FORNEY, Texas — For no apparent reason, Mike Thomas purchased his first smoker at the Texas State Fair in 1988.
“I didn’t have a need for it, I didn’t have a use for it, I just wanted it,” he said.
Nearly 30 years later, with the support of his wife, Cyndi, and her sought-after pecan pies, Thomas has landed a spot on the coveted list of Top 50 Barbecue Joints in Texas which is published by the Texas Monthly magazine every four years.
Forney is known as the Antique Capital of Texas and that’s where Thomas first made his mark on the barbecue scene — catering and selling barbecue at the Clements Antique’s auctions where he was employed at the time.
Over the years, Thomas’ hobby continued growing as he began selling barbecue out of a small stand in Forney’s Antique Row in the early 1990’s. A decade later, and with an entire new career field behind him, Thomas upgraded to a food service truck.
Still part-time, Thomas would pop-up shop near Wendy Lane where he was known, by those lucky enough to arrive before he was sold out, for his weekend barbecue.
It would be years later, 2010 in fact, due to the lack of available restaurant lease space in Forney, that the Thomas’ would open 4-T’s BBQ on Broad Street where they remain today — with a few improvements including the restaurant’s expansion and renovated outdoor seating and patio area where the old 1988 smoker is displayed and occasionally lit for duty.
With over 2,200 barbecue restaurants in Texas, according to data compiled by CHD Experts in 2015, 4-T’s BBQ’s inclusion on Texas Monthly’s list truly puts Forney on the BBQ map.
4-T’s BBQ is one of only seven locations in North Texas to make the cut.
Inclusion on the Top 50 list is something the Thomas’ say recognizes their hard work, determination, and commitment to producing the best barbecue daily.
“What we’re doing is a craft, we feel like it’s an art, to a degree” said Thomas.
Two key events provided a turning point for Thomas — a cross-Texas barbecue road trip with Cyndi in 2015 and Meat Fight, a Texas barbecue competition benefiting the National MS Society, in 2016.
Thomas says he met the likes of Tootsie Tomanetz and Kerry Bexley of Snow’s BBQ, No. 1 on the list, among other legendary pitmasters such as Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller Barbecue, No. 5, and Roy Perez of Kruez Market in Lockhart, Texas, Stephen Joseph of Riverport Bar-B-Cue, and Travis Heim of Heim BBQ.
“Those guys inspired me to turn out the best product I could turn out,” he said.
Cyndi attributes their success to fresh, scratch cooking.
“When people come to eat with us we can honestly say this is ours,” she said.
The homemade BBQ sauce, homemade banana pudding, the unforgettable chocolate pecan pie, the three-to-four hours of cooking chicken, turkey, and ribs, to the 16-to-18 hours on brisket and pork, are among the factors that set 4-T’s BBQ apart from the rest.
“It truly is an honor to be featured on the list,” the Thomases said. “A huge honor.”
People already come from far and wide to visit 4-T’s BBQ in Forney, Texas, but, with the inclusion on Texas Monthly’s coveted list of Top 50 Barbecue Joints in Texas, our short, small-town BBQ wait line will surely be a thing of the past, at least, for the foreseeable future.
4-T’s BBQ is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. and is located at 205 West Broad Street in Forney, Texas. The restaurant will be closed Wednesday, May 24, due to a scheduled catering event.