It’s a new day for longtime barbecue joint Cousins in Fort Worth, with updated spaces and menus

The classic barbecue joint has changed its menu for the better, says Texas Monthly editor Daniel Vaughn.

By Casey CheekAugust 28, 2023 12:53 pm, , ,

If there’s one thing that barbecue joints – the best barbecue joints – seem to have going for them, it’s history: A lot of tradition, a lot of smoke caked up on that wall in the back.

After 40 years, a very old-school joint, Cousins BBQ in Fort Worth, is going new school, with renovated restaurants and updated menus. Daniel Vaughn, the barbecue editor for Texas Monthly, joined the Standard to share more about what customers can expect.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Tell us a little bit about this old-school barbecue joint going new school in Fort Worth. 

Daniel Vaughn: Cousins Barbecue, it’s been around for 40 years. And I mean, they were the old-school of the old-school. It’s been a classic barbecue joint for a long time, and they’ve done everything really well for a long time, but they haven’t really made a whole lot of updates to their menu until really recently.

Of course, COVID and lockdown and all of that really created quite the shake-up in the industry. Cousins sort of capitalized on that, it seems. 

Yeah, they had a lot of downtime. All their food was takeout, and so they had a bunch of empty restaurants, and they figured it was time to do some renovations.

They also had a big condiment bar, like right in the center, where people would congregate to get their pickles and onions and sauce and peppers and all that. So as you might imagine, they saw that there could be a problem with those condiment bars. So they ended up taking those out, and that one thing led to another, and they ended up doing a full renovation to several of their restaurants.

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Has this changed the flavor of the food at all, or the menu options?

Yes, for the better. You know, they renovated the space, and then they went ahead and renovated the menu, too. I went into the Bryant Irvin location in Fort Worth – and I went in just to really see how things have changed with the renovation – and I was pretty struck by how dramatic it was.

They put in a raw meat counter where you can buy steaks and briskets and all their merchandise, seasonings and all that. And then I saw the the the paper menus with, you know, all the menu written in Sharpie. And right there at the top was a New School barbecue tray.

And what’s a New School Tray?

It struck me as kind of funny to call something out like that in such an old-school spot – now, granted, right next to it is the Old School barbecue tray – but the New School, I mean, it was impressive. It had, you know, a new focus on their sausage making: Instead of just their old-school German sausage, they were introducing a jalapeño and cheese. And they’re going to continue introducing new things. They have a smoked and fried chicken wing on the menu, brisket poppers.

And then really, one of the most unique things that I’ve seen anywhere is these mac and chorizo balls. So they’re taking mac and cheese, mixing it with their housemade chorizo, breading it and deep frying it. I mean, if you have any qualms with the meat on a new school barbecue tray, this is going to be nothing but satisfaction right there.

Boy, this sounds sinful and wonderful all at the same time. So the thing about updates like this, you have so many diehards and loyalists that any kind of change can be cause for concern, if not alarm. How does this play out?

Yeah, you know, it’s like when they introduced this,  – they introduced that New School and the Old School tray – but it’s sort of like they knew that one way to sort of get around any negative takes on this was to offer some good old red meat to the folks. And that is the All You Can Meat barbecue tray, where you can spend just $25 and basically get all the barbecue you want. And you can choose whether you want some of those new school things or some of the old school stuff. But you’re certainly going to get your fill.

As someone who has taste tested barbecue across the Lone Star State, how does this new school stuff compare with the old stuff?

I mean, I think it’s a big improvement, especially with the brisket. And so much of it isn’t just about the way they’re cooking it; it’s really about the way they’re displaying it, too. In this Instagram age, where the barbecue joint can can make a picture-perfect tray for you, ready for Instagram, that’s really what they’ve done. And, you know, those slices of brisket were glistening and had a great bark on them. Same with those big old spare ribs.

Is this enough to share? I mean, I saw some pictures at Texas Monthly. It looks like a lot of food.

Yeah, I mean, it’s something that you should share. It says that it’s for two or three people; I would say four pretty easily. And that’s really what Texas barbecue is all about, right? Getting folks together and sharing a nice tray of barbecue.

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