What’s a chain? Any restaurant that has more than two or three locations. There are exceptions to everything, of course – but I generally won’t patronize one, let alone recommend them. Too much potential variation in quality to be sure of where I’m sending people, and most barbecue brands suffer in expansion. Every once in a while, someone who doesn’t know my feelings on the subject will suggest a chain (and not infrequently, really bad ones). I respond poorly.
Usually, I feel pity for those folks. Not only do they really not know what’s any good, but they apparently have never tried that many places that don’t offer big yellow complimentary cups.
No, I love the anti-chain barbecue restaurant. The one by the railroad tracks where you catch the scent of creosote and not corporate. A gravel parking lot is a plus. Picnic benches and birds singing outside rather than a fancy seating areas and blaring faux Bro Country. Personally, I’d rather sit in the rain – and have. Places where people serve up greatness for love more than money, and it shows. The kind of joint where you’re happy to wait if you need to, because you know your wait will be rewarded with wonderful. That kind of place.
Hello, Smoke Sessions.
Like a lot of great pitmasters, Chad Sessions will flat tell you he wasn’t very good at it when he started. He got better. Oh man, did he get better. Born in nearby Rockwall, Sessions lived for a time in Central Texas – which is where he understandably caught the barbecue bug. After about ten years, Chad and wife Jessica came back north with his smoking technique fully realized. Three years ago the couple built a small trailer, quit their jobs, set up their wonder-wagon in Royse City, and that’s where they’ve been cooking up a storm ever since.
Originally just down the road in the parking lot of a feed store, Smoke Sessions now sits on a piece of property barely west of downtown – just a short hitch off of I-30. Sessions is now turning dirt there for a future brick & mortar restaurant and the old trailer has been replaced by a newer, bigger one – but right now simple is definitely the word.
And the food is simply awesome.
I visited Smoke Sessions on a particularly raw day, but I like those because they tend to make the woodsmoke just smell even better. Grabbing my order, I settled onto a picnic bench and enjoyed my lunch on the table before me. Look, I don’t mind. If the barbecue is good, being cold and wet doesn’t bother me a bit – but this day, I forgot about the weather even faster than usual.
For starters, smoked beef brisket just doesn’t get any better than what Chad Sessions produces. The peppery goodness immediately knocked away the afternoon chill. Amateurs such as I spend lifetimes trying to figure out how to smoke a brisket that moist and flavorful, and nearly swoon when we find it done to perfection. I came close to fainting. Sessions doesn’t scrimp on the servings, either. I had enough left over to take home and make a sandwich for dinner hours later – and reheated it was still as rich and juicy as anything most folks ever bring off the smoker fresh. I even stopped to take a photo of Chad’s rig, just as a tourist in Santa Croce might want a pic of Casa Buonaratti. If you visit Michelangelo’s studio, you want to be able to say you stood where he painted.
And leave us not scoot past that spicy garlic & pepper jack sausage. Each bite is serenely crackling skin, snappy stuffing, and gooey cheesy greatness. ‘Took some of that home, too. Then there’s the smoked mac & cheese, which everyone seems to offer these days but no one does better. The brisket beans? A hearty helping of lusciously tender legumes set off with chunks of that smoked prime Angus beef brisket.
Oh, and that potato salad? The right adjectives for it haven’t been invented. Just looking at the menu board you might think, “Oh, look. Potato salad” – because that’s all it says. Just potato salad. Well, you could call Willie’s Red Headed Stranger just an album – but that doesn’t quite get it.
I’m of a mind that most of the best barbecue joints you’ll ever find are the ones where you pull in to park and leave with mud on your fenders. That guy in the trailer poking fire with hopes of one day opening an honest-to-goodness restaurant with a roof and real doors? He’s a dreamer – and odds are the food he makes is, well…dreamy. How I happened to hit Smoke Sessions when there wasn’t a line three Royse City-blocks long, I’ll never know – but I think you’ll love it, too.
Smoke Sessions Barbecue is located at 307 W Highway 66 a few blocks from downtown Royse City, and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11am until 8pm.