Opened: 1991 (current location since 2008)
Pitmaster: Kirby Hyden, age 58
Method: Post oak; indirect-heat pit
Pro tip: If you’re driving through town looking for it, keep going; it’s about two miles south of the city limits sign.
Kirby’s is a living testament to the adage, “Teach your children well.” Owner and pitmaster Kirby Hyden learned to smoke meats from his father, who learned from his father, and this family know-how proves to be a rich inheritance. In 1960 Hyden’s grandfather opened a joint called Holloway’s in a tiny building on the north side of town (his dad also opened a joint, in Groesbeck, in the late seventies). Hyden took over Holloway’s in 1991, moved the operation to his newish metal building located across Texas Highway 14 from the Mexia–Limestone County Airport, and renamed it Kirby’s. The new place has a bigger capacity; Hyden installed two large steel barrel smokers, which he fires up in tandem on the weekends, when they add ribs and chicken to the menu. But on any given day, briskets take up most of the real estate. The smoking process for those briskets is unique—Kirby starts them during the day, removes them from the smoker when he leaves for the night, then puts them back on the smoker to finish them when he arrives again at four in the morning. The result is stunning: the meat was deeply flavored, and each slice was moist and perfectly cooked (Kirby’s charges extra for trimmed brisket, but you’re going to want all the fat left on anyway). A heavy rub provided a real punch of saltiness and a hint of cayenne, but the meat wasn’t overpowered. The spareribs, also coated with an impressive bark, were incredibly tender despite their heft. The sausage comes from Slovacek’s, in Snook, and this version was smoky with a nice snap. The only disappointment was the soggy pulled pork, which can be skipped altogether. You’ll find only the most basic of side items, but the buttermilk pie is worth a try. Let’s just hope the knowledge that makes Kirby’s so good can be passed on to the next generation.
4592 Texas Hwy. 14 N., 254-562-5076. Open Wed–Fri 10–6, Sat 10–3.