filling up on ribs.
After spiking in 2010, Brown’s business has settled back down to current levels. He tried a second location in Mansfield a few years back, but closed it after just nine months. None of it seems to have aged the 62-year-old. “Barbecue will keep you young as long as you don’t eat it all,” he said with a laugh. You won’t find his barbecue joint open on Sundays, when Brown pastors at the Strangers Rest Baptist Church in the Como neighborhood of Fort Worth, but on any other day you can stop in for some of the best ribs in town.