Hollis and Betty Dean opened a small barbecue joint in a tiny town in 1989. The Shed, located in Wingate, between Abilene and San Angelo, earned a spot on the first Texas Monthly Top 50 barbecue list in 1997. Their mesquite-smoked meats placed them on the list again in 2003 when the couple was in their seventies. The Deans closed the storefront a year later, and offered only catering with the help of their grandson Byron Stephenson. Now, Stephenson and his wife Stacie have come full circle, opening their own version of The Shed Market in an Abilene strip center in May 2018. Luckily for visitors, they brought the Dean family recipes with them.
Plenty has changed since the Stephensons took over the business. Byron quit his construction job, and Stacie left behind her nursing career to focus on barbecue. They don’t smoke with mesquite anymore. It’s all oak now. The meat quality has gotten better too. “Grandpa always used Select,” Stephenson said, referring to the lower grade of beef. Now they use only Prime grade briskets, and you can even find some Wagyu beef on the grounds. They don’t put the expensive stuff on the smoker, but The Shed Market also has a raw beef counter carrying Wagyu steaks and briskets. “You have to drive to Fort Worth to get anything of that quality,” said Stephenson, noting that demand has been plenty high since they started carrying the deluxe beef.
A Southern Pride smoker sits inside a screened-in smokehouse out back, a remnant from the old restaurant that was brought here for rib duty. A big, steel Bewley smoker dedicated to briskets and beef ribs sits behind it. Those briskets get wrapped in butcher paper after smoking, but not during. Some of the brisket bark was a tad too stout on some of the briskets waiting to be served, which means they may benefit from wrapping earlier. The fatty brisket had the desired pull-apart texture and was plenty juicy. I skipped the $26-per-pound beef plate ribs in favor of the smoked prime rib daily special ($19.50 with two sides). The medium rare beef, served with horseradish sauce, was smoky and salty with plenty of black pepper in the crust.
The black pepper is almost too much on the pork ribs, but they’re so nicely smoked that it’s hard to complain. The tender St. Louis cut ribs had great smoke as well. Both chicken and turkey are on the menu. I ordered both expecting chicken on the bone, but instead I got slices of white meat from both birds. Both were juicy and well seasoned, but they were so similar it’s hard to recommend one over the other. I enjoyed a thick slice of fatty brisket with a rugged bark and well-rendered fat beneath.
I was most stunned by the impressive array of excellent sides, both new and classic. The crunchy slaw was lightly dressed with a zing from cilantro and just a whiff of heat from the jalapeño slivers. Jalapeño cream corn brought a little more heat. The green chiles seemed to hide at the bottom of the creamy mac & cheese, but they made their presence known soon enough. Buttermilk potato salad tasted like a generously loaded baked potato, while the austere pinto beans were a solid version of the classic. I had many stops ahead of me that day, but I couldn’t set my spoon down until every bite of the superb blackberry cobbler was gone.
The barbecue here is some of the best in the area, and I’m certainly not the first to learn that. While the market remains open until 6 p.m. for raw beef sales, the barbecue is generally gone by 2 p.m. That’s even the case on Saturday, when they smoke around 25 briskets. It was a packed house by the time I left at 11:45 a.m. on a Thursday, and a group next to me at the communal picnic table said they’d found their new favorite barbecue joint. “I didn’t know this was going to be as popular as it is,” Stephenson said during a breakfast break from the kitchen. “It’s been a blur.”