If I had visited The Shack Bar-B-Q six months ago, I would have easily called it Lubbock’s best barbecue. Nowadays the once bare barbecue market in town is suddenly crowded with the addition of The Shack and nearby Evie Mae’s Barbecue, a three-month-old trailer that is one of the best new barbecue joints I’ve found in some time. At The Shack, partners Kyle Farris and Kelly Henning have some catching up to do to match their new local competition, but they’re just getting started.
The restaurant almost didn’t happen. In 2013, Farris spent a month in the hospital and another six weeks learning how to walk after a horrific motorcycle accident. The accident put his life on hold, including marriage plans and the restaurant opening. He’s recovered now, and happy to be here.
“This is my first cooking gig,” Kyle told me after he stopped by my table during lunch. The metal building on the northwest side of town once housed Jack & Diane’s where Kyle managed the bar. He said he made the choice to use his proceeds from a tax return check to start cooking barbecue because of the lack of any good local options. “There’s not a lot of good barbecue here, so we thought we’d try it and see what happens.” Now they have a packed parking lot, even on a rainy day, but it didn’t catch fire from the start, and they were operating day-to-day. “We’d go to Sam’s every day and buy what we needed for the next day.”
The menu was also pretty sparse at the beginning with just sandwiches and chips. Now they have a full barbecue menu bolstered by an array of homemade sides. Yes, the smoked meat is of utmost importance, but sides and desserts can tell you plenty about how much care a barbecue joint is willing to put into their food. At The Shack it’s all homemade, like the excellent and simple banana pudding. They top off each order with freshly sliced bananas which would have been gray mush if done the night before.
The slaw, beans, potato salad, and mac & cheese are also homemade. While the mac was runny and flat (it could use more cheese), the slaw was a lesson in chopped cabbage. It was lightly dressed and so crisp it tasted like it was made minutes before I got it. The beans were rich and surprisingly spicy from a heavy dose of black pepper. I got the loaded version of the potato salad which was dense and creamy as expected. Even the fluffy white bread comes from a local bakery.
The sausage is most definitely not homemade. It’s a decent commercial variety, but really meant for sandwich filler. Smoky shreds of pulled pork were better. The pork had a sweetness from the rub and was really juicy. A sweet glaze gave the pork ribs some pop. Smoked to exemplary tenderness, they were the best time on the smoked meat menu.
The brisket has potential, but needs some work. Farris told me they’re using Raider Red “no roll” briskets from Texas Tech. While the tie-in with the local university is admirable, what “no roll” means is that they never know the grade of brisket they’re getting. All meat that is processed for public consumption must be inspected by the USDA. A processor can then pay a fee to have each carcass graded into Select, Choice, or Prime grades. Most big producers pay that fee so that their high grade beef can fetch a higher price. The university doesn’t bother to pay someone for the grading, which is common for such a small operation. Therefore, the beef doesn’t get a grade stamp rolled onto the surface of the carcass, hence the term “no roll.”
The biggest issue with the brisket I got was the flavor. It tasted of stale smoke with little added from the seasoning. The tenderness was hard to evaluate because the single slice of fatty brisket was an 1/8″ on one end and 1/2″ on the other. One side was tender, and other I could barely pull apart. Getting the slicing right will be an easier task than the smoke.
When they first opened, Farris was using a trailer mounted offset smoker he borrowed from a friend. Even after trying to build protective walls around it, the high winds in West Texas just sucked the heat right out of the pit. He went looking for a new smoker, and found a Nolen’s gas-fired rotisserie smoker online. “It does an all right job and it’s convenient,” he told me, but he says it doesn’t compare to cooking on his offset. Now they’ve gotten so busy he needs the extra capacity of the new smoker, but still has hopes of getting back to a stick burner. “We have a carport out back. I’m hoping to eventually get that sided in and make a little smokehouse.” Let’s hope he can make that happen soon because I’d like to see what Farris can do with his preferred equipment. For now, those in Lubbock will just have to settle for barbecue that’s a lot better than they’re used to.