Smoke-A-Holics BBq, 1417 Evans Av, FW. 817-386-5658. 11am-7pm (or until sold out) Wed-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
Before taking my first step into Smoke-A-Holics BBq, the barely six-week-old entry into Fort Worth’s hotly contested barbecue restaurant sweepstakes, I passed through a multi-sensory gauntlet.
My eyes took in the red-white-and-blue awning with a Texas flag-wreathed logo and its accompanying slogan: “Texas style BBQ with a soulful twist.” Then I examined a near life-sized photo of the author of that motto – Derrick Walker, Smoke-A-Holics’ owner and pit master supreme, shown sitting like a pasha, clad in black from head to work boots, casting a self-assured side-long gaze.
Then my nostrils inhaled the telltale perfume – at once sweet and slightly pungent – of smoked meats. It’s an aroma that signals the presence of perfectly charred proteins, rendered fatty and drippingly juicy thanks to hours spent in a backyard cylindrical smoker the size of a small submarine, turning cords of mild-burning Texan pecan wood into embers of cooking brilliance.
Smoke-A-Holics’ 1,100-square-foot interior may be cozily small, but by some physical miracle, it’s not cramped – and it’s impeccably clean. I discovered Walker’s wife and daughter taking orders and greeting everyone with congenial grins. And 165 seconds after placing my order, my two groaning trays of food arrived.
Walker, a Fort Worth native, was one of the area’s first to drive around a pop-up smoker and take on catering and event vending before opening a lines-around-the-block-popular food truck on South Hulen Street. He then spent three months reconfiguring an old bakery space in South Fort Worth into Smoke-A-Holics.
The graduate of Polytechnic High School left his position as food service director at the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation only three weeks before opening Smoke-A-Holics. Though a physically impressive man, even Walker’s size is dwarfed by the mammoth cylinder of steel that is his custom-built smoker. Generating a steady heat of 225-250 degrees and with a capacity for 1,000 pounds of meat, it is stacked with massive shanks of brisket (smoked for 12 hours), pork rib slabs (five-six hours), beef-pork sausage necklaces (45 minutes), and turkey and chickens (around three-four hours).
To get the most bang for my barbecue buck, I ordered the three-meat, two-sides plate featuring pork ribs, brisket, and about six coins of sausage. Each of the meats was tender in its own way with the ribs easily yielding to my greedy fingers pulling at the generous meat barely clinging to the satisfyingly thick spare rib.
The outer char and bark on both the ribs and the brisket (enhanced by a secret recipe dry rub) and boasting a glistening ribbon of fat were as irresistible as the interior meat. The sausage melded both pork and beef under a crackling casing that transported me to a Hill Country beer garden.
Smoke-A-Holics’ barbecue sauce was a model of nuanced yet complex flavor, caressing not crushing the palate with a combination of tomato-based acidity, a vinegary tang, and the slight undercurrent of molasses-powered sweetness. It’s a tribute to the singular quality of the smoked meats at Smoke-A-Holics that the expertly made sauce wasn’t vital to enhance the meats’ intrinsic, mineral-like flavor.
The kitchen doesn’t skimp on the sides. The baked beans were dotted with pintos dusted in a special pork rub and enhanced by both ground beef and bacon. And three cheeses congregated in gooey harmony in the mac ’n’ cheese that spent almost an hour in Walker’s backyard smoker. The stuffed baked potato, measuring somewhere between a clog and a small naval frigate, could easily qualify as a main dish. I chose to have its creamy interior lined with a scattering of chopped, smoked chicken mingling with a shower of scallions, butter knobs, cheddar cheese shavings, and sour cream dollops. Starch, say hello to my little barbecue friend.
Walker’s wife, Kesha Walker, a professional hairstylist, moonlights as Smoke-A-Holics’ baker, and her cinnamon-infused sweet potato pie was smoothness incarnate, much less cloying than a pumpkin pie could ever aspire to be.
A reliable barometer of Smoke-A-Holics’ early success is its “hours of operation” sign: “Open Wednesday-Saturday, 11-7 or until sold out.”
And from what I understand, it sells out often well before its 7 p.m. closing time, so the best strategy for enjoying a Smoke-A-Holics experience is to arrive early, be a good neighbor on the inevitable line you’ll wait in, and follow the restaurant’s tender-as-brisket rules posted on its inside wall: “Eat with your fingers. Feast low and slow. Come hungry.”
Three-meat plate plus two sides $17
Baked potato $11
Sweet potato pie $3.50