I’m just going to come out and say it: I think Wright’s Barbecue may just be the best barbecue in the state. It makes Texas-style brisket, ribs, hot link sausage, pulled pork (ok, so not Texas), smoked chicken, brisket beans, mac+cheese, loaded baked potato salad, cheese grits, coleslaw, bacon green beans, cold shiner bock beer, chocolate chip cookies and bourbon bread pudding. And maybe someday soon some fried okra.
Jordan and his team are smoking some serious ‘cue over at their Johnson, Arkansas location. Pull up across that crunchy gravel and lay ‘er down on the grass (and watch that ditch when you back out). When you get out of your truck, you’ll immediately smell that lightly smoky blue haze of pecan wood wafting through the trees from their backyard smoker. Man, I want to bottle that. I’d wear that cologne any day.
Walk in through the front door of their old 1917 era white house. The menu is hand written on brown butcher paper and taped to the wall. You better get there early, or over on the wall behind the counter will be a list of things that have already run out for that day. When we came by, they were out of bacon burnt ends, which was disappointing but my own fault because I was dillydallying down in Little Rock for too long that morning. Next time.
You have quite a choice from that menu, but I’d suggest you definitely get some of this pecan smoked salt and pepper brisket. Just take a look at the heft of that gorgeous juice beast.
Once you get your meal, head back outside to their fenced in dining area. There are plenty of picnic tables all covered in red umbrellas. It’s a real pleasant place to eat some barbecue, and to eyeball their outdoor smoker at the same time.
We ordered the Texas Trinity, which would have had brisket, hot link sausage and bacon burnt ends with a couple of sides, but like I said we missed out on those bacon burnt ends. Jacob subbed in some ribs for us. We also ordered a side of pulled pork, and for sides, the macaroni and cheese, brisket beans, loaded baked potato salad, and bacon green beans. Jacob wanted us to try the smoked chicken too, so he threw in a couple slices of that.
Let’s just take a second for an overview of this awesomeness before we dive in.
We started off with the ribs. Wright’s makes a real fine rib. These had a nice glaze from their barbecue sauce, a gentle smoke ring from that wafting pecan smoke, a nice tender pull and real juicy meat. These were just so pretty looking that we finished them off first. Take a look at that gorgeous color!
I’ve eaten brisket all over Central Texas, and at all those big places. I can tell you that Wright’s is just knocking brisket out of the park. Take a look at this juicy brisket. It has a beautiful salt and pepper crust, and a gorgeous smoke ring so pretty it looks like they swiped the Mrs.’ lipstick across it.
The brisket pulls so super tenderly, just as it should. It rides that perfect balance between tenderness and structure, so that you can pull at it from the ends and separate it, but without it being just a mushy pile on your plate. I just love the salt and pepper rub on this, which brings great balance to the fattiness and juiciness of the meat. I could look at this gorgeous thing all day.
The brisket burnt ends are below. These come from the fatty portion of the brisket which is called the point, and are nice little chunks of smoky beef. I love the color on these and just how juicy these are.
The Texas hot links sausage below the burnt ends in the above picture were really excellent. They had that juicy snap that real Texas sausage has (for now they’re bringing this in), and some nice heat from the jalapenos inside. This is the kind of sausage you want take home and serve cut into rounds for the game, along with some slices of good smoked cheddar on a really good cracker. Shoot, I might even slip in a nice thin slice of juicy, tart green apple on the cracker with that. That’s be a serious crowd pleaser. I’d call ahead and see if you can pick up a six pack of those smoked sausages the next time you’re thinking of a party.
The smoked chicken was nice; big, thick slices of breast meat. I really love pecan smoke and chicken, and Wright’s is doing it justice here. Same for the pulled pork. While it’s hard to do such a juicy and fatty meat wrong, it’s all good here. Nice and smoky, with a good mix of bark and meat and smoke ring.
I’m not a barbecue sauce guy. Sure, I make my own by the gallon, but most often, I just eat my ‘cue straight off the smoker, with the only sauce being the juice the meat has inside. But Wright’s has this really nice sweet and savory 5 ingredient sauce. I won’t reveal the goods, but I will tell you that lots of practice and culling away the rock has led to a real nice diamond inside. I wouldn’t be dipping your brisket in this, but some of that smoked chicken or pulled pork or heck maybe even the end of your rib would be real happy with a little glaze of their sauce.
Some folks are soul men. Well, I’m a bean man. No doubt about it, Wright’s is making up some killer brisket beans. They take their pinto beans and load them up chock full of their smoked brisket. Take a look at that goodness. I loved the nice pepperiness the rub gave the beans. This is a really cool trick, and one I am totally stealing. (I guess you’d call that “bean shigging” in BBQ parlance.)
I’d like to have those brisket beans refried the next day for breakfast and served in a small soft flour tortilla with some red guajillo chili pepper ranchero sauce or a bright and tart green tomatillo sauce, maybe a little cheese and cilantro, and maybe just go totally overboard with a poached egg every once in a while. That’d sure be a killer breakfast.
The mac+cheese was a good creamy side. The macaroni was cooked just the right amount of time, so that it did not come out mushy and formless like you sometimes see at some other places. I liked that Wright’s uses a couple of different cheeses give it some contrast and interest, but on my visit I thought it could have benefitted from a hit more of salt. Sometimes, things that rich and creamy need a little bit more salt than usual, since the creaminess tends to hide it.
The rest of the sides were universally good. The loaded baked potato salad was a hit, especially with the sour cream that they mixed into it. The bacon-y green beans were excellent, and I think we finished that one first.
The desserts were fun. They give you a chocolate chip cookie with your meal. They also make a nice bourbon bread pudding topped with crème fraiche. I had the time to sit a spell with Jordan and talk about the food a bit. I thought the bread pudding could have used a bit more bourbon and a bit more texture, like that nice crusty top that the bread pudding gets when it browns in the oven. I told him my thoughts and he reached over with his spoon and tried the bread pudding, agreeing with those comments. I liked that; he wanted us to try everything, but was especially interested in making adjustments where due.
I judge barbecue at Memphis in May and other tournaments around the fine state of Arkansas, so I was really pining to get close to Wright’s pit. Jordan obliged and gave us a tour of the place.
When we stopped by they were prepping briskets.
His pit is called Hakuna Matata. (C’mon, you remember The Lion King, right? It means no worries for the rest of your days. I like that thought.) It is made by Moberg Smokers, a custom pit shop out of Dripping Springs, Texas.
It has that massive outflow tube, drawing a lot of heat, smoke and air across the smoking chamber.
I really love how it has that unfinished propane tank color up top instead of that fire black color everywhere. It looks mean; all business. And all business it is.
We got a chance to peek inside the old girl. She was smoking along at a hair under 275 degrees.
Inside, they were cooking ribs,
And those briskets (these have been on just a few minutes).
Here’s a shot of a final brisket. Take a look at that beautiful salt and pepper crust, that got nice and dark with that gentle locally-sourced pecan wood smoke. You can see just how much of a juice beast that is.
Keeping it real, they still have their original trailer, which they can use as an extra kitchen out back.
As far as I’m concerned, Wright’s is destination barbecue. I wish I lived closer. I’d probably eat here every day. Well, every Wednesday through Saturday. They’re open 11am – 8pm, or until they run out of juicy smoked meats. Better get here early for the bacon burnt ends.