Barbecue With A Side Of Rings

In the Panhandle, onion rings go great with that plate of smoked meat.

By Casey CheekSeptember 28, 2017 9:33 pm,

You’ve probably heard of Cadillac Ranch – the Stonehenge of northernmost Texas. But what about the rings of the Panhandle? The question is: are those rings real? Or are they simply too good to be true?

Daniel Vaughan, barbecue editor of Texas Monthly, has been on the case for, and he reports that stories about the mysterious rings of the Panhandle are true. Yes, these onion rings really do pair unusually well with our state’s most famous main course: barbecue.

“You can find some onion rings here and there, but in the Panhandle every spot has onion rings. And they have glorious, golden onion rings,” he says.

Just what makes an onion ring glorious, though? Typical Texas onion rings, according to Vaughn, are thick cut and battered with flour.

“They’re flaky. It all kind of flakes off. And they’re a little bit crunchy,” he says.

Vaughn says the onion rings in Ohio, where he grew up, tend to have fluffy, tempera-style shells and skinnier onions in the middle – the kind of rings that you can pull the onions out of if you prefer the crispy shell by itself.

“That’s that kind of style of onion ring that you don’t find in too many places in Texas, but up in the Panhandle it’s like every one of the barbecue places has an onion ring just like that,” he says.

These thin, tender onion rings, Vaughn posits, are superior to the thicker ones we see in Central Texas. And he has a theory as to how they spread across the panhandle.

“The first time I went to Dyer’s in Pampa – this was quite a few years back – I tried the onion rings there, and they served us a little side of apricot puree as well to go along with everything. And I asked somebody there where these onion rings and where this side of apricots came from, and they were like, ‘I don’t know, I think we’re the only ones who do it.’ And then about 30 minutes later I was in Borger, Texas at Sutphen’s, sat down, ordered up the exact same onion rings and the exact same apricot puree. So, what I came to find out later, is that Sutphen’s actually helped out the owners of Dyer’s when they opened up in Pampa and Amarillo. So they helped them by sharing a few of the recipes so they have very similar onion rings. And a lot of the newer places that are opening up there, they’re kind of taking on this onion ring tradition as well.”

Unfortunately for Texans outside of the Panhandle, we have yet to have a restaurant come along and raise the status quo on onion rings. For now, the clumpy, floury thick cut ring reigns supreme. Vaughn says this may be because it’s far easier to throw a frozen onion ring into a fryer than to produce Panhandle-style rings.

This all begs the question: can you find the superior, Panhandle-style rings around these parts?

“If you’re in Dallas there’s David’s Barbecue. It’s run by a guy who was in the Bryan barbecue family. He ran one of the Red Bryan’s and they still have a similar onion ring, so you can get that iconic ribs and onion ring platter that you would find in the panhandle right here in Arlington.”