“Texas. It’s Like A Whole Other Country.” That slogan, conceived by the Texas Tourism Department, appeared on television commercials, billboards, advertisements and even license plates. It was such a hit that the Texas Department of Transportation obtained seven federal trademark registrations to protect it on everything from stickers to shot glasses. In 2014, USA Today readers declared it the “best of all state slogans,” edging out Virginia Is For Lovers” and “Kentucky Unbridled Spirit.” New Mexico’s sacrosanct “Land of Enchantment” slogan ranked fifth.
Visit Artesia, New Mexico and you might just wonder if you didn’t accidentally cross over into that whole other country. As with much of Southeast New Mexico, the scrub-brushed topography closely resembles that of West Texas. It’s a different type of enchanted terrain haughty New Mexicans along the Rio Grande corridor picture as representing the entire state. Then there are the large old west bronze statues depicting cowboys and oil drillers, imagery often associated with the Lone Star State. Any image association exercise involving Texas would also include trucks, barbecue and football. As in Texas, the preferred mode of transportation in Artesia seems to be heavy-duty pickups. As for barbecue and football, Henry’s will tell you all you need to know.
Most of the vehicles parked in front of Henry’s BBQ on the Friday night of our inaugural visit were heavy-duty pick-up trucks. Had it been football season, many of those trucks would probably have been stationed at Bulldog Bowl, the pristine stadium in which the Artesia Bulldogs reign supreme. Proudly and prominently displayed on the front window of Henry’s is a poster celebrating the Bulldogs thirty state football championships since 1957. Another poster depicts the town’s divided loyalty between Texas Longhorn fans and those who support the Oklahoma Sooners where former Artesia (and Pittsburgh Steelers) quarterback Landry Jones made Friday night lights brighter. There are probably some closeted UNM Lobo and NMSU Aggie fans in Artesia, but we didn’t see any.
Emblazoned on the west side of Henry’s is a muscular bulldog sporting a spiked collar and standing atop the restaurant’s motto “Henry’s: Dog Gone Good.” With the multitude of reminders throughout town extolling Artesia and the Bulldogs, you would think the BBQ Superstars Cooking Channel would have learned the name of the town (the host even called it Azuza). Then again, he also raved that on a scale of A to Z, Henry’s BBQ warranted an A+. You won’t get any argument from the throngs of Artesians who frequent it for their barbecue fix.
Henry’s is named for John Henry, a local from a restaurant background though not in barbecue. John launched Henry’s in 2009. He does all the cooking and of course, is the premier smoke master, practicing the low-and-slow arts on a high-capacity Southern Pride smoker. Brisket and ribs are smoked for 12 hours. Apple wood, acquired from Runyan’s Farms just outside of Artesia, is the wood of choice. Henry’s uses a multi-ingredient dry rub on all its meats; sauce isn’t mopped on before or during the smoking process. Feel free to add your own sauce later. It’s a good, smoky sauce with sweet-tangy notes.
In addition to ribs and brisket, Henry’s offers pulled pork, smoked chicken, smoked Black Oak brand sausage, beef ribs and chicken wings. Sides are also plentiful: macaroni n’ cheese, green beans, loaded potatoes with cheese and bacon, smoked new potatoes, sweet corn, baked beans and more. As we learned, if you don’t get to Henry’s early, the restaurant might just run out of the meats and sides you most want to try. For me that meant no beef ribs and chopped brisket instead of sliced brisket.
My plate was piled generously with chopped brisket, chopped brisket with green chile, sweet baked beans and sweet buttered corn. Though I’d just as soon chop up the Mona Lisa as chop up a sumptuous slab of brisket, Henry’s chopped brisket is actually quite good. There’s no way, of course, it can have the moistness and especially the sweet, crusty, rind we call “bark” of sliced brisket, but is still suffused with the sweet beef flavor of king brisket. The chopped brisket with green chile is especially good even though the green chile is rather mild. The sweet baked beans are terrific!
Even when in Texas (or even in the vicinity of the Lone Star State) where beef is king, my Kim’s preferred smoked meats are turkey and chicken. Henry’s does a great job with both. The rub is especially evident in the chicken which has a nice moistness and just a hint of smoke. Similarly, the turkey only hints at smoke, the way it should be for a delicate meat. Both the green beans and sweet buttered corn are terrific sides.
Desserts include homemade cakes (carrot, strawberry and chocolate), bread pudding in a rum sauce, cobbler (peach, strawberry, blackberry, cherry and apple) and pie. For some reason, my Kim’s cherry pie was twice the size of my pecan pie, probably a recognition by the server that she’s a better tipper. Both pies topped off a dog-gone good meal.
Henry’s Barbecue may be reminiscent of West Texas, but it’s got a lot of that New Mexico enchantment we all cherish.
811 West Main Street
Artesia, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 1 March 2019
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Brisket, Green Chile Brisket, Turkey, Chicken, Baked Beans, Buttered Corn, Pecan Pie, Cherry Pie