When I first visited Wright On Taco nearly two years ago, the only barbecue on the menu was chopped brisket in a taco or on a bun. Owners Brian and Julie Wright had gone all in on tacos, learning to make their own tortillas and salsas, since their 2016 opening in the tiny East Texas town of Harleton. After a few years, Brian wanted a little more smoke on the menu. He tried to make a go of it on an old smoker left by the building’s previous owner before upgrading to a five-hundred-gallon smoker from Primitive Pits. Soon after its arrival, they built a new pit room, and two months ago they changed the name of the business to Wright On Taco & BBQ.

I stopped in again this August, looking forward to trying the expanded menu. The sliced brisket needed more salt and less smoke. A slice from the lean side was dry and disappointing, and the pork belly, though sliced thin, was still tough. The best item I tried that day was the Fat Kid dessert taco, a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a fried tortilla doused in cinnamon, sugar, and chocolate sauce. As for the barbecue, I decided Brian needed more trial-and-error time in the pit room and moved on. Then, Brian posted an alluring photo of lean brisket. He said he’d cracked the code, and the image seemed to back it up, so I headed back to East Texas.

Much has changed at the restaurant, but it’s still the only spot for a sit-down meal in Harleton, about twenty miles northeast of Longview. The sign out front still says Wright On Taco, which I pointed out to Brian, who responded, “I’ll grab my paintbrush tomorrow.” The place is also a heck of a lot more popular than two years back. “We’re not really the hidden gem we once were,” Brian said, emphasis on hidden. They still work hard to get customers in with daily specials that make the menu exciting for locals, but hard for out-of-towners like myself to get a wide sampling. I’m still trying to get there on a day where Brian has smoked a few links of his homemade sausage, but luckily, my visit did intersect with porkstrami day.

Porkstrami is just what it sounds like. Brian makes a standard beef pastrami brine, with the addition of ancho chiles. Instead of a brisket, though, he brines whole, bone-in pork shoulders for a week. They’re coated with a pastrami seasoning mix of black pepper and coriander, then smoked. Toward the end of the cook, the shoulder is placed in a covered pan to steam until it’s pull-apart tender. I got some on a bun, which comes griddled but not dressed. “We serve all of our sauces on the side,” Brian explained, suggesting a drizzle of their spicy mustard sauce and pickled onions. It was indeed a great combination, and the meat tasted like a hybrid of beef pastrami and ham in all the right ways.

wright on bbq
The porkstrami, made from pork shoulder brined in pastrami seasoning for a week. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn
wright on bbq
A slice of the newly perfected lean brisket. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn

The other special that day seemed simple enough: chopped brisket and pimento cheese on a bun. I had tried the combination once before at Prine’s BBQ in Wichita Falls and enjoyed it, and this version was even better. The pimentos, cheddar, and mayo start to melt into the pile of hot chopped brisket as they become one. The original idea to serve the pimento cheese sandwich came from Brian’s love of golf; it’s an homage to the famous dish served at the Masters. “I’m a huge golf fan and have the twelfth hole of Augusta National tattooed on my leg,” he said.

There’s plenty of sliced barbecue available without a bun or tortilla. The sweet and spicy rub on slices of juicy smoked turkey was excellent, but I was there for brisket. A slice of fatty brisket was tender, with a milder smoke flavor than before and just the right amount of seasoning. I asked Brian for a slice of lean, and he brought a single slice, like a showpiece sitting on a sheet of butcher paper. The juicy Prime-grade brisket and well-rendered fat cap, all surrounded by a peppery bark, was a thing of beauty. It was smoked to just the right texture, and the first bite told me Brian was right on when he said he had figured out the brisket.

Just as one restaurant falls into place, the Wrights have decided to branch out. Customers from both Longview and Marshall have begged for another Wright On Taco & BBQ location in their towns, and that will soon be a reality. The couple just this week purchased a used food truck, and are planning to outfit it to smoke barbecue. “We’ll just bring the food to the people,” Brian said. Which cities they’ll visit and the exact food they’ll sell isn’t yet determined, but they plan to serve a pared-down menu with both tacos and barbecue. Brian also is hoping for permission from Julie, whom he calls the budget manager, for a new smoker to go along with the food truck. “I’m definitely going to need more capacity to supply both.”

Wright On Taco & BBQ

17227 Texas Highway 154, Harleton
Hours: Tue–Wed 11–3, Thu–Fri 11–8:30, Sat 9:30–3
Pitmaster: Brian Wright
Year opened: 2016