ATX Man’s guide to barbecue food trailers / By Tiffany Harelik / Photo by Sadie Barton
Nothing rings in the fall like the smoky smell of pit barbecue weaving through the air while you walk down to your favorite tailgating party. If you’re like most guys who grill, you know serving up barbecue out of a trailer is kind of the norm here in Texas. Whether it’s brisket for a big party or ribs for a dove hunt, you’ve likely cooked or eaten from a trailer toting a giant-sized grill. You know the saying: Everything’s bigger in Texas. That means grills too. During the season of football in the land of food trucks, there are some big grills and big grillers. Here is a look at the pit masters behind the smoke, along with some of their best tailgating tips.
Rollin Smoke BBQ
Fifth and Colorado streets
Wednesday through Saturday, 8 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Rollin Smoke BBQ opened in May 2011. Originally from Austin, owner Tony Hamilton went to Pflugerville High School. His best seller is the Playboy sandwich, which piles brisket, pulled pork and sausage—all chopped together—and smothers it with pickles, onions and barbecue sauce. Barbecue runs in the family for Hamilton. His father always barbecued and his grandfather owns two barbecue restaurants in Killeen named Maurice’s.
“I got into barbecuing when I was a kid. I just got into cooking and grilling and have been barbecuing since I was 17 years old,” Hamilton shares.
Being right next door to the popular music venue Antone’s, he feeds a lot of bands. He also serves a lot of football players, Cedric Benson, Chykie Brown and Derrick Johnson, to name a few. His food is so good, he sells out every Friday and Saturday.
“I have it down to a science of how many people I’m serving,” Hamilton says. “I cook everything fresh. I don’t like having leftover food, so I give any leftovers to the homeless.”
Sugar Shack BBQ
24th and San Antonio streets
Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Mark Avalos opened Sugar Shack BBQ catering in 2006; the food trailer was born in 2009. Sugar Shack mainly serves college students and downtowners, and the Notorious P.I.G. is his best seller. It is a pulled pork and mustard-based coleslaw “sammich” as he calls it.
“I am a big barbecue fan and I’m really big in to introducing people to new flavors,” Avalos says. “This slaw is more of an Alabama-style coleslaw and a little different than what people are used to around here. They like it.”
According to this pit master, there are about four main styles of barbecue across the barbecue belt that have inspired him. Carolina-style barbecue is all about the pork; there is no brisket at all. The sauce is vinegar-based. Conversely, in Kansas City, they serve mainly brisket with a tomato-based vinegar-style sauce. Tennessee barbecue has a focus on pulled pork and ribs, and the meats offer a smoky Notorious P.I.G. Sandwich from Sugar Shack BBQ taste. Last but not least, Texas barbecue tends to be more beef-based and uses a lot of pepper in the rubs and sauce.
“I get a lot of UT students, everyone from the football players to the cheerleaders,” Avalos says. “We do a lot of tailgates for the fraternities. Football season is big for us because of fraternities and sororities. Usually, everything is done at the trailer and I deliver. Almost all the fraternities have barbecue pits, so occasionally we will go there and do it. Everyone loves to be around a barbecue pit and that good smoky smell.”
Known for offering a variety of styles of barbecue at his trailer, Avalos says the Alabama white barbecue sauce is one you won’t want to miss. It is mayonnaise-based and has a tangy cayenne bite to it.
“When you put that white sauce on poultry, it kicks it up another level, even on brisket,” deems the pit master.
9300 U.S. Highway 290, three miles west of the Y
Saturdays only, 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Levi Smith and his wife, Rachael, opened Austin’s newest food trailer in August, earlier this year.
“I’ve been in Austin most of my life with a ranching background, so beef has been a big part of my life,” Smith says. In addition to ranching, he was the CEO of a healthcare company for the last 10 years. “I love hospitality, and barbecue is my favorite cuisine. I’m a business guy too. Even though it’s kind of a pipe dream, I love making food and I’m doing it because I’m passionate about it.”
One thing that makes this joint unique is the Smiths’ commitment to purchase high-quality meats from small ranches.
“We are buying the best meats you could possibly use from small ranches where the cattle and pigs are allowed to roam with no antibiotics,” Smith says.
Other notable barbecue trailers in Austin include the legendary JMueller BBQ, Double Trouble BBQ (Austin’s first amphibious food trailer) and the family-owned Bee Caves BBQ. More barbecue icons in Austin include Franklin Barbecue, Uncle Billy’s, Iron Works, the County Line, Green Mesquite BBQ, Mann’s, Stiles Switch, Live Oak and Lamberts. The Salt Lick and Railroad Bar-B-Que in Dripping Springs are also well worth the short drive.
Tips for tailgating from the pit masters:
Brisket. How long do you leave it in the smoker?
“It depends on how you cook it and how you control your temperatures. A lot of people tell you that you need 24 hours, but I smoke mine in six to eight hours. I cook on high because I like the char. How long you smoke depends on how much it weighs. A good rule of thumb is one hour per pound.” —Tony Hamilton, Rollin Smoke BBQ
“If you lookin’, you ain’t cookin’. A lot of people have the bad habit of w anting to open and look at the barbecue. I tell everybody trust your pit; leave it closed. Every time you open the cavity, it drops 25 degrees and it will take between five and 10 minutes to get back to the temperature that you want.” –Mark Avalos, Sugar Shack BBQ
Any tips on cooking from the pit all day?
“One suggestion could be doing a mix of meats so you can have a steady stream of things being ready instead of everything being ready at one time. It’s like leading people through a multicourse meal over several hours of tailgating. If you have an 8 a.m. s tart, you could throw some breakfast sausage on and have it ready in an hour or two. At the same time, put on the ribs and brisket. The ribs will be ready in four to six hours for lunch, and the brisket will be ready for dinner. Cooking in stages helps keep people happy. Cooking that way in phases, you don’t have to worry about holding food and burning meat. ” – Levi Smith, Woodpile BBQ
Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Jalapenos
Courtesy of Sugar Shack BBQ, Via the Trailer Food Diaries Cookbook: Austin Edition
This is a true Texan appetizer. You can substitute the cream cheese for cheddar or string cheese. Serve right as you’re putting the steaks on the grill.
1 pound jalapenos
1 stick cream cheese
1 jar of your favorite spicy jelly
1 package bacon
1 package toothpicks
Cut the jalapenos in half lengthwise and clean out the seeds and veins using a spoon. Stuff one half with a bit of cream cheese and a bit of jelly. Close jalapenos back up and wrap them with half a piece of bacon. Stick toothpicks through bacon and stuffed jalapenos. Make sure toothpicks come out the other end. Repeat process until all the jalapenos are stuffed. Grill assembled jalapenos over medium-high heat. Try to spread them out because the bacon will cause some flareups. Cook until bacon is ready, about 20 to 30 minutes.
Stay tuned to all things food trailer throughout the year at trailerfooddiaries.com.