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The History of Sonny Bryan's BBQ

The History of Sonny Bryan's BBQ

4 minute read

The history of Sonny Bryan's BBQ Smokehouse is one as rich and authentic as its food, one that spans over 100 years.  As we continue to serve Dallas and the surrounding areas, it's important to reflect and look back at this journey of drive, resilience, and innovation.   

It’s 1960, and Sonny Bryan is closing up shop at his smokehouse. It’s a quarter after one and he’s successfully sold all 800 pounds of meat that he bought the day before. 

Now, he’s free to ride his bike the rest of the day. As he unlocks his bike, he spots a woman at the bus stop. He sold her a brisket sandwich about an hour ago. She still has some sauce on the corner of her lip. He smiles.

Now, imagine a typically humid afternoon in 1970. A rush of civil rights protestors are filing into the smokehouse after a demonstration. The seats are filled with people of all races and social classes. 

So many things separate them, yet they still have a few important things in common. They want peace, they want equality, and right now, they want lunch. That’s something Sonny Bryan’s has always known how to provide. 

But how did the smokehouse get here? 


The first Bryan-owned smokehouse was opened on February 13th, 1910, by Elias Bryan, Sonny’s grandfather. He pioneered Texas barbeque by cooking untrimmed meat with the lean-side down. It was an immediate hit and the Bryan family became the trendsetters of smoked meats in the area. 

Red Bryan, Elias’ son, was next to take the reins by opening his own smokehouse on Jefferson Street in 1930. It was nicknamed “The Tin Shack” and he sold barbeque sandwiches for a dime apiece. Bryan kept the tradition of raising his family in the business, and in 1958 the best manager at The Tin Shack decided to make his own name in Dallas barbecue. 

And that name was Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse, founded in 1958.

Sonny Bryan ran his smokehouse for almost 30 years. In that time, he fed activists, presidents, and other notable figures (Richard Nixon, Julia Child, and more). His famously excellent service continued until Bryan sold his name and recipe to the Harman family and died of cancer a few months later. 

He was gone, but his legacy had just begun. 

New Blood

The flagship location at Inwood Road was the first one that the new owners renovated, creating more space for customers and a beer room to enhance the barbecue experience. As of 2016, the original Sonny Bryan’s became the first and only BBQ restaurant in Texas to be open 24/7. 

People wanted Sonny Bryan’s smoked and seasoned meats. The question now was how to make it as available to the public as much as possible.

There are currently three locations of Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse across the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The Harman family has made an effort only to change what’s needed, making sure to keep the charm and innovation that originally made the place a Texas institution. 

The original location is like a picture from the past, with the same school desks used all those years ago. 

Innovation and Dallas Catering

In 2017, the new owners refreshed the original brisket recipe to be even better and added a fresh Hill Country Brisket to the menu for people to enjoy. As of now, they have nine kinds of meats, eight sides, and a selection of other entrees and desserts. They’ve also branched out to barbecue catering in Dallas, where they’ve collected various menu packages for any occasion. 

Back in the 1930s, the Tin House on Jefferson Street could serve you a delicious barbeque sandwich and send you on your way. Now, you can bring Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse to your home or venue and get barbeque catering to come to you. Want variety? Then try a Tex-Mex fajita buffet or a loaded baked potato station that will astound even the pickiest party-goer. 

There may be other barbeque places in Dallas and other Dallas catering companies that serve barbeque. But there’s not a restaurant around that has the tale and legacy of Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse. When you sit down at that school desk with your brisket and beans, you’re sharing as you eat—in our family history and journey.

The year 2018 marked 60 years since the original location was opened on Inwood Road. Cheers to 60 more years!

If you need legendary barbecue catering in Dallas that will really make history, contact us today. 


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