Just about any cuisine can be fused with Texas barbecue. Over the past few years we’ve seen smoked meats featured on Japanese, Vietnamese, Italian, Mexican, and Ethiopian menus in Texas. Willie Meshack’s BBQ, which opened in Plano in January, is adding Trinidadian cuisine to the list.
The Meshack name is well-known in the area thanks to the Meshack’s barbecue chain founded by James Meshack in South Dallas in 1978. Meshack’s Bar-Be-Cue Shack in Garland still carries that name, though this Plano spot is not associated with the original. That’s not to say they’re unrelated, though. The new restaurant originally opened with the name Meshack’s Texas BBQ, which caused some confusion, so co-owner Willie Meshack Jr. quickly rebranded. The name is meant to honor his father, Willie Sr., who is one of James’s twenty siblings.
Plano’s newest barbecue joint is actually more closely related to another Dallas restaurant, Caribbean Cabana in the Dallas Farmers Market. It was opened by Yolande and Robert Plaza in 2013, back when Pecan Lodge was still a fixture in the market. The couple from Trinidad and Tobago, a small nation comprising two islands off the coast of Venezuela, opened the restaurant to get a taste of home. “She didn’t like Caribbean food in Dallas,” Roberta Plaza said of her mother, calling the restaurant’s existence a family necessity. It’s a family-run affair too, with the Plazas’ three children also working there, including Roberta.
Roberta, who was born in Trinidad, spent most of her school years in Brooklyn, New York, before playing basketball for Texas A&M–Corpus Christi. While visiting Dallas in 2004, she met Willie Meshack Jr. astride his motorcycle in Deep Ellum, and was smitten. The two married, and she now spends most of her time at Willie Meshack’s BBQ finding ways to combine her family’s recipes with the barbecue dream her husband inherited growing up in a barbecue family.
Their operation started as an experiment at Caribbean Cabana in fall 2020. Willie brought his Weber Smokey Mountain—a smoker generally reserved for backyard cooks—to the farmers’ market. They served his smoked meats from the Caribbean Cabana counter and received a great response. Willie and Roberta live in Plano and thought the area could use more barbecue options. They found an empty restaurant space on the northeast corner of Coit Road and the Bush turnpike, and Willie found a much larger smoker, a thousand-gallon offset he bought from a guy in Houston. It sits in the parking lot outside the restaurant, perfuming the air with pecan and oak smoke.
On my first visit to Willie Meshack’s, I ordered brisket and ribs. The brisket was well seasoned, tender, and had a good bark. This was solid Texas-style barbecue. The meaty St. Louis–cut pork ribs were no different. They glistened from a swipe of sweet barbecue sauce, and the meat was easy to pull from the bone. I wasn’t aware of the restaurant’s Trinidadian roots then but noticed some touches like a Trini potato salad, a squeeze bottle of Trini hot sauce (one of Robert Plaza’s specialties), and jerk chicken.
A well-prepared jerk chicken is reason enough to visit any restaurant, but the smoked jerk chicken was something special. It begins with a marinade recipe from Yolande’s family in Trinidad. Its base is garlic, onions, thyme, allspice, nutmeg, paprika, and hot peppers. The Plazas favor habanero peppers to the scotch bonnet peppers traditionally used in Jamaican jerk marinades. That’s not where the differences between Trinidadian and Jamaican cooking end, according to Roberta. “They prefer their meats drier . . . to be less saucy,” she said of Jamaican cooking. When you visit a barbecue man in Trinidad, she said, you expect to find cuts of lamb, chicken, and beef cooking directly over coals and getting basted with a sweet sauce. “We like the char,” she said.
Willie Meshack’s uses halal chicken legs and thighs with much of the skin removed. The cooks score the meat to let in more of the marinade, which is a mix of the Plaza family jerk marinade and Willie’s barbecue sauce. It steeps overnight, spends another full day going through a secret process, and then is smoked for about an hour. It’s grilled over charcoal in small batches, which are replenished as more orders come in. On a recent Friday, the dining room was filled with a pale haze of charcoal smoke, as the vent hoods were no match for the popularity of the chicken.
“Although it was never intended to be, it’s turning into our cornerstone,” Roberta said of the chicken. It’s incredibly tender, with a deep flavor from the marinade and smoke. It’s not as spicy as it looks, so if you want the burn add a squirt of the Trini pepper sauce marked with “XXX” on the bottle. And there are plenty of other sauces. Several barbecue sauce varieties are available alongside a chadon beni sauce, which is made with the culantro herb (a cousin of cilantro) and looks like a thin Alabama white sauce. “There’s no mayo in there,” Roberta explained. Its base is a garlic vinaigrette, the same used in the Trini potato salad, which is a mix of potato cubes, canned peas, and canned corn. It’s an homage to home that may require some nostalgia to enjoy.
“All of our sides are Trinidadian influenced,” Roberta said. Soft and sweet fried plantains were a welcome change from the usuals. The mac and cheese is a deconstructed version of the Trinidadian macaroni pie served at Caribbean Cabana. Her Momma’s Beans is an excellent version of meaty pinto beans but without pork. “We eliminate any pork products in our sides, which allows anyone to eat them,” Roberta said. The apple coleslaw is a sweet vinegar slaw, also without mayo. A scoop comes atop the smoked meats that fill the traditional Trinidadian fry bread sandwiches. A raised yeast dough is deep fried for the bun, and it remains pillowy with a crisp exterior. I enjoyed it with saucy chopped brisket, but Roberta suggests Zoey’s pulled pork, named after the couple’s daughter.
Over three visits I tried a few other specialty items. The massive beef rib wasn’t as tender, and lacked the seasoning and smoke of the brisket. Honey hog bites are the restaurant’s version of a bacon burnt end, but the honey flavor was so overwhelming it could have been tofu underneath and it wouldn’t have mattered.
Roberta and Willie have tried to create their own flavors independent of Caribbean Cabana while using the family’s recipes as inspiration for their new venture. They’re also slowly bringing Caribbean Cabana items into their kitchen, like curry chicken and rice and peas, for a new Plano-based ghost kitchen of Caribbean Cabana available on delivery apps. Willie said he plans to implement “off-menu Sundays” to feature more of those family favorites. But the barbecue has grown a following of its own—so much so that Willie is in the market for a second smoker. They just added Thursday service, and will soon add Wednesdays, which means more options to get solid brisket and ribs in Plano, and what must be some of the state’s only smoked jerk chicken.
Willie Meshack’s BBQ
200 Coit Road, Suite 112, Plano
Hours: Thursday–Sunday, 11–5
Pitmasters: Willie Meshack Jr. and Roberta Plaza
Method: Oak and pecan in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2022