Pot Luck

Buffalo Beef: Dickey’s Barbecue vs. Longhorn Bar-B-Que & Café

H. Dean Hopkins fires up the smoker
Somebody told me to check out Dickey’s Barbecue in Buffalo. There was a billboard on I-45 about halfway between Houston and Dallas that said “Dickey’s Barbecue Since 1941.” I thought it might be an old traditional barbecue joint. And I was hungry, so I turned off the highway for lunch.

Turns out it’s a franchise. The guy behind the counter told me they used an Old Hickory barbecue pit, which is one of those stainless steel virtual barbecue contraptions that cooks with gas or electric heat with a little bit of smoke.

I got a mushy brisket sandwich to go and ate it in my car. I couldn’t detect any smoke aroma or flavor. While I was sitting there eating my crappy sandwich, I stared into the adjacent parking lot. I watched a guy over there remove a blue plastic tarp from an outbuilding to reveal an honest-to-god Texas barbecue pit. He started loading it up as I watched.

Photos by Robb Walsh

The brisket sandwich at Longhorn Bar-B-Que in Buffalo
So I put down the Dickey’s sandwich and walked over to talk to him. His name was H. Dean Hopkins. The barbecue joint was called Longhorn Bar-B-Que & Café. The dining room was in a trailer up front. He said his wife, Karen Hopkins, owned the place.

H. Dean Hopkins was seasoning 24 briskets to cook overnight in anticipation of a big motorcycle rally that was taking place the next day. He said he cooked his briskets from eight to 12 hours, depending on how the firewood was burning. And he had a huge pile of oak ready to go.

“Go around back of Dickey’s and look at their woodpile,” he told me. “They burn one log a night.” He had no doubt that Dickey’s did a lot more business than Longhorn Bar-B-Que. But Longhorn was selling all the meat he could smoke, so there was no reason to complain.

The barbecue franchise next door
I went inside and got one of Longhorn’s sliced brisket sandwiches. It was made with a brisket that had been hanging around for a while, so it was good, but not stellar. But it did have a nice smokey flavor and it tasted a helluva a lot better than the sandwich I got at Dickey’s.

I assumed that the Longhorn had been there for a while and that the Dickey’s franchise had come along and ruined their business, but I had it all wrong. Karen Hopkins’s barbecue joint was the oldest in Buffalo all right, but it was originally on the other side of town. She moved her restaurant right next to Dickey’s shortly after the much-advertised franchise opened, she told me.

And her business has been a lot better ever since. – Robb Walsh

Longhorn Bar-B-Que & Café, 2636 W. Commerce St. (Highway 79 West), 903-322-4848

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