When you walk up to Stanley’s Famous Pit BBQ, you know you’re about to experience something special, even if it’s your first time. There are layers upon layers of hidden gems. On the walls, on the tables, and even on the ceiling beams. Relics from times past – some from over 60 years ago when JD Stanley first opened the joint. And if you ask Owner, Nick Pencis about what it’s like to take on the responsibility of owning a legacy barbecue joint in Texas, he’ll tell you there’s a lot of responsibility in carrying that torch. But he and his staff are more than up to the task of honoring the legend, while putting his unique personal spin on the place.
As you approach the counter to order your food, there’s no mistake that the folks working behind it are like family. They interact in a way that makes it clear they’re good friends and have each other’s backs. And they make you feel like you met them a few weeks ago at your cousin’s backyard cook-out. Once you’ve ordered and are free to roam, it’s worth taking the time to soak in your surroundings. There’s a new air-conditioned, indoor bar area that features over 100 different types of bourbon from all corners of the world. There is a big stage that is clearly a focal point for the place and even if you’ve arrived when there are no live bands, there are enough event posters and photos of previous performances to keep you entertained.
Nick tells us, “Barbecue is the kind of thing that whether you’re doing it in your backyard or in a restaurant, it’s about enjoying a meal with family and friends. It’s very communal as is experiencing music so it just works together.”
Now one of the most noteworthy things about your experience at Stanley’s Famous Pit BBQ though may be your fellow diners. You’ll find groups in business suits, police officers on a break, motorcycle riders passing through, and families with their littlest of littles. And many of them will be more than happy to have a chat – in fact, that may be why some of them come by. This is where Nick’s motto for the joint comes in, “Be kind and have fun,” which truly is reflected in everything and everyone there. Nick says, “It’s a philosophy that everyone can get behind and everyone appreciates. It’s very important to us.”
When your food arrives, there’s no doubt that your trip to Stanley’s Famous Pit BBQ was worth it, however far you’ve come. Your smoked meat comes on a butcher paper-clad red tray and treats your nose and eyes before you can even have a taste. The menu has just the right mix of East Texas classics that made the joint famous in the first place, plus a few unique items like the ‘Brother-In-Law’ that combines a grilled hot link with cheese, chopped brisket and their special sauce. This all-star sandwich is a jewel that truly represents the East Texas barbecue vibe.
It’s for all of these reasons that Stanley’s Famous Pit BBQ was named one the Top 50 Best BBQ Joints in Texas by Texas Monthly in 2017. But that can’t be it, so what else is behind this magical barbecue destination? This is where we lead you to the back where you’ll find 3 giant pits… and Shaw, one of the greatest pitmasters in the great state of Texas. We sat down with Shaw to ask some questions about how his barbecue has successfully made the Top 50 list and he parted with some of his expert advice.
“It’s not about the stuff you read in a book or your exact temperature, it’s about the feel of the meat. You gotta be humble, you gotta be patient. You gotta go by feel.” Shaw has spent over 15 years behind pits and has never used a thermometer to temp his brisket. He admits that if you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to use one but he also made it clear that once you get to a certain level, you shouldn’t even have to think about using it for brisket. You should know its doneness just by how it feels in your hands. He says there are several variables that go into great barbecue, but you need to start with a solid foundation – the brisket. This is why Shaw switched to smoking Goodstock’s USDA Choice Angus Briskets.
“When I cooked my first Goodstock brisket, it was obvious that there was a noticeable difference. In the mouth feel, and the flavor was brighter and stronger – it just won immediately.”
And now’s the time to focus on winning. With Texas Monthly’s new Top 50 BBQ Joints announcement coming out next month alongside their BBQ Fest events, joints from across the state are focused on smoking their best in order to make the list. With Stanley’s Famous Pit BBQ as one of the host venues for the event festivities, they are focused on upping their game for a whole myriad of reasons. But they’ve already won as far as we’re concerned. Making the “list” again won’t change the fact that this joint has it all; world-class barbecue, an amazing team, great music, and friendly patrons. Let’s just say its worth the trip to East Texas, for certain.