3924 Airport Way S
Seattle, WA 98108
My belief in BBQ reviews is to not do a full review unless I’ve visited a place at least three times, and preferably at various times of day. This is the only way to get a fair representation of their product. I’ve had great barbecue on one visit only to have mediocre on a second, and vice versa. While inconsistency is definitely a negative, knocking it out of the park with a few slices on one day doesn’t mean they can produce that quality every day.
However, I don’t have the budget or free time to eat multiple times everywhere I visit, so I will title one-visit reviews as “first impression” so that I provide full disclosure regarding the review. Case in point was my visit in December of 2015 to Jack’s BBQ in Seattle.
NOTE: I apologize for the photo quality. I was unable to bring my large camera and my phone did not do well in the rain.
It was a cold, dreary, rainy day in Seattle when I pulled into the parking lot at Jack’s BBQ. By the way, I totally get the grunge music scene now. While the people in the area were very friendly, the environment here totally jibes with grunge. I missed the sun and had only been there three days at that point and was already humming Temple of the Dog tunes.
I was in the area for work and wanted to try some real Texas style barbecue. If you don’t know me, I’m not too much of a general foodie, so while I do eat much more than barbecue, eat finer dining, and explore my boundaries, I just can’t pass up a potentially good barbecue joint. Now I don’t go out and try every little spot I can – I don’t have the budget for that, but when a place has a good reputation or I have a referral from someone I trust, I will seek out Texas style barbecue when traveling. Ironically less than two months prior, Houston Chronicle contributor and #houbbq guy JC Reid praised Jack’s BBQ in Seattle for their Texas rooted barbecue.
What is “real” Texas style barbecue? Unfortunately “real”, “authentic”, and “genuine” get thrown around all the time in relation to barbecue. There is no public definition of what any of those mean and you can see the same words ranging from strip center gas-only joints to large chains that still go to the trouble of using 100% wood. Real Texas style barbecue to me means the following general guidelines:
- Texas based woods used (Oak, Mesquite, and/or Pecan). Pit can be Southern Pride/Ole Hickory, 100% wood coals acceptable
- Meats seasoned with rub, preferably made primarily of salt and pepper
- Bark left on the meat (although East Texas joints often remove it)
- Brisket offered in “moist” cuts from the point and “lean” cuts from the flat upon request
- Bread is a free side, and most often simple store bought white bread
- At a minimum the “Texas Trinity” meats should be served; brisket, pork spare ribs, and sausage
That’s really about it. There are other things I prefer, but don’t eliminate a joint in my opinion, and certainly there are exceptions within Texas. One could argue over more variances but I feel that none of these would be exclusive to what I would consider to be Texas style as both are practiced across the state: low and slow vs hot and fast, 100% wood vs Southern Pride/Ole Hickory, sauced meat vs sauce on the side.
My work was centered north of Seattle but I needed to visit a customer south of the city in Kent. This meant I would pass near Jack’s BBQ so I worked my schedule to allow for a lunch stop. Jack’s is located in SoDo or South Downtown which means an industrial area that is in the process of being gentrified. This is straight out of the South Park episode wherein SoDaSoPa is featured. Jack’s is not in a bad location in reality, it’s a very short drive from downtown and was relatively easy to access from the nearest freeway, it just reminded me of that episode, especially when I saw the sign for “Sodo Pizza”. Just around the corner is the Old Ranier Brewery which has been renovated into “work lofts” and “live work lofts”, similar to the re-purposing of the Pearl Brewery in San Antonio.
Texas as a character is larger than life. It is easy to amplify the theme further by loading an establishment up with kitschy and garish memorabilia. This was what I was afraid of as I walked in the doors at opening time; I was expecting everyone to be wearing hats and boots with random Texas related items adorning the walls. Texas Roadhouse, which ironically is not based out of Texas, plays on the Texas theme without really honoring Texas or her traditions – I don’t recall the wait staff busting into a line dance at any of my normal haunts. Yes, I am aware that they do at Joe’s Crab Shack but that’s a large chain. Just the previous day I had eaten at Jimmy Mac’s Roadhouse and on the way out noticed a truck-bumper bench with Texas license plates and Texas bumper stickers, but again it was a marketing tool rather than an homage.
That’s a lot of words just to get to the point that Jack’s BBQ is a respectful tribute to Texas barbecue and the references are not simply to create an artificial atmosphere. Jack Timmons and staff bring quality Texas style barbecue to Seattle. One of their pits was even purchased in Houston and hauled out to the location.
Pricing here is a little on the high side compared to Texas, but not unreasonable considering geographic location and the fact that they bring in mesquite wood which is not native to the north west. Brisket at $20 a pound is comparable to a couple of joints in the Austin area but is a 10-20% premium over the general Texas pricing.
However, consider the economic environment. In Seattle the minimum wage is currently $11, and is planned to reach $15. I paid $2.80 for a gallon of regular unleaded (compared to $1.60 I paid in Houston the same week), and a quarter pounder with cheese at a Seattle McDonalds ran me just over $5 with tax. That was just the hamburger itself. Given that environment I think $20 for a pound of mesquite wood smoked brisket is definitely within reason.
The menu price for a three meat plate at Jack’s was a bit pricey at $25 but it was a hearty plate of meat and sides. The pricing for the same varies wildly in Texas, ranging from $14.95 at Roegels to $19.50 at Stiles Switch just as two examples. There is no definition or standard of how much meat is included on such a plate, so don’t assume the pricing is even comparable though. A number of joints don’t even offer such a plate. Based on Jack’s location and the preparation costs there I would still say it is not entirely out of whack.
One option that looked tempting was the $23 “Taste of Texas”, a slice of brisket, 1 rib, one piece of chicken, a half sausage, and pulled pork. While I debated for a moment I really wanted a larger portion of brisket so I went with the Texas Trinity. This type of sampler plate would be a welcome addition at many Texas joints, although some do allow purchase of single slices and single ribs but providing a menu option would open up the idea to others. Arriving on Thursday I also missed out on Tuesday’s beef rib day, and Wednesday’s lamb.
When the plate arrived I scanned the meats for color and texture, and all passed the test. First up was the brisket, cooked very well with nicely rendered fat and plenty of pepper in the rub it was good. I’d say in the range of the TMBBQ top 50 (at least the 2013 list) which is pretty impressive. Next I grabbed a pork rib and as it neared my mouth my nostrils flared as I inhaled. I was treated to a great smoky scent as I bit into the nicely smoked meat. This was not a rib heavily basted with sauce, or coated with a spicy dry rub, it was just about perfect (for me) Texas style. What that means to me is a moist exterior primarily of salt and pepper but with a few hints of other mild spices. This would be my favored bite of the meal and I enjoyed them greatly. The sausage was good, but I am spoiled on house made sausage from some of the best joints in the world so it is hard to impress me. The sides where decent although they didn’t jump off my plate.
All in all, this would make a solid joint in Texas and from my limited experience West of the Pecos it is one of the better joints I’ve been to.
If you happen to be in the Seattle area and have a hankering for Texas barbecue, check out Jack’s BBQ. It’s good eatin’.