Top 10 BBQ tips from a Fort Worth pro who now teaches the secrets of the craft


Co-owner of Panther City BBQ, Chris Magallanes teaches the lessons he’s learned at a monthly class appropriately titled “BBQ-U.”

FORT WORTH, Texas — If barbecue is like a religion in North Texas, than Chris Magallanes’ BBQ-U class is its Sunday school. 

Every month since 2020, Magallanes and business partner Ernie Morales at Fort Worth’s Panther City BBQ host a class for barbecue aficionados, business owners and people who just like to eat good food.

It’s called “BBQ-U” and signups are advertised on the restaurant’s Instagram page. Recently, we attended a class — and don’t profess to be experts — but took note of some of the tips from the people behind one of Texas Monthly’s Top 10 Best BBQ Joints. 

1. Ignore the old wives’ tales

Barbeque is more spiritual than scientific, but Magallanes said some of the stories he heard in his competition days don’t hold water.

For example, he says don’t pay any mind to whether your brisket is right-handed: “The old theory is that if it was a right-hand cow, that right-hand cow is always getting up on the right side so it’s more muscle and it’s tougher,” Magallanes said. “All those are just old competition tales.” 

Similarly, he’s heard competition judge after competition judge say they’re judging ribs off the quality of the cook — not the sauce. But, he said, the winner is always the rack slathered in the good stuff. 

2. Know the grading system for beef

If Prime vs. Choice means nothing to you, it’s time to go to school. The distinction has to do with a measurement of fat. 

“USDA Prime has abundant marbling (flecks of fat within the lean) which enhances both flavor and juiciness,” the good folks at the USDA explain. 

“USDA Choice has less marbling than Prime but is of very high quality. USDA Select is very uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher grades. It is fairly tender, but, because it has less marbling, it may lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades,” it said. 

Picking the right grade of beef will make a difference in your cook, Magallanes said. 

3. Be smart about the smell, but don’t freak out

We’re not sure how the aforementioned good folks at the USDA would feel about this one — but Magallanes runs a successful restaurant business so we’ll take him at his word. 

“If you ever open your brisket [out of the plastic] and you get an odor off of it, don’t freak out,” he said. “Rinse it off in water, see if it goes away.” 

Assuming the smell goes away, Magallanes will still use the meat — both beef and pork. If chicken stinks? Get rid of it. Magallanes suggests bringing it back to the store for an exchange or refund. 

But because we’re not experts, we’re also going to provide a link to the USDA’s best practices when cooking meat (so that we all live to make your next family barbecue). 

4. A sharp knife is a must

A dull blade will have you quit barbecuing before you even begin, Magallanes said. 

His partner Ernie wields an impressive blade — longer even than Magallanes is willing to chance. He said a steel-mesh glove can be an invaluable tool to avoid the cuts and scars that tattoo the hands of professional chefs. 

For an added advantage, Magallanes recommends sticking the brisket in the freezer for a few minutes. “It hardens up the fat, makes it easier to cut,” he explained. 

5.  Use the fat

Briskets aren’t cheap — but a lot of end doesn’t end up barbecued. Magallanes said his business can’t afford to waste the fat and castoffs — you shouldn’t either. 

Some of the fat, Magallanes renders down in various ways. He makes tallow — comparable to lard only beef. 

“Try that in your recipes, anywhere where you got fat in there or any kind of cooking oil? Try that,” he said. 

Rendering can take place on a stovetop or in a crockpot. 

“It’s going to come out looking like a real gold color,” he said. 

But the real pros throw the tallow back onto the barbecue smoker, cook it to an amber beer-like color, then strain the chunks out of it. 

“Try that in your collard greens or mac and cheese recipe,” he said. “Try that in your chocolate chip cookies and see what it does for you. Then you’re got a smoked food and you didn’t have to smoke the food itself.” 

6. The secret seasoning? That’s your secret

For a class designed to unmask the hidden tricks and tips of the trade, Magallanes didn’t want to share the secret seasoning used at Panther City. 

“I’m not going to tell you what’s in it because you got to find your own way,” he told the BBQ-U class. “We want to find that passion in it when it comes to flavor profile.” 

He said the best barbeque seasonings and spices are the ones that matter to you — the ones that bring back nostalgia or have meaning personally. He called out, for example, the acclaimed Tex-Ethiopian restaurant SmokeN’Ash BBQ in Arlington.   

Not a traditional Texas barbecue taste, but the blending of cultures created an award-winning combination. For home cookers, he recommends thinking about what flavors bring you joy and find a way to incorporate them. 

But to kick off the seasoning, he recommends coarse black pepper to help form the brisket bark.  

7. Burnt ends squeal

At risk of breaking the old wives’ tale rule above, we have to share the Panther City tip for the best pork belly burnt ends. 

“They squeal when they’re done,” Magallanes said Morales insists. “You’ll squeeze them and you’ll hear that air come out between that fat and kind of squeal at you.” 

8. Give it time

Planning ahead is essential in barbecue, Magallanes said. Cooking always takes longer than you think — and rushing the brisket off the smoker at 3 p.m. for a 5 o’clock dinner will ruin it, he said. 

“You’re going to screw it up and you’re going to be on the phone to Domino’s to feed everybody and that’s all there is to it,” he said.  

“We can spend 13 hours cooking the perfect brisket, the perfect trim, the perfect seasoning, perfect cook, pull it off perfect temp and then we can ruin it by what we do right after that,” he said. 

Instead, build in time for the meat to rest — and cook it the day before if you have to. 

9. Use common sense

Every cooker, every chef and every brisket is different, Magallanes said. Don’t be worried if your meat doesn’t line up exactly with the recipe. 

Instead, he said, use common sense to evaluate when the meat is done. 

He said the brisket bark is set when it “feels like the grip tape on a skateboard. It stays there, it doesn’t wipe right off.” 

The brisket is done when the meat doesn’t “push back” into a finger pushed into the wrapping. “It’s going to tell you when it’s done,” Magallanes said. 

10. Do it for the right reasons

One surefire way to tell if your barbeque is good is if there’s nothing left of it, Magallanes said. 

“If everyone is eating that stuff up, you’re like ‘OK, I’m on to something here,'” he said. 

But barbequing isn’t easy to master, so give yourself grace. It takes time and many, many iterations to master the cooker the way Magallanes has. 

If you don’t enjoy the failures nearly as much as the success, he said it may not be for you. 

“If you’re just doing it for Instagram, don’t.” Magallanes said.