Good brisket is really, really easy to find, especially in Texas. The DFW area plays host to Lockhart Smokehouse, Pecan Lodge, Hutchins BBQ and Ten50 Barbecue, just to name a few and a visit to any of these will inspire dreamy pork rib fantasies for days, weeks—years afterward. But the ‘cue quest is never over, at least while Texas Monthly‘s Barbecue Editor, Daniel Vaughn, draws breath. Our own hunt took us to a gas-station-adjacent, stripmall storefront in Carrollton that isn’t advertised so much by its appearance as by that unmistakable aroma of smoking meat. That seasoned, tried-and-tried smoker is the only signpost Nate’s BBQ To-Go needs.
As far as hole-in-the-walls go, this is one of the holiest. There are just two tables inside, mostly for waiting, not eating, and the whole time we’re there, we see maybe four people working in the back. One of them is Nate Grubbs. Originally a California guy, Nate was a chef for 17 years with a background in everything from catering to sushi. Craving something simpler, he turned to casual, no-frills barbecue.
For a while, Nate was homeless and rumor has it that selling barbecue around Carrollton from a smoker parked on a mobile trailer got him back on his feet. These days, after the city informed him that he can’t use a trailer without the proper permits, he’s set up shop as a permanent restaurant in Carrollton. A picture of the trailer hangs on the wall of the restaurant. Wildly well-loved, Nate’s BBQ found its footing through word-of-mouth and at community events with partners like Hebron High School and even at Carrollton PD socials.
Nate is still relatively new on the barbecue scene. The menu is classically smoke-house and everything is prepared traditionally with a pit grill, using oak and pecan smoke. They serve up brisket, sausage and pork ribs until 8 p.m., or until they run out. Take special note of Fried Fish Fridays when a legendary fried catfish sandwich is offered. Everything is served in styrofoam or aluminum containers to keep warm on the drive home.
Whatever he’s doing, he’s doing it well. A fellow customer, standing next to me at the counter, says, “if I want barbecue and Nate’s isn’t open, I don’t eat barbecue.”
Nate recommends the brisket, which he slow-roasts for 18 hours. Crisp with a deep black bark, each incredible slice is full of smoky flavor and so tender it falls apart like paper in the rain; it’s no wonder it’s his bestseller. We also sample spicy smoked sausage, pork ribs, pulled pork—seasoned well with pepper—and a pecan-smoked yardbird that tears off the bone as easily as sin. A sweet, rich and frankly addictive barbecue sauce accompanies everything, along with a sprinkling of cayenne pepper and a generous dumping of sliced dill pickles. One of the two or three meat plates is probably your best bet because it’s impossible to pick a favorite, or limit yourself to just one cut. Leaving without trying Nate’s brisket borders on criminal. For someone like me who rarely goes for chicken at a barbecue place, the pecan-smoked chicken was a surprising front-runner, lighter on the stomach. Smoke is pleasantly infused down to the bone. The more said about Nate’s especially peppery pulled pork, the better; topped on a sandwich, it would be sublime, the sort of summer meal that everyone needs. The smoked sausage was expertly spiced with a flare of heat. It melts in your mouth when dunked in that sweet-as-sunshine sauce. The ribs are smoked and grilled, a little untraditional, and have a heftier, meatier texture than what you’ll find in most smokehouses. They veer away from traditional ribs, which not all baby back connoisseurs will condone. Still, they’re generous and more complex than expected, and not so adventurous that you’ll forget where you are: a serious barbecue joint where no meat is shortchanged its time in the smoker. Overall, everything was so full of perfect, charred, outdoor flavor that even without barbecue sauce, the experience was delicious, bordering on devastating. It packs an unforgettable punch.
As for sides, expect all the usual suspects: baked mac’n’cheese, green beans with thick chunks of ham, “Texas” baked beans, a satisfyingly mustardy potato salad. Surprisingly, coleslaw is not on the menu. My one regret is going too early in the day to try the homemade peach cobbler which was still in the oven.
Barbecue is a grand tradition and every state has a different creed on exactly what barbecue is—and what it most definitely isn’t. After spending my college years in Memphis, I definitely have some heated opinions of my own concerning dry rubs. But Nate doesn’t subscribe to one particular barbecue style; instead he seems to be inspired by the craft itself. The meat carries influential brushstrokes from more than a few distinct regions. In terms of preparation and taste, it’s closest to East Texas barbecue, or maybe Austin-style barbecue. It’s simply done Nate’s way. It won’t break the bank. It may break your belt—but in the best way.
Nate is one of those chefs that could be doing anything. He could return to gourmet cuisine at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas. He could be serving eel rolls and sashimi to L.A business people. Instead, he’s smoking 18-hour briskets in a suburb, playing a little fast and loose with the rules while maintaining classic in method. Even though it may not look like much, and Carollton isn’t exactly the barbecue capital of the world, Nate’s is worth your time and hunger. It’s just one of those things you’ve got to try.
Nate’s BBQ To-Go
- Sun–Tues: Closed
- Wed–Fri: 11 a.m.–8 p.m.
- Sat: 1–8 p.m.
Where: 2009 W. Hebron Pkwy., #100
More: 469.650.0614 | carrolltonbbqcatering.com
Originally published in July 2017.