Pitmaster Interviews

Interview: Tomas Limon II of Quality Packers

by Daniel Vaughn · September 2, 2015

Tomas Limon 05Owner/Pitmaster: Quality Packers; Opened 1974 (restaurant in 2014)

Age: 75

Smoker: Wood-fired Rotisserie Smoker

Wood: Oak, Hickory, and Mesquite

Tomas Castillo Limon II is a native of San Antonio, but moved to Victoria in the sixties to get closer to his favorite fishing holes, and to get away from a bad lifestyle he’d created for himself in the big city. His experience as a meat cutter would serve him well.

In Victoria, he founded Quality Packers, a meat packing company in the middle of town. Soon after opening, he got his hands on one of the first Oyler smokers ever made (they think it’s #5) and started cooking barbecue. Now, his grandchildren Lupe Limon, Victoria Limon, and Christina Limon Conrad are carrying the family business into barbecue full time with a restaurant on the southwest side of town.

A few months ago, Tomas suffered a broken hip from a fall. We spoke in his office inside the old processing facility where he is recovering on his leather couch. He uses a wheelchair and a cane to get around, but insisted on standing under his own power for his photo above.

Daniel Vaughn: Are you originally from Victoria?

Tomas Limon: I was born and raised in San Antonio in 1941. I lived there for twenty-five years, then moved down here in 1966.

DV: Why did you move to Victoria?

TL: I used to go fishing. I’d get out of here at 4:00 in the evening on Friday and not come back until Monday morning. I’d go all over this part of the country. It’s one of the reasons that I moved to Victoria. I was going to move to Corpus. I was looking for a job with Sam Kane. I’ve always been in the meat business. I was a steak cutter, and I boned out cows and bulls.

DV: Did you ever make it to Corpus?

TL: My dad brought me down here fishing. When I was growing up, I was doing everything wrong. I was cocky, and my family had money. I had a good job and a new car. I had eight or ten suits. I had a bunch or girlfriends, and my wife told me I better do something different because we weren’t going to last like that. That’s why we were going to Corpus. I was going to go fishing instead of drinking and womanizing. Then this job came up in Victoria. We came here and I’ve been here for forty-eight years.

DV: Who did you work for back in San Antonio?

TL: Almost all the big packing houses. I finally ended up working for an operation that was doing a lot of grinding for Wendy’s and McDonald’s. We also boned out meat for some big operations in Austin like Austex Chili.

DV: Did you bone out bull meat for the chili?

TL: No. They wanted cows that have fat. Back then there was a drug store named Summer’s Drug Store in San Antonio. They were famous for their chili and they used bull meat. You could go to the counter and buy a bacon sandwich or a bowl of chili. Chili was famous then.

DV: Were there barbecue joints that you remember eating at in San Antonio?

TL: I ate a lot of barbecue because I used to work with mostly black guys. We were over there in the black section of town, the east side, and that’s where all the black guys had their barbecue operations. One of the best was Clyde’s. He was over there next to the cemetery on New Braunfels and Commerce Street. It was in an old house. He could make some barbecue, and his sauce was on the tangy side, not on the sweet side. I still think it was one of the very best barbecue sauces I’ve ever eaten.

DV: Do you prefer your barbecue with sauce?

TL: A lot of people like to dope it up and brush it on there when you’re cooking it. I don’t. I don’t even like the smoke flavor. I don’t like anything on my meat except salt, pepper and garlic. That’s it.

DV: For you, what does “doping it up” mean?

TL: Brushing it with barbecue sauce before and after, but I don’t like that. Even when I go to a Chinese restaurant, I don’t like the sweet and sour. I like my food to be salty, and my ice cream to be sweet.

Quality Packers 03

Some un-doped up brisket from Quality Packers

DV: Do you prefer beef?

TL: People think because I own a meat company that I eat a T-bone steak every night. I don’t like to eat meat by itself. I want a little bit of beans and some potato, and maybe a tortilla and some bread. I’ve never eaten a lot of meat, but I eat a lot of sausage. I’ve gone all over this part of the country trying sausage, all the way up to Austin.

DV: Did you have any favorites?

TL: Not really. There’s a sausage and a chorizo. It’s a couple of guys from Gonzales that moved to San Antonio and make great sausage. They’re still there. It’s called Kiolbassa. They make a real good chorizo, and a real good beef and pork sausage.

DV: Did any of the sausages you ate while traveling inform your sausage recipe here?

TL: Not really. All of the sausages were basically salt, pepper, and garlic.

DV: Is your original sausage half pork and half beef, or some other proportion?

TL: Let me tell you where “pork and beef” comes from. The label is very expensive. It takes three or four months to get a label approved. You just say “pork and beef” because you put in more pork if it was cheaper, then more beef when it got cheaper. The label doesn’t say that you need a certain amount. Those are the little tricks. The last few years with beef prices, it’s more like 80% pork and 20% beef.

DV: Did you ever get into lamb and goat?

TL: Sixty years ago when I was in San Antonio we would do a lot of goats. That’s what they used for bologna, wieners, salami, and cold cuts. If you go into H-E-B now they’re using chicken and turkey. The lamb and goats have gone sky high. Muslims in the area like to eat it. There are a lot of people coming from Mexico to buy cabrito. It has gone from $30 a head to $75 or even $100 a head.

DV: It’s hard to find places actually serving cabrito even if they call it that.

TL: They’ve got a cabrito now that’s twenty or twenty-five pounds [laughing], but the Muslims don’t care as long as it’s goat or lamb and it’s cheap.

Tomas Limon 04

The front of Quality Packers old processing facility. They still cook the barbecue here.

DV: Did you open Quality Packers as soon as you moved here?

TL: We had an operation in San Antonio where we were selling to people all over, and places around here. There was an opening at Foster Field, an old government installation on 59. They had walk-in coolers and freezers. It was big. Anyway, we moved down here on Labor Day. We took Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to move.

DV: When did you open Quality Packers?

TL: I worked with them for eight or ten years, then I opened this [in 1974].

DV: How long after you opened did you start cooking barbecue?

TL: It was about two years later. In about 1974, my father called me about his Oyler. He had found that Oyler over at Hemisfair in 1968 in San Antonio. That’s where they bought it. They used it, but never washed it.

DV: So it was “well seasoned?”

TL: Seasoned…They used it for while, then my father called me. “There’s a big oven over here. Bring your cutting torch over and we’ll cut it into four pieces and sell it for scrap.” It was still new, but it was dirty. I bought it from him for $100. Everything was working, It was also an Oyler 110 so you could just plug it into the wall.

Tomas Limon 03

One of several Oyler smokers at Quality Packers

DV: Did you have it shipped to Victoria?

TL: My father had a trailer. He charged me $100 to haul it here. We cleaned it up and started doing barbecue for ourselves. It opened my mind how much we could make cooking barbecue on the weekends. The first big job I got was from Alcoa. They were looking for someone to cook some big thirty pound rounds for them for their twenty-five year anniversary. I put the rounds on there. They wanted the rounds cooked, and needed me to save the juice. Just on that Saturday, I made over $500.

DV: What barbecue cuts did you first start selling?

TL: I started with a little bit of brisket, ribs, sausage, and chicken.

DV: Were briskets popular in this area then?

TL: Brisket were very popular then. Big outfits like Mikeska’s were using a lot of the briskets. They were big. They would buy it a few times a year and store it in San Antonio. I knew the old man real well and his boys, but I haven’t talked to them in a long time. Have you been to Seguin?

DV: Yes.

TL: Right when you get into town, there’s a barbecue place there called Davila’s.

DV: Yes. I’ve been there. In fact, I just interviewed Edward Davila not long ago.

TL: Old man Davila was a good friend of mine. He used to wear real thick glasses. I used to stop in and visit with him. I went by one day and asked if everything was going good. He said “Not really. I got this drive-in, this barbecue place, and this packing house where I make the sausage. My boys and girls don’t want it.” I said “why?” He said “they grow up, and you send them to school because you’ve got money, and they don’t want to come back.” I guess what doctor or lawyer wants to come over here and get his hands all dirty with sausage?

Tomas Limon 01

DV: Some people in your position want their kids to go get an education because they don’t want to see them working as hard.

TL: I don’t feel like that. My grandson and granddaughter are doing a great job. If they want to keep getting up at 4:00 in the morning…My father used to tell me “A man can make a lot of money working twenty-four hours a day, but a man won’t make much money working two hours a day unless he works with his mind.” You’ve got to keep thinking how your mind is going to make you the money. Don’t do manual things that other people can be doing. Some of that rubs off, and some of it doesn’t.

Quality Packers 07

Tomas and his grandson Lupe Limon

DV: It seems like the move to Victoria has worked out all right for you.

TL: I’ve been happy here in Victoria. I’ve made a lot of real good friends. I’ve been losing one or two every week. In this kind of business, knowing everyone in Victoria and the surrounding area, I’ve been losing a lot of friends. A lady was just in the paper this week who was a real good friend. Last week, I lost a couple good drinking buddies. Last year, there ain’t no telling. That’s the way it is when you get older, but I’m not ready to go.

DV: Are you itching to get back out there to cook some barbecue?

TL: Oh yeah. I get out there. I just need to walk with a cane. Some days are good and some are bad. That’s the way it is.

DV: You’ve talked about how often times the younger generation doesn’t want to work for the family business, so it must make you proud to have your grandchildren running the business.

TL: My oldest son is working for the oil field company. He makes a lot of money, but then he doesn’t like the barbecue business. Lupe took over the barbecue and he’s doing great with it. I’d like to do more with it, but my body can’t keep up with my mind. My body is falling apart.

DV: That has to be frustrating.

TL: It’s frustrating, but I did it my way, and I had a good time doing it.

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