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Ken's Hickory Pit

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Destiny is the force that some people think controls what happens in the future, and which cannot be influenced by people.  I’m not sure that applies to my maiden trip to Ken’s Hickory Pit Barbecue, but it certainly was a long time in the making.

Around 15 years ago, a lifelong friend of mine married a chemical engineer who worked around the Tarrant/Pinson area.  He mentioned this place near his work that served great barbecue and even better breakfasts, but I was never up there during either of those times.  That stretch of Pinson Valley Parkway is heavy industry, so I had very little reason to travel it.  That doesn’t mean I was totally unfamiliar with it.  I did find myself making the occasional trip to Locust Fork or Cleveland or any of the other small towns dotting that highway.  In my earliest travels, I remember seeing a little barbecue shack on the side of the road.  It was nothing fancy, very small and a gravel lot, but there was something attractive about it.

My brain must have filed that away deep in its recesses, because when I began this barbecue project another friend asked if I’d been to Ken’s.  I hadn’t yet but after a decade and a half that memory was brought to the forefront.  My post-visit text exchange with him went like this…

Him: So how did you like the beans at Ken’s BBQ?

Me: Ken’s is one of the best surprises I’ve had at an unfamiliar restaurant.  Everything I had was unique and really good.

Him: Did you try the pie?

Me: I didn’t. Which kind do you recommend because I will be going back.

Him: Can’t go wrong with any flavor you are feeling.  Also, did you get the triple combo and try the sausage and chicken?

Me: My first trip is always pulled pork and baked beans. You’re getting me fired up to go back.  

Him: Those baked beans have some kick and are about the best I’ve found.

Eating at Ken’s was one of the best barbecue surprises I’ve ever had.  I wasn’t prepared for everything to be so good.  It wasn’t just that everything was good, everything was different.  Every item on my plate, the pork, baked beans, mac n cheese, potato salad, sauce, each had something unique that made it unfamiliar, yet completely recognizable.  I pontificate because I don’t know how to put it into words.  Let me try this…YUMMY!!!

Visually the pork was stunning!  There was a beautiful smoke ring that accentuated a variety of color, from gentle pink to the rich darkness of the bark.  I love the texture a well-done bark provides, adding a break from everything being soft.  Each bite was tender and moist with a strong, smoke-forward flavor.  I also swiped a few bites of my coworkers chicken when he tapped out before finishing. It was cut into chunks to help maintain its juicy texture.  It’s really impressive to smoke something so heavily yet not dry it out.  The quality is so good I could have eaten it without any sauce, but the sauce they serve is really different.  It’s dark brown and thick, almost like a gravy.  The base is tomato as it has an astringent undertone and is lightly spiced but well-seasoned and flavorful.

The baked beans my friend raved about delivered.  They were soft with a rich, thick sauce that hit you with a bit of heat on the back end.  There was a spice I couldn’t identify which delivered a unique flavor that was good but different from anything I’ve had before.  The mac n cheese was a soft noodle with its own cheese blend, yet another original take on a popular item.  The potato salad had a nice size cut on the potatoes, which I prefer for a hearty texture.  They were in a creamy blend of mayo and mustard that brought a nice tang and balanced out the textures with just the right measure of diced celery, relish and pimentos.  Three sides and a helping of pulled pork is a lot of food and everything delivered across all the senses.

Ken’s is classic backyard barbecue with character.  It’s the kind of meal you’d expect to get at Grandma’s.  No frills, just hearty, comforting food.  Don’t be like me and wait decades to make a dedicated trip.  Go now and you’ll love that you did.

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