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After spending last year at home, we’re ready to gas up the car and go somewhere. BBQ Road Trip is a series in which we take a day trip to visit barbecue spots outside of Dallas just in time for summer road trip season.
Point of order: Interstate 20 doesn’t go through Tyler. It skirts north of the city, so saying the interstate delivers anything more than a glancing blow would be a stretch. I’ve made this drive more times than I can recall in over two decades of living in Texas, but stops in the Rose Capital of America have been rare. So when you, like me, take a trip to Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q in Tyler, let this be your reminder: There are still 11 or so miles of driving to go after you leave the interstate and make your way into downtown Tyler to the legendary barbecue spot.
Sitting quietly in the corner and a bit obscured by a pickle and onion ring, the simple scoop of potato salad on the left is worth a trip in itself.
“Famous” isn’t some casually applied descriptor; Stanley’s has been a fixture on these grounds for more than 60 years. When J.D. Stanley took over what had been a barbecue spot for two previous owners in the late 1950s, it would have been hard to imagine how the world would have changed around it over the years. Stanley’s has grown over time, but step inside the black-painted brick building and order at the counter; the tray of barbecue goodness that arrives at your table is all you need to understand why this spot has such staying power.
We didn’t have to wait long for our order to arrive. Sandwiches dominate the menu at Stanley’s, but ordering by the half-pound is the way to the classic barbecue hits. We went with a half-pound of sliced fatty brisket ($13.50) and another half-pound of sausage ($8.50), along with a side of red-skinned potato salad ($2.19). We also wanted to try some pulled pork, so we ordered it via a taco for just $3.29.
The moist brisket is just what we had hoped; a generous amount of rendered fat lies just under the obsidian bark and melts in the mouth along with the smoky beef. The sausage is equally impressive. Its casing snaps perfectly with each bite and the ground meat blend spiced with a perfect level of zing. Also, we’re aware this is BBQ Road Trip and not Potato Salad Road Trip, but Stanley’s red-skinned staple, topped with a pickle and raw onion ring, is damn near worth the drive on its own.
You can make your own barbecue love letter on a slice of white bread just like we did.
Don’t stop with just meats alone. Grab a slice of white bread (four came on our tray unprompted) along with some of Stanley’s hot barbecue sauce, available by the napkins and utensils. Spread out a few pieces of protein of your choice, then drizzle some of the kicked-up barbecue sauce on top. Throw a pickle slice on top if you’re feeling extra creative. Fold up your creation, take a bite and begin mentally wording your thank you note to us.
For less than $4, there’s no reason not to add one of Stanley’s tacos to your order. Our pulled pork sample came on a flour tortilla generously stuffed with juicy and flavorful pork. It was topped with cheese, sliced cabbage, guacamole, pico and salsa verde that made each bite a delight. Two tacos would make more than a hearty lunch for all but the heaviest of appetites.
Tacos from Stanley’s, like this pulled pork example, should be considered a must-order.
Stanley’s sprawling patio has grown over the years and now includes an air-conditioned bar area with plenty of seating, as well as a wide variety of bourbons, beers and cocktails. The rest of the mostly-covered seating area meanders around the grounds, making Stanley’s feel cozy in a way that belies its size.
Just get there early; by the time we left, a line was already forming on the sidewalk waiting for lunch. For locals and visitors alike, Stanley’s is an institution that we would love to visit no matter the drive. None of us should be surprised if they’re still smoking away in another 60 years.
Stanley’s Famous Pit BBQ, 525 S. Beckham Avenue, Tyler. Open 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Monday – Saturday
Road Trip Details
From downtown Dallas, you’re just 98 miles from Stanley’s in Tyler, and that can be a sub-two-hour drive. Unfortunately, getting out of a 10-year relationship can be easier than getting out of Dallas to head east. U.S. 80 through east Dallas and Mesquite, in particular, can be a handful, particularly near the I-635 interchange. Interstate 20 and U.S. 175 to the south are serviceable alternatives, but U.S. 175 doesn’t pass by Buc-Ees, so chose wisely.
Making A Day Of It
First Monday in Canton is billed as the world’s largest flea market, held once a month in Canton. Usually running from Thursday-Sunday (somehow, the Monday has been excluded, although it’s still part of the name), the massive array of artists, resellers, and various peddlers is something that truly needs to be experienced to consider yourself a Texan. We swung through Canton via TX-64 on our way back from Tyler, and it’s an easy 35 miles that’s perfectly on the way.
The only thing better than barbecue and a beverage would be some live music to go with it. Stanley’s has you covered. Plan your visit around Stanley’s live music calendar and catch local and regional acts as they pass through East Texas. Some shows are free, while others require advance tickets. Just know that some food choices may sell out before your show.
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