Texas now has a barbecue joint whose menu is entirely halal. At the end of March, CJ and Sabrina Henley opened Yearby’s Barbecue, named in honor of CJ’s grandfather, in the small town of Pilot Point, about an hour north of Dallas. “Halal BBQ is what we do” is printed on their purple food truck, but the husband and wife—who are Muslim and keep halal—are focused on making barbecue that can stand up to the best in the state, halal or not. “We never wanted to be seen as just the halal place,” CJ said. “We want it to be good to everybody.”

For those unfamiliar with halal food’s place in the Islamic religion, it is similar to the kosher designation in Judaism. Certain foods—known as haram—are forbidden in Islam: pork, the meat of carnivorous animals, and meat from any animal that wasn’t slaughtered under halal guidelines. The average barbecue customer will notice the lack of pulled pork (no big loss) and pork ribs at Yearby’s.

CJ spent his high school years in Georgia, where pork is a staple in the barbecue scene. In 2009 he moved to Frisco, and that’s when his interest in barbecue peaked. It seemed like divine intervention. “Coming from Georgia, you couldn’t survive off of cooking just brisket,” he said. But Texas is beef country, and the Henleys plan to show off the bounty.

It all began on Christmas Day of 2021. The couple had the food truck and the permits, and they “knew everything would be closed” in their new home of Anna, Sabrina said. They parked the truck in the parking lot of an O’Reilly Auto Parts and opened the window with their fingers crossed. The barbecue was all gone within hours, and the couple knew they were on the right path.

Yearby’s became a regular at area festivals for the next year, until the search for a restaurant building led the Henleys to Pilot Point, in the heart of North Texas horse country. Renovations are underway, and CJ is waiting for a permit to get started building a pit room. In the meantime, the couple set up the food truck in the parking lot to serve lunch three days a week.

On a recent Thursday, brisket was the only option for smoked meat. CJ said it travels best from the off-site smoker. The Henleys serve it by the pound, in a sandwich, on barbecue nachos, and atop mac and cheese with Yearby’s sweet homemade barbecue sauce. Another food truck operator advised Sabrina to steer clear of mac and cheese because it can dry out in the warmer. “I made it my mission to make a recipe that will not dry out,” she said. She purposefully undercooks the pasta so it will finish after the cheese sauce—made with evaporated milk—is mixed in. Cabot and Tillamook brand cheeses are halal, so she uses both, shredding the blocks herself. It’s worth the effort.

Slices of brisket, brisket-topped mac and cheese, and water ice. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn

CJ smokes halal briskets from Creekstone and Greater Omaha. I asked for a mix of lean and fatty slices for my half-pound portion ($16), and both were spectacular. They had the right balance of smoke, salt, pepper, and beefy flavor. It helped that I didn’t have any other protein distractions, but I haven’t eaten that much brisket in one sitting in a while.

Oddly enough, sliced brisket hasn’t always been on the Yearby’s menu. “I was afraid to sell sliced brisket until July 2022,” CJ said, admitting his early insecurities about his smoking abilities. He credits Sabrina and his friend Zain Shafi, who works in the kitchen at Goldee’s Barbecue, in Fort Worth, for pushing him to offer it. Thankfully, he took their advice.

CJ said his love for barbecue originally came from his father. He remembers collecting pecan limbs from a park near his childhood home in New Orleans East. The wood smoldered on the charcoal in the family’s vertical water smoker filled with chicken wings and ribs. CJ bought his own backyard smoker in 2020, and before long he had a custom backyard pit built (which he has since traded for a thousand-gallon smoker from Big Phil’s).

With all his backyard smoking, CJ’s meat production got out of hand. “This is too much meat at the house, and we need to find something to do with it,” Sabrina told him. So he found his first “customers” on his son’s football team at Anna High School. He and Sabrina made sandwiches for the team before games, and the response gave them some confidence to open the food truck.

Sabrina brings her own flair to the trucks with water ice, which she enjoyed in her native Philadelphia. (She moved Texas in 2014 to make a life with CJ.) She describes it as Italian ice, but sweeter and with a smoother texture. It’s more scoopable than a Slurpee, and less grainy than a snow cone. “When I came here I was eating ice cream and shaved ice, and thinking, ‘This isn’t it,’ ” Sabrina said. She was determined to serve water ice at Yearby’s. Strawberry lemonade and mango are the most popular flavors, but ask for the Sabrina Special, and Sabrina will pair them up and also add lemon and coconut. Once the Henleys get into the brick-and-mortar, they plan to make their own water ice, but for now they ship the frozen treat in from Philadelphia, at considerable expense.

There’s plenty more that will come once the restaurant opens: candied yams, red beans and rice, potato salad, and brisket chili will be regular menu items. CJ plans to make sausage as well as smoke chicken, oxtails, beef back ribs, beef short ribs, and flanken-style beef ribs to expand the meat offerings.

If you’re reading this hoping for a taste of halal Texas barbecue but are nowhere near North Texas, there are a few other options. Alzer’s Barbeque, in Cedar Park, serves halal lamb and brisket; Chuckwagon BBQ & Burgers, in Katy, serves halal meats that are cooked and served separately from the rest of the menu; and Smoked N Chopped BBQ is a halal caterer in the Houston area. If you want to get a taste of Yearby’s Barbecue closer to Dallas, it’ll be serving in Carrollton at the Muslim Boxing Club’s DFW Halal BBQ Fest on Mother’s Day. CJ said appearances at festivals will become less frequent as the couple gets closer to opening the restaurant. “This year,” CJ said, “we want to showcase our food to everybody.”

Yearby’s Barbecue & Waterice
209 S. Washington, Pilot Point
Phone: 469-894-7034
Hours: Thursday–Saturday, 11–3
Pitmasters: CJ and Sabrina Henley
Method: Oak in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2023