Every Texan should know the truth: To get world-class, campfire quality barbecue, you must smoke your meat over wood. Period. Nothing else will do. Oh, sure, you can barbecue over gas or charcoal, but the best you can expect with these approaches is a very high level of mediocrity, and a pot-roast-esque flavor and finish. True, smoking over wood will sometimes yield inconsistent results, but when the fire is right and the wind is at your back, the finished product will often raise to the stratospheric heights that only great cuisine can achieve. Recently, a colleague of my lovely wife the Rock Star informed her that Hard Eight Barbecue in Coppell was "just like Coopers". Since Coopers is one of the sainted Barbecue Meccas of central Texas, and since its meat was once served by Lyndon Johnson at a state dinner, this statement was high praise indeed. Eager to try this year-old joint, my lovely wife and I made the drive one recent Saturday for lunch.
Hard Eight BBQ does indeed resemble the pride of Llano, Texas in many ways. The new wooden structure features outdoor pits, from whence you select your meat and have it weighed and priced before you venture inside. There, you encounter another serving line to select sides, then pay for your repast and search for a table. Also like Cooper's, Hard Eight features a pot of complimentary beans, flavored with onions and peppers and resembling a Mexican bean soup, and mostly communal seating at long wooden tables with attached, backless seats. (If you desire privacy, do not despair, as there are several fourtops you can nab unless the place is really crowded.) After selecting our self-serve soda and tea (the latter you can get sweet or unsweet, just like......do you sense a theme here?), my bride and I selected space near the smallish central bar, and got down to business.
As good as Coopers? Not quite, although Coopers has been serving for over fifty years, and thus had a chance to perfect their art. My wife loved her brisket, which was indeed moist and tender. (Dry brisket can be an unfortunate byproduct of an improperly-tended fire.) She enjoyed the turkey as well, since she is a fiend for the gobbler, but felt it did not match Rudy's or Louis Mueller's turkey for quality. Pork ribs were the standout for me, thick, meaty and thoroughly tender, although they could have used just a bit more smokiness. However, the campfire quality and texture was very much in evidence, and we dined heartily. Potato salad was thick as well and loaded with mustard, which may be too much for some, although we devoured every last bite. We also tried the cornbread dressing, also loaded with peppers, and found it pleasing but slightly dry. Hard Eight's standard sauce is their weakest link, being overly sweet, but a little exploration of the condiment tray yielded a bottle of Hard Eight Pepper Sauce, which delivered much more flavor and a sizeable kick. Use with caution. After dining under the watchful eyes of mounted game heads, we wrapped up leftovers and took our satisfied leave.
SERVICE AND WEBSITE
Self-service is Texas-friendly and quite charming, and the pit boss (and owner?) stopped by himself to wish us a happy Saturday. Website is www.hardeightbbq.com, but cannot be accessed at this writing as the site owner has temporarily exceeded his available bandwidth. Hopefully, this will soon be rectified. Hard Eight, unlike many bbq joints, is open throughout the day and into the night, and even features some very attractive Happy Hour specials, if you are so inclined.
Little by little, North Texas barbecue is hopefully coming of age, and Hard Eight Barbecue gives it a gentle nudge in that very direction. Discover its wood-fired goodness for yourself, and remember:
LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR MEDIOCRE FOOD!!!