The Patriotic Pig was started as a barbecue catering company, mostly for weddings, by Marc and Gina Smith in 2016. A year in, business was so good Marc quit his job in IT, and Gina quit her job a year later to manage the operation. Eventually, they opened their restaurant in North Richland Hills on July 4th weekend in 2019. They were going nowhere but up before the pandemic arrived in 2020.

The restaurant closed its dining room, and all the brides and grooms canceled their weddings, asking for refunds of the catering deposits they’d made. It almost broke the Smiths. They sold their home in Grapevine and moved into an apartment near the restaurant. A PPP loan helped keep the business afloat, and so did Marc’s quick work of getting the restaurant added to food delivery apps. Patriotic Pig survived, and now it’s thriving once again. The couple expects to cater five hundred weddings this year, and has a weekend with thirteen separate ceremonies coming up next month.

Most barbecue joints that offer catering do so as a side operation. At Patriotic Pig, it’s half the business revenue. Of the hundred briskets they had on the smoker the day I visited, fifty were reserved for catering. Marc said they have three vans, a food truck, and a hundred part-time employees who they call for events. All the meat is delivered hot and whole, and is sliced on-site just before dinner—except the brisket. “We do a carving station at every single wedding,” Marc said, which keeps the beef at its peak.

That brisket is pretty impressive at the restaurant as well. Marc switched to using briskets from Goodstock, Nolan Ryan’s beef company, in July. He cut three slices from the lean end for me, and they were juicy, peppery, and had a deep beef flavor that wasn’t overwhelmed by smoke, seasoning, or fat. It was a far cry from the first time I tried the place in early 2020. Marc said the change in brisket has helped, but also a dedication to consistency. In January, he hired pitmaster Damon Brown, who had worked in Dallas at Terry Black’s Barbecue and Smokey Joe’s Bar-B-Que, and in Little Elm at the now closed location of Hurtado Barbecue. Brown’s influence has been a change for the better.

The tender spare ribs had a sweet glaze and a solid smoky flavor. I also loved the smoked turkey spiced with a dry jerk seasoning heavy in herbs and black pepper. I didn’t try the smoked sausage from Syracuse Sausage, which Marc said is just filling in until he can get back to making his own. The health inspector is in the midst of approving the restaurant’s HACCP plan for the sausage-making process, which uses leftover brisket trim. Until then, the closest you can get to Marc’s house-made jalapeño cheese sausage is in the jalapeño cheddar burger. Chopped chiles and chunks of cheddar are mixed into ground brisket to form the patties (an all-beef version called the OG is also available). The burger comes with two patties on a soft sesame seed bun, and Marc suggested I add bacon, grilled onions, and American cheese to mine. The burger had a bit of spiciness, and an additional boost of flavor from the browned cheese and crisp bacon.

Patriotic Pig
The jalapeño cheddar burger with bacon.Photograph by Daniel Vaughn

The same bacon goes around the bacon bombs, which are brisket-and-cheese-stuffed jalapeños. The pepper still had a nice bit of crunch under the crisp bacon, and mild heat. For the fresh green beans, Marc fries bacon in beef tallow until it’s crunchy enough to break into pieces and mix into the beans along with sautéed onions. There are two potato salads on offer: bacon ranch and a mustardy one with deviled eggs folded into the potato chunks. “If you don’t like deviled eggs, you’re not going to like it,” Marc warned. They also offer two types of pinto beans: one is a classic savory version with onions and peppers; the other is sweeter with brisket burnt ends, which Marc said is more popular.

Marc’s crew makes the banana pudding in-house, but the rest of the desserts come from Uncle Willie’s Pies, which Patriotic Pig also uses for its catering gigs. I was tempted by the pecan pie and the cheesecakes, but went with a personal-size key lime pie with plenty of zip.

The dining room was nearly full during a Friday lunch. Marc said demand has risen so much that he brought in four rotisserie smokers from M&M BBQ Company. He has some rearranging to do back in the pit room to fit them in, but they’ll be fully operable soon, just in time for all those upcoming fall weddings.

When Patriotic Pig first opened, it only served dinner on weekdays. It’s since added lunch hours. The sign by the front door encouraging open carry of guns made some potential customers uncomfortable. The sign is still up, but I didn’t see any wannabe gunslingers on my visit, though I did notice an iPhone in a belt holster at the booth next to my table. When Marc sat with me to talk, he said he was carrying a concealed handgun, but hasn’t had to use it in the restaurant or out by the pits. “I could open carry if I wanted to but I don’t want to,” he said. So why keep the sign up? He said he assumes he already lost customers because of the sign in the first place, and “I feel like I’d piss more people off if I tried to take it down now.”

Marc is an Army veteran, so he said the patriotic part of the restaurant’s name means more than the Second Amendment to him. “I’m trying to keep politics out of it. I learned my lesson there,” he said, referring to the sign. He said he kept the food truck that preceded the brick-and-mortar mainly so he can serve barbecue at veteran events. The names of dishes, like “freedom fries,” the “liberty spud,” and the “MOAB” (“Mother of All Burgers” rather than “bombs”), reflect his Army background rather than his political views.

When ordering for a group, go for the $59 “Meat Sweats” platter with eight different smoked meats, four sides, and some fresh-baked buttery cornbread. There’s no need to show your guns off to enjoy it, but finish it alone and they’ll be openly carrying you out.

The Patriotic Pig
3900 Rufe Snow Drive, North Richland Hills
Phone: 817-601-5256
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 11–8, Sunday 11–3
Pitmaster: Damon Brown
Method: Oak in a wood-fired rotisserie
Year opened: 2019