Sunday, September 25, 2011
Carry out from Hank's Smoked Brisket in Indianapolis
When he was a manager at General Motors’ Allison Transmission factory, Hank Fields used to ship parts all over the country. Today, he makes barbecue lovers from coast-to-coast happy when he ships beef brisket made in his smokehouse on Indianapolis’ near north side.
Just a couple weeks back, Fields (pictured here), owner of Hank’s Smoked Brisket, shipped some of his meat to someone in Arizona, following other orders to people in Washington, D.C. and California.
But most people simply stop by the carry-out restaurant located at 3736 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., and take it with them. If you want to eat it there, you’ll have to take it out to the car.
That’s probably as far as it goes for some people, who can’t wait to eat it before getting home. He estimates that 98 percent of his customers walk out with brisket.
"They get other items, you know ribs, baby backs, spare ribs, chicken, sausage links. They get all the other meat, but you can always betcha they’re going to walk out of here with some brisket," Fields said proudly. "We don’t try to attest ourselves as being the best in the state of Indiana, but we do pretty decent."
We first learned about Hank’s Smoked Brisket from a fellow customer at Squealer’s north side location, who told me, "If you want good brisket, you’ve got to go down to Hank’s."
Originally from Henderson, Texas, a city of about 12,000 people about 120 miles east of Dallas, Fields moved to Indianapolis in February of 1973. He has been cooking barbecue only for about 10 years.
Surprisingly, he did not grow up in a family that barbecued. Instead, he developed a taste for the stuff in friends’ smokehouses while he was growing up.
"There were people around in the surrounding community who used to do smoking," Fields explained. "They had their own smokehouse and everything. They would just leave it hanging out in the smoke house, go out and cut what they wanted off it and eat what they wanted to eat and leave the rest of it hanging.
"See, here we don’t worry about brisket going bad or anything when we smoke it," he added. "Matter of fact, occasionally I might leave a couple of them out for a day or two before I put them in the cooler, and they just get better with age. But for the most part, the brisket only lasts around here for about three to four days -- they gone."
He started out selling barbecue at football games in Indianapolis, using a smoker he had built in Texas. It also was a period of testing out and refining his recipes and technique.
"I started out in a trailer, smoking meat and going out to football games," he recalled. "After that, it was all basically trial and error, finding out what works. It took a few years to find out how it works, what makes it work and what makes it come out good."
In 2004, he opened Hank’s Smoked Brisket in a building he had constructed that also houses a barber shop and beauty salon. "I more than likely perfected it now, but it still gets better," he said of his brisket, which is smoked eight to 12 hours over mesquite wood.
During the year-end holidays, Fields also smokes and sells turkeys and rib eye steaks, which he said "probably are better than the brisket."
During our visit, we ordered brisket, baby back ribs and the chopped pork. Helping to seal the deal was the delicious brisket samples that his right-hand employee, Brenda (pictured right), sliced for us. She makes all the deserts and the potato salad.
In its July cover story about the Circle City’s BBQ, Indianapolis Monthly noted, "Other barbecue joints feature brisket, but few give it the front-and-center attention that it gets at Hank Fields’ Texas barbecue takeout … Fields' signature cut is obviously treated with respect, dressed only with a mild, slightly tangy sauce he says is 'suitable for old men.'"
While I might disagree with the magazine’s assessment of other places featured in the article, not so with Hank’s Smoked Brisket.
Fields has never done competitions and says he never will. "My competition is for you to go somewhere else and come visit Hank," he said plainly.
For many other places in Indy, the competition may be for honorable mention, particularly when it comes to brisket.