There’s a level of reverence given to the original location of Bodacious Bar-B-Q by the Lindsey family. The late Roland Lindsey founded the East Texas chain there on Mobberly Avenue in Longview in 1968, and his wife, Nancy, still runs the company. The chain has fourteen other locations, but this one is special, and not any cook can serve at the helm.

Nancy closed the doors of the restaurant three times in the last decade waiting for the right pitmaster. Last year, the hiatus was only a couple of months. Spencer Halling, who is married to Nancy’s granddaughter Madilynne Lindsey-Halling, reopened the joint in June 2022. He’s helped make it a gem once again.

Halling had an unlikely start for a Texas pitmaster. He grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, and moved to Dallas after high school. It was there he met his future wife, and she took him to the original Bodacious to meet Roland in 2015. Halling considers that visit his first real Texas barbecue meal. The couple moved to Arkansas until Lindsey-Halling graduated from the University of Arkansas, and they returned to East Texas in 2019.

Halling was taking college courses as well but needed a job, and soon had his first experience cooking barbecue. “The plan was just for me to work at one of the [Bodacious] stores while I continued to take classes,” Halling said. He started in the kitchen of the Gladewater location when Ashton Dyer was the pitmaster. Dyer learned the craft from Jordan Jackson, the pitmaster who made the original Bodacious the number four barbecue joint in the state in our 2017 Top 50 BBQ list. (Jackson now works the pits at Franklin Barbecue in Austin.) Halling didn’t get the same treatment.

“It was a baptism by fire, if you will,” Halling said. Dyer left a little over a month after Halling’s first day. He had learned just the basics, but the location needed a cook to keep the doors open. “It was very bad barbecue, but you gotta make bad barbecue to make good barbecue,” Halling said. After a few months of working the pits, reading barbecue books, and watching online barbecue videos, he got more comfortable with his new position. A year into the job, he finally felt like he could smoke a good brisket.

Meanwhile, in Longview, another pitmaster had left the original, and it was closed indefinitely in early 2022. Halling asked Nancy if he could take over and reopen the joint. She said yes. “It felt like Triple-A ball to the major leagues the next day,” Halling said. I stopped in recently to see how Halling was handling the big leagues.

The three customers in front of me all ordered a Mel-Man sandwich, which consists of smoked brisket and a hot link chopped up together. Halling portioned out slice after slice of well-marbled brisket, with a bark as dark as night, and minced it as requested. An out-of-state family behind me mumbled to each other about getting a load of Mel-Mans themselves. I assured them it was great, but tried to lead by example with my order of sliced brisket, pork ribs, smoked turkey, and a link of house-made sausage. They oohed and ahhed as Halling built my tray, and wondered aloud what a Dr Pepper bacon burnt end was. They all ordered a Mel-Man.

A spread from Bodacious Bar-B-Q in Longview.Photograph by Daniel Vaughn

Back in the pit room with Halling after my meal, he lamented all the beautiful briskets he’s been asked to chop because of the sandwich’s popularity, but said it hurts worse when customers ask him to trim all the fat from their brisket slices. He was happy to oblige when I asked for a lean slice with the fat cap and a couple fatty slices. I was rewarded with some spectacular brisket. The lean side was juicy thanks to the Prime grade and an extended cooking time.

Halling starts the briskets on the smoker in early afternoon over a mesquite fire with a little oak thrown in. The briskets are wrapped around 8 p.m., then ride overnight in the smoker at a low temp until Halling returns at 5:30 in the morning to stoke the fire and load the rest of the proteins into the smoker. Any briskets not quite tender enough stay on the pit, and the rest go into the warmer. The extended cooking time could easily dry the briskets out, but it wasn’t an issue with any I saw on the cutting block.

Halling wants to be creative with sausages, but doesn’t feel confident enough yet to go beyond the basic pork and beef he learned to make in Gladewater. I bit into one and it squirted juice. It was well-seasoned and smoked until the casing snapped. The sausage tasted a lot like those visits from years ago. and eating the ribs brought back a familiar flavor as well. They were a bit overcooked (Halling overslept that morning and cranked the heat to finish them), but the sweet and salty seasoning layer was there along with the smoke.

I enjoyed the smoked turkey as well, which was juicy with just a hint of spiciness in the rub. Halling gets his creativity out these days with varying flavors on his bacon burnt ends. They’re served either Friday, Saturday, or on both days. He’s tried glazes made with Big Red and cream soda, but this past Friday, the glaze was made with Dr Pepper. I paid more attention to how each cube had the right texture on alternating layers of pork and fat that collapsed with each bite.

Nothing much has changed on the sides here. The standard Bodacious slaw of finely chopped cabbage with a sweet dressing and potato salad made with sour cream are classics. The pinto beans are still free, but the serve-yourself pot is gone in favor of a cupful of beans added to every tray.

It was good to be back at the original Bodacious and taste what I loved about the joint when it was first resurrected by Roland Lindsey and Jackson back in 2015. I guess it’s fitting Halling was introduced to the original the same year. I’d like to think the meal’s imprint on his tastebuds as the first real taste of Texas barbecue led to him whipping the original Bodacious into an East Texas barbecue favorite once again.

Bodacious Bar-B-Q, Mobberly
2227 S. Mobberly Ave., Longview
Phone: 903-753-8409
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–6 p.m.
Pitmaster: Spencer Halling
Method: Mesquite and oak in an indirect heat pit
Year opened: 1968