DUBAI (CNN): Al Quoz Industrial Area 4 looks much like the other three: a vast complex of low-rise warehouses, dusty roads passing factories and storage units, trucks and lorries ferrying goods to and fro. It looks nothing like the Dubai of travel brochures or Instagram — no iconic skyscrapers, no golden beachfront, no glitzy lights, no luxe resorts.
But among the clutter of concrete and corrugated iron of Al Quoz 4 is a restaurant that’s quickly turning the neighborhood into a must-visit for foodies: Big T’s BBQ.
The humble Texas-style barbecue joint, named after its owner, founder, and head chef Fadel “Big Tasty” Faour, is only open three days a week but has garnered a cult following of loyal customers who are willing to queue for up to an hour to grab a portion of its famous brisket.
“I’m proud and honored that I’ve received a lot of attention from people who love to explore food,” says the Palestinian chef, who grew up in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), adding that many of his regulars have now become friends.
One of the draws here is Faour’s 1,000-gallon Texan smoker — the largest of its kind in the UAE, he claims. Faour’s goal is to recreate the authentic flavors of the Lone Star state for his customers, down to the post-oak wood he imports from Texas for smoking.
“It’s what Texas uses. Think of oak as the spice — each wood will taste different. I try to keep it as original tasting as possible,” says Faour. “If you want to taste actual Texas barbecue, not any just state, but Texas barbecue, it’s this.”
A taste of Texas
Food runs in Faour’s family. His parents owned a chocolate factory and import business in Al Quoz Industrial estate, and he always had a passion for cooking. In 2016, after years of traveling and volunteering in kitchens, he joined the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan, and worked in prestigious New York kitchens. “I was just eager to jump at any chance to explore food,” he says.
It was a trip to Texas in 2019 that gave him his first taste of barbecue, and he spent months living with a friend and trying all the best spots for smoked and grilled meat. It was here Faour bought his famous smoker — long before he dreamt up Big T’s.
“Good Texas smokers are scarce” because they’re handmade and often have year-long waiting lists, he says. “I knew I wanted to open a restaurant but I didn’t have a plan on when or where,” he adds.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Faour moved back to Dubai. Lockdowns and restrictions forced the family’s chocolate business to close — but Faour saw an opportunity to put his culinary training into action and make his dream of opening a restaurant a reality, utilizing the now-empty warehouse.
He transported the smoker to Dubai in 2022, opening Big T’s BBQ in December of that year. It was bare-bones: the sign above the door was handpainted, and a hand-written menu was taped by the cash register. Fluorescent tube lights bounced off the concrete floor and mismatched furniture.
But the sparse decor of the cafeteria-style restaurant didn’t matter to his diners. They were there for one thing: beef. Brisket, short ribs, pastrami, sausages, burgers, and double-fried beef tallow fries, along with a monthly and weekly rotation of specials. The brisket, which has become Big T’s signature, is smoked for 12 to 16 hours a day.
“We just cook it till it’s done. There is no time or temperature, we just keep checking. We know how it feels when it’s done. We go a lot on feeling,” Faour adds.
When Big T’s opened, Faour could barely keep up with demand, sometimes selling out by mid-afternoon. With the growing popularity, he bought not one, but two new smokers, tripling his capacity.
“Now we only sell out of everything once every three months,” Faour says. There may be less choice in the hour before it shuts but he’s quick to add: “You’ll always have something nice to eat till closing time.”
One in 18,000
While Dubai’s food scene has captured international attention, dominating the 50 Best Restaurant list for MENA (Middle East and North Africa) and becoming the first city in the region to have its own Michelin guide, its budget dining venues are less well known.
The emirate is home to around 18,000 food outlets, and its culinary scene is a reflection of the 200 different nationalities living in the UAE — something that makes it “one of the best cities in the world for diversity of food,” says Alex Augusti, the Dubai-based food vlogger behind Just Food DXB. His videos often highlight low-cost eateries in unusual places, like Big T’s, which he calls his “go-to” for all things meat.
“It’s rustic, it’s rough around the edges and that’s why I love it,” says Augusti. “He’s got years of experience in the US and he really does inject that passion and that enthusiasm into his food.”
Augusti adds that Faour has “shaken up the food scene” and has raised the bar for barbecue in the city, “especially the smoked brisket scene, he’s really the leader in it.”
Through his videos and reviews, Augusti hopes he can convince visitors to look beyond the city’s malls and five-star resorts. “When you explore new foods and new cultures, that’s when you have the best experiences. And places like (Big T’s) are a perfect example — it’s in the middle of nowhere and you’ll probably get some of the best food in the city.”
The attention of adventurous foodies like Augusti has boosted Big T’s reputation in the city’s culinary scene, and Faour is now embarking on his second project, which he’s keeping under wraps until launch.
“I love barbecue, (but) I want to keep it interesting for me as a chef, and keep trying new things,” he adds.