At Hank's Smoked Briskets, BBQ smoking is a labor-of-love process 

If you're going to eat an animal, best to pay it some respect. A good way to do that is to smoke it. BBQ smoking is a labor-of-love process involving low, steady heat, moisture and precious time.

Good news: Mr. Hank Fields has time to smoke meat, so you don't have to.

For about five years now, Hank's been hauling mesquite from his east Texas homeland to the Circle City to impart a superior smoky flavor to cuts of beef, pork and chicken. His friendly take-out storefront abuts a barbershop, making Hank's the center of neighborhood action, especially on Friday nights — with all props to his BBQ grilling peer, Bar-B-Q Heaven, further south on MLK.

Hank's menu is short but emphatic. The day we came, a sign announced the availability of Hank's sloppy brisket and banana pudding — neither of which are officially on the menu. (Which you won't find online. No tweeting from Hank; he relies on word-of-mouth).

The best way to enjoy Hank's is to call your order ahead. Husband and I ate our dinners in the car by the dashboard light. Husband's Sliced Brisket ($7) was infused with soulful smoke — a knife was hardly needed. The Pulled Pork ($4) was chunky, not shredded, with a bit of fat for flavor. The Baby Back Ribs ($8/half-slab) were not too fatty. All were coated with an addictively tangy BBQ sauce.

BBQ sauces and opinions about them, are like, er, noses — everybody's got one. Hank's sauce hits the vinegar notes, with a smoky accent, and puts the sweetness in the backseat, making for a rustic, non-cloying sauce, in which my Smoked Half-Chicken ($6) was also bathed. The meat was pull-apart soft and slightly chalky, letting the sauce shine.

Hank's Mac 'n' Cheese ($1.30) was the mouse that roared. Some mac 'n' cheese is so silky it's limp, so full of Velveeta it's barely food. Hank's, in contrast, is brazen with real cheddar and a peppery snap that bites back. In addition to baked potatoes, Hank's serves Potato Latkes as a side ($1.30). Perhaps influenced by the German heritage of Texas or Indiana, Hank's Latkes are oily hash browns, served with sour cream or applesauce.

One regret: that Hank's has so few veggies to offer; mayonnaise-based coleslaw doesn't count. How's about some smoked carrots, Hank?

Well, you can get some Vitamin A from the Sweet Potato Pie ($1.75). Hank's collaborator Brenda makes all the desserts; her sweet potato pie is nice and spicy, though it's not clear the crust is homemade. Her Banana Pudding ($2.75) was a packed with whole, still-crisp Nilla wafers and some real banana hunks. Cheesecake, peach cobbler and chess pie are also available most days.

Any student of Hank's ought to explore The Big Hank ($9) — brisket, pork loin and smoked sausage layered on a buttery baked potato, with Hank's special sauce and sour cream. You won't be hungry for days.

Hank's caters, ships cross-country, sells meat by the pound, and serves folks driving great distances seeking smoky carnivore goodness. Those who live nearby have no excuse not to frequent Hank's for affordable eats that are hard to replicate.


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Anne Laker

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