Feature

Wood Cooking in West Texas

No Gas, Even Without Trees

by Daniel Vaughn · February 21, 2017

From the view on either side of the highway, Notrees—the town between Kermit and Odessa—seems to have been born of the simplest observation. Not much out here grows any higher than cotton. Heading further north, they don’t even have the luxury of scrubby mesquite. So if you’re going to cook barbecue in West Texas, the wood fuel needs to be trucked in. Still, just about every barbecue joint in these parts sticks to all wood cooking.

Cooking with wood is challenging, especially given the variables of weather and moisture content of the wood. A fire built for smoking briskets requires more attention overnight than a newborn. The constant blue flame of a gas-fired smoker would be tempting, along with the set-it-and-forget-it nature of cooking with them. Many barbecue chains take that route, and that’s the barbecue Terry Alexander grew up eating. “I grew up not knowing the better things in life,” he joked.

Barbecue platter at Slim’s BBQ in Seminole

After his time in the Navy, Alexander sold truck parts and dabbled in barbecue. But when he opened Slim’s BBQ in Seminole, about an hour north of Odessa, in 2015, he wouldn’t fall into the chain mentality. The steel smoker out back burns mesquite and oak, which comes in from out of state. “We have to spend some money to get it,” Alexander says, and that’s in a town where a barbecue joint is a bad choice for get-rich-quick scheme (the three-meat combo is $16). Slim’s cooks five briskets per day, at most, and hasn’t yet been able to replace the sign for the Mexican restaurant that once inhabited their building. Look for the banner at Slim’s BBQ to find great ribs and a unique pepper jack cheese sausage.

Follow the Smoke BBQ in Lamesa

Forty miles east in Lamesa, Bertha (the smoker pictured up top) chugs through three cords of hickory every month at Follow the Smoke BBQ. Ribs are the best seller here, for good reason, with brisket a close second (three-meat combo plate, with ribs, is $12.49). Pitmaster John Cortez and his wife Lucinda went into barbecue full time in 2014, and Lamesa has treated them well. They need a bigger pit, but it’ll be a stick-burner even though a cord of hard wood that costs about $200 in verdant East Texas runs for $350 in Lamesa. John told me that before they opened their own place they had a favorite barbecue joint in Lubbock. “They changed from an offset smoker like ours to a commercial one,” he lamented. “It just wasn’t the same.”

Smokers at Ed & Tom’s Bar-B-Que in Odessa

 

Ed & Tom’s Bar-B-Que in Odessa

It’s all mesquite at Ed & Tom’s Bar-B-Que in Odessa (three-meat combo is $14). A metal carport provides cover to the massive steel smokers installed by pitmaster Eddie Mitchell when he opened last year. As he sliced ultra-tender brisket and custom beef links, Mitchell warned that mesquite can get away from you if you don’t watch the firebox carefully. The heavy smoke flavor from the wood is also why he wraps his barbecue in foil to finish the cook. He knows no other way to cook barbecue, and left me with some words of wisdom when seeking out wood-cooked barbecue: “Smellin’ is tellin’.”

Christine Jones

 

Thomas Garden

You can smell the barbecue at Christine’s Blues ‘N BBQ (three-meat combo is $10.95) as soon as you cross the Kermit city limit sign. Owner Christine Jones and co-pitmaster Thomas Garden cook on three steel smokers, two of which were designed and built by Garden. They smoke with mesquite and pecan, or “whatever we can scrounge up,” Garden confessed. After all, they’re just twenty miles from Notrees.

Pody’s BBQ in Pecos

 

Evie Mae’s BBQ in Wolfforth

 

Evie Mae’s BBQ in Wolfforth

There is some glory to shoot for beyond serving loyal customers. Israel “Pody” Campos used his wood smokers to turn Pody’s BBQ in Pecos (three-meat combo is $13.95) into one of Texas’s fifty best barbecue joints (at least, according to us). Recently he ditched his array of small smokers and bought an Oyler smoker from J&R Manufacturing. It’s a rotisserie, but it’s all wood, and the barbecue certainly hasn’t suffered. Evie Mae’s in Wolfforth (three-meat combo is $20) is another success story. Arnis Robbins, who owns the place with his wife, Mallory, built a wood-fired smoker for their food truck a couple years back. Now he’s looking to build a third for the pit room in their permanent location where they moved last year. Just look at the lines at Evie Mae’s and you’ll see folks in West Texas have a taste for wood-cooked barbecue.

These joints might not be household names across Texas, and some never will be. That doesn’t mean they won’t stick to their principles of all wood cooking, even if it costs them a little more. And in small town West Texas, they can’t make up the difference with higher prices. There is nothing expensive about the barbecue out here. It should also be noted that most of these spots are just a few years old. The pitmasters aren’t carrying on some family legacy of wood cooking, but instead chose this time-honored barbecue method on their own.

Christine’s Blues ‘N BBQ
157 TX-302
Kermit, TX 79745

Ed & Tom’s Bar-B-Que
317 E Murphy St.
Odessa, TX 79761

Evie Mae’s Barbecue
217 Highway 62
Wolfforth, TX 79382

Follow the Smoke BBQ
311 S 2nd St
Lamesa, TX 79331

Pody’s BBQ
1330 S. Cedar
Pecos, TX 79772

Slim’s BBQ
209 SW Ave G
Seminole, TX 79360

Comments

12 Comments

    Jeff P says:

    Follow The Smoke in Lamesa is incredibly good! The meat is to die for and the sides are fantastic. Get a two meat plate with ribs, brisket, green beans, and fresh cut fries. Finish it with homemade cherry cobbler. You won’t regret it!

    Ray and Brandi Gutierrez says:

    Follow the smoke in LA Mesa is truly the friendliest and the best tasting BBQ around….By the way where can you dine in and the owners are the ones shaking hands and greeting you with a smile…..5 star rating here

    Daena Saucedo says:

    Follow the Smoke has GREAT BBQ. My favorite is the Brisket Nachos…..

    Lucinda Cortez says:

    John and I at Follow The Smoke BBQ thank you for including us in this article! We hope to see you back sometime!

    John Johnson says:

    More slams against gas assisted Southern Pride and Oyler type pits, I see…even though they produce the juiciest, most tender brisket without overpowering smoke flavor or bitterness. I had to chuckle when I read that one of the joints named had to cover up their brisket with foil to finish it off. Some, like Mr. Vaughn, judge Que by the darkness and crispiness of the fatty deckel and end of the flat. I like my slice of lean flat to be moist and melt in my mouth. Burnt ends = high heat and dry meat.

      Please don’t lump the all wood burning Oyler smokers into the same category as Southern Pride gas-assisted smokers. Also, I get that you like lean brisket (from this and so many other comments), but most people line up for a slice of the fatty brisket. Why is that a bad thing?

    Wanda Rogers says:

    You haven’t tasted real BBQ until you stop by Ed&Tom to die for????????????

    Tay Nelson says:

    I use all wood, there is nothing like it!!! ????

    Joe Wiliiams says:

    Baloney. The Odessa Chuck Wagon Gang used mesquite stump for wood. And every body else who worked in oil patch where the bulldozers would clear the mesquite trees in order to have a fenced in drilling site. Ask the Tripp family. Tripp construction. And…..all those mesquite stumps were fuel for people like Jack Jordan. If I’m lyin I’m dyin’.

    Doug White says:

    There’s a lot of mesquite here in the Permian Basin, which is where these fine West Texas joints are located.

    Leatrice Harvey says:

    You have to go to Ed and Toms best bbq ever on Odessa

    Carole Dutchover says:

    Ed and Tom’s Bar-B-Que is the best in Odessa TX. I recommend to anyone here or from out of town.. Friendliest owner!

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