Low and Slow with Whole Jalapeños at Hard Eight BBQ
There are three locations of the Hard Eight BBQ in Texas, but the first one was started in the little town of Stephenville in 2003. It's named for a small whitetail ranch in Brady, Texas, that the owners named “Hard-Eight Whitetail Ranch” after a huge 8-point buck that became its mascot (and well, because they like playing craps in Vegas).
Outside in the vast parking lot, there's a huge woodpile that fuels the outdoor barbecue pit underneath the wood covering. You point, the pitmaster piles on juicy pork ribs and brisket, and you head in for sides, the best being the Hard 8 Beans (free!), cooked low and slow with enough whole jalapeños that every eight or so people could probably pick out their own. Pop open one of those peppers and shovel the spoonfuls in one after another. You'll be surrounded by locals, few BBQ tourists, and real folk with cowboy hats. And for these reasons this dish made my list of most memorable meals of 2011.