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A platter of ribs, brisket, turkey, sliced bread, beans, potato salad, and other sides on a red and white checked tablecloth.

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At Goldee’s Bar-B-Q in Fort Worth, Come for the Brisket, Make Friends in the Line

The act of waiting in line for barbecue is a rite of passage — an expectation when trying the best of the best — and one of the purest, most distilled forms of food culture and community in Texas

It was 10 a.m. on a Saturday. After a health scare and close bout with COVID-19, my husband and I found ourselves staying with family in Fort Worth — around four hours from our home in Houston. Texas Monthly’s anticipated barbecue list had just come out, and at the top of the list was Goldee’s Bar-B-Q, a relatively new spot opened by five 20-somethings just up the road. What better way to cement our newfound freedom than to enjoy some top-notch barbecue while we were there?

“Let’s go,” I said excitedly, but my husband, a native Texan, looked at me like I had two heads.

Now?” he said, looking at the time.

We’d be waiting in line for hours, he explained. There’d be no guarantee that we’d get barbecue if we arrived so late. Plus, it was cold, and we needed lawn chairs to wait in line.

Lawn chairs? This was getting ridiculous, I thought. A quick trip to get some brisket was turning into a full-blown project, but we needed a game plan, he said. Waiting for barbecue — especially a top-rated place — takes planning.

Customers stand under an awning in line outside Goldee’s. Some sit in camp chairs or cradle beers in their hands.
Barbecue seekers at some of Texas’s most lauded meat joints will camp out for hours — lawn chairs and all — in hopes of getting a taste of the best of the best.

So, that night, I set my alarm, and on a frigid Sunday morning in Fort Worth, we packed our Snuggies and the lawn chairs, too, and headed for Goldee’s — two whole hours before it opened. Upon arriving, there was already a line, and an open Yeti cooler full of cans of Goldee’s golden ale welcomed those waiting, braving the chilly weather for a taste of 2021’s No. 1 Texas barbecue.

For some Texans, waiting in line for barbecue is a nuisance — a tradition they’re willing to avoid by forgoing a visit for weeks, or even months, until the lines die down. But for others, the act of waiting in line for barbecue is a rite of passage — an expectation when trying the best of the best — and one of the purest, most distilled forms of food culture and community within the Lone Star State.

Two men in hats stand at a card table pouring colorful drinks into plastic cups for customers waiting in line at Goldee’s Bar-B-Q
The team at Goldee’s passes out free drinks for folks waiting in line for barbecue on a cold morning in February.

Collectively members of the line had traveled thousands of miles, all waiting to see whether Goldee’s — and Texas barbecue in general — was worth the hype.

At these Texas smokehouses, particularly those praised by major publications like Texas Monthly, the lines are part of the territory, owners say: Closing hours are based on when the food sells out, and unless folks arrive early, there’s little guarantee they’ll get what they came for. Of course, there are some workarounds: Guests can often skip the line by purchasing a full brisket that costs upward of $150.

A makeshift sign written on brown paper and taped to plywood advertises “Skip the Line! Buy a Whole Brisket $165” in black ink.
While some are willing to pay top-dollar to avoid the line and purchase a whole brisket, travelers from around the world find camaraderie in barbecue lines.

That morning, there was already a cast of characters gathering in expectation of a meat feast: a podiatrist who traveled just 15 minutes, a group from the United Kingdom, and a barbecue business owner from Oregon. For Ben Bacher, owner of Expedition BBQ in Alaska, it was the second time visiting Goldee’s in three weeks, where he volunteered at least 12 hours of cooking in exchange for learning the ins and outs of Texas barbecue — skills that he’d no doubt take back home to Alaska.

People sit bundled up in camp chairs in front of a painted sign of a pig that says “Goldee’s BBQ” in bubble letters.
Customers arrive, sometimes hours before opening, in order to secure a spot in line before sell-out.
A brown dog wearing a bandana sits on the lap of a woman in a camp chair in the Goldee’s Bar-B-Q line.
Plan ahead: Bring a lawn chair, set an early alarm, bring warm clothes and blankets — and don’t forget a cute dog.

Another man had trekked an hour from Palmer — his fifth trip after several unsuccessful attempts thwarted by long lines and sold-out barbecue, or, in one case, because the restaurant was closed.

“This is the closest I’ve ever been,” he told us while standing no more than 20 people from the door. “The other times have been packed.”

Goldee’s co-founder Jonny White, 27, and his four partners are still getting used to the fanfare.

Johnny White wears a hat and a tye-dye blue shirt and leans on a chair in the empty dining room looking out the window at a gathering crowd.
Jonny White, who co-founded Goldee’s in early 2020, observes the enormous line of customers gathering outside the doors ahead of opening. Months after Texas Monthly named it the top barbecue destination in the state, Goldee’s continues to draw upward of 200 people to Fort Worth to try the food.

The group, who all lived in Austin before moving to Fort Worth to open their spot, got their start working at other popular barbecue joints throughout Texas, including Austin’s Franklin Barbecue, the now-closed Freedmen’s Bar, Truth BBQ in Houston, and 2M Smokehouse in San Antonio. Before establishing their own lauded smoked-meat destination, they too traveled to hundreds of barbecue places, waiting in line to try the best of the best, not knowing that they’d one day open their own, White says.

A man in a Goldee’s had stands behind the counter slicing brisket.
Employees slice meat to-order and pack sides into plastic containers at Goldee’s.

“It wasn’t until we were 21, and we all had jobs at different barbecue places, that we felt like we knew a lot about barbecue in general,” he said.

White says before the Texas Monthly article, the barbecue joint was largely dead — selling maybe six briskets a day. The five owners opened to modest fanfare in 2020, naming the spot after the gold Ford truck that pulled their pit. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing them to serve barbecue curbside for a year.

“It was the worst timing ever,” says White, adding that his crew was just getting their footing, building their name and a brand within the community. But after a year and a half of grappling with the pandemic, their luck changed. Vaccines emerged, helping more people feel comfortable venturing out to their local businesses in person, and in October 2021, the Texas Monthly list was published.

The announcement came as a surprise to the partners.

“We didn’t get a heads-up,” says White, who saw a leaked list the day before its official release. “It was wild. We just started laughing, and we were really happy. ... We were just ready to start working.”

But they couldn’t have prepared for the response. On the first day of service after publication, around 300 people flooded the restaurant, swamping its 35-spot parking lot and snaking out onto the streets.

A customer grins past the camera in front of the checkout counter at Goldee’s.
Goldee’s works to make the line as comfortable as possible with free beer, water, and succulent samples of burnt ends — amenities that pass the time and make things feel like they’re moving faster, says Jonny White.
A man in a red beanie grabs a bottled water from a refrigerator while balancing a platter of barbecue in the other hand.
Goldee’s frequently sells out by 3 p.m.

“It was really scary. People were walking on the two-way road, parking way down the street. It was nuts,” White says. Suddenly, the 10 briskets Goldee’s sold per day quickly increased to around 50. To the dismay of locals who would come by every weekend, lines populated by people from around the world became a mainstay. Even today, months after the article’s debut, Goldee’s draws upward of 200 people to Fort Worth, traversing a two-lane country road until they reach the makeshift “BBQ” sign. White says the barbecue joint sells out daily by 3 p.m. during the week, sometimes earlier on the weekend.

Goldee’s works to make the line as comfortable as possible with free beer, water, and succulent samples of burnt ends — amenities that pass the time and make things feel like they’re moving faster, says White. But the owners are also adamant about sticking to the mission of serving the freshest food possible, all cut to order to avoid the meat drying out and oxidizing, he says.

A person holds up a huge beef rib.
Goldee’s ensures that customers who wait, get a fresh cut of meat to avoid oxidization — and disappointment.

Goldee’s owners also go the extra mile, serving the meats to customers themselves. A cheeky sign says “no meanies” at the front. “We want to talk to every customer and make sure they’re having a good time,” White says.

After two hours in line, a couple of beers, a sneak peek at the pit room, a teasing sample, and several conversations with people who traveled far and wide to be there that day, we finally reached the finish line, and the barbecue was top-notch — tender and savory brisket, toothsome ribs with a hint of sweetness, creamy jalapeno cheddar grits, and juicy sausage. But we left with more than just full bellies.

A group of mens commune around a table to eat a platter of barbecue.
Customers travel from around the world to partake in the barbecue ritual at Goldee’s.

By the end, we had taken selfies with new friends, exchanged information and shared plates with people in line, and traded cooking tips and barbecue experiences. Though planning for this barbecue took some work, it’s clear that the experience at Goldee’s is about more than eating. It’s about the camaraderie in the line, and how this place had inspired people all over the world to travel here to trade barbecue notes and sample what’s deemed the best.

And what White says is true. “For the good barbecue, you have to wait in a pretty long line.”

Hands use plastic forks and knives to scoop of potato salad and brisket from a platter at Goldee’s.
At Goldee’s, expect tender and savory brisket, toothsome ribs with a hint of sweetness, creamy jalapeno cheddar grits, and juicy sausage.
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