Hard Eight Pit BBQ, 220 N Burleson Rd, Burleson. 817-367-9824. 10:30am-9:30pm Sun, 10:30am-10pm Mon-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
Hard Eight Pit BBQ started as an open-pit ’cue joint in Stephenville in 2003, and my friends in the ’Ville would encourage me to drive through four counties to come for dinner there. Earlier this month, Hard Eight opened a fifth location, this one in Burleson, one exit south of the Tarrant County line. Even with the growing number of really good barbecue restaurants in town, it’s worth your while to drive a little. I would know.
The formula is the same at all the locations: Queue up for your ’cue, wait patiently, and try not to over-order. In Burleson, the bar’s been raised just a little, – there’s a shaded portico that ultimately leads to two open-pit ordering lines and a bar stocked with several macrobrews, Shiner Bock, and a respectably strong, delightfully lime-forward margarita to ease the wait. It’s also about 20 minutes from that point until you meet your meat. Food is served on plastic trays lined with brown paper. There are no plates here, but you can grab a to-go container if you need one.
You won’t find tri-tip tacos, burnt ends, or smoked meatloaf on the menu board. The offerings are pretty standard: pork, brisket, sausage, chicken, turkey, prime rib, and rib-eye, along with a variety of traditional sides and desserts. On my visit, the brisket was moist with a good smoke aroma and flavor and a tiny cherry-pink ring around the tasty crust, which had the perfect ratio of salt and pepper in addition to whatever secret spices are at play. Unfortunately, the piece that looked like a glorious chunk of bark was mostly fat and shouldn’t have been served. The pork ribs had more of a red ring around the edges and were meaty, flavorful, and sliding-off-the-bone tender.
The half-chicken proved a half disappointment. The smoked bird was held at temp in a broth bath that kept it from becoming desiccated, which diluted the barbecue tang. The dark meat was divinely moist and flavorful, while the breast meat, although not dry, benefitted from a dunk in the accompanying barbecue sauce. Hard Eight serves two versions of sauce: a fairly forgettable sweet original and a better, slightly thinner hot version that was zesty, vinegary perfection. It’s a good thing that most of the products here don’t actually need the sauce.
Unusually, Hard Eight serves rib-eye steaks cooked to order, and the meat arrives to the table on a sizzling cast-iron plate with peppery grilled onions and a beautifully blistered jalapeño. Order the delicately smoked steak a little on the underdone side, and you’ll be completely happy while it sizzles in spiced butter on the ferociously hot skillet. The rib-eye arguably stood up to any similar dish at any of Fort Worth’s vaunted steakhouses, as did its presentation: When was the last time someone at a barbecue joint asked you to cut into your rib-eye to make sure you were happy with the way it was cooked?
As for sides – you don’t come for the sides. Pinto beans are free if you’re dining in and, depending on the pot you select from, may be mildly piquant or robustly flavored. Either way, the beans were cooked to creamy deliciousness. The coleslaw was pleasant and provided the basic crunchy veggies to offset the abundance of meat. The unusual cornbread salad (dried, crumbled cornbread mixed with bacon, cheese, and green onions) benefited from a liberal dose of some of the bean liquor in the bowl. The fries, potato salad, fried okra, baked potato, and sweet potatoes will only fill you up. If you’re intent on adding a side, the jalapeño sweet corn was the best of the lot. The thick creamed corn with slivers of chile was the perfect balance of rich, sweet, and spicy.
A couple of cobbler and pie options are available to round out your meal. The day my dining companion and I visited, the blackberry cobbler was unfortunately deficient on the berries, heavy on the crust. Hard Eight sells an artificially flavored vanilla ice cream product –– not Bluebell Homemade Vanilla. If you want dessert, consider going back after dining so the cobbler will be hot and fresh, and skip the à la mode.
Plan on about half a pound of two different kinds of meat to share between two diners. Any more will result in leftovers or a little gastric distress. Among the reasons to drive to Burleson for your ’cue fix: ample parking and the pit never runs out of anything. The large-scale operation that’s sailed smoothly for 16 years in three counties is fully in effect here.
Hard Eight Pit BBQ
Rib-eye steak $16.95
Pork ribs $15.95/lb
Chicken (half) $8
Cornbread salad $2
Jalapeño sweet corn $2.95
Blackberry cobbler w/ice cream $3.50