Many people have asked me how I ended up owning a BBQ Joint. I guess the best answer is that almost everything I have done in my life that I have had great passion for has led me here. For as long as I can remember I have loved fire and meat.
When I was five years old, my mother hired a man to do odd jobs around our house. One of those jobs was to clean the fireplace and set another fire so it would be ready for use whenever needed. Fortunately for me, Leon Briscoe was a patient man and did not mind a curious little boy following him around and asking him questions constantly. Leon showed me how to place the paper, kindling and logs so that the fire would light quickly and be able to breathe. He always told me that fire was a living thing and needed to breathe like a living thing.
My family owned a hardwood lumber yard and I started working there as a teenager. Over the years I learned a great deal about the woods that make BBQ and their unique aromatic differences. Since we would air dry and kiln dry the lumber I learned about the moisture content of wood during different stages of the drying process. The moisture in the wood is what determines the amount of smoke it creates, this has helped me immensely during my meat smoking journey.
My wife Susan, children Elizabeth and Jon, along with hunting and fishing took up most of my free time for the next couple of decades. During those days there were plenty of ducks, geese, deer, elk, antelope and fish to experiment with over fire. In the early 1990’s I became interested in raising Texas Longhorn cattle and that was a direct route to Texas BBQ and BRISKET! The hospitality at a Texas Cattle ranch sale is remarkable. Red McCombs Ranch in Johnson City, Tx is the most hospitable of them all. I was fortunate be a consigner at their annual Texas Longhorn Cattle Auction which gave me access to the pitmasters and chuck wagon cooks who provided the amazing meals served during the two day sale. Up until this time I had been frustrated with the inconsistency of my ability to produce quality BBQ and these great cooks were kind enough to start teaching me their secrets. Over the next few years when I came to the sale, I spent more and more time at the pits and less time at the auction. The knowledge from this experience made me realize that if I was going to make a consistently good product, I had better buy a smoker. The first smoker was manufactured by Oklahoma Joes and was appropriately named. It was their Longhorn model.
Armed with my Longhorn smoker and newly emboldened with pitmaster secrets I began to smoke everything I could get my hands on. I wish I could tell you that everything I cooked tasted great and looked awesome, but that was not the case. But fortunately there was enough progress that I didn’t quit. Slowly but surely meats coming out of my smoker were tastier and mixed with the right amount of smoke and moisture. This went on for several more years while time was marching on, pushing and prodding me where fate knew I should be. Along the way I picked up another smoker from a fellow who was working for me. At the time, this new to me smoker, was huge. I could load one hundred pounds of pork butts into this one! One problem, by now time Susan and I were empty nesters and we couldn’t eat as much as I could now produce. So I started asking friends if they wanted me to smoke anything for them and many said yes. So once or twice a month I would fire up the big smoker (I had given the Longhorn to my niece) and smoke any number of meats at the same time. Duck, pheasant, venison, turkey, ect along with briskets, butts and ribs. Fortunately, everyone was happy with the results and I was able to continue learning my new passion for the next several years.
If you are lucky to live long enough, you learn that all the planning, dreaming and scheming doesn’t ensure you are going to end up doing what you think you should.
The Great Recession came as well as some health issues for Susan and myself, and fate decided to put us on a different course. That new course brought me to an old Texaco station that was being rented by a young man who was the son of a friend of mine that had allowed me to graze some of my Longhorn in a pasture at his house. The Texaco station was now a bike shop and not very prosperous. Long story short, I subleased a part of the building and Susan and I started selling BBQ to go. Two pork butts and a brisket were put on the smoker every morning five days a week and we hoped that the public liked the BBQ as much as our friends. Fortunately they did. We opened in January of 2012. Not exactly the greatest time of year to start a BBQ Joint but it gave us time to get our systems together for busier days to come. By March we were selling out every day and while that seemed like a great thing for a while, we were not satisfying our customer’s needs. So I purchased another smoker and with it our capacity increased. We could now smoke sixteen pork butts, five briskets, and five racks of pork spare ribs a day. The BBQ business was starting to get pretty interesting.
When we were halfway through our second year, it was clear to me that we were out growing our space rapidly. We were going to have to expand into the whole building or move. Fortunately for me and unfortunately for my landlord, we were doing well and he was not. I was able to purchase the building and let him out of his lease. Now we would be able to expand and have a small dining room. This lead me to another realization. We need another smoker. I had not been pleased with the last smoker purchase so I started looking for a smoker that would replace that one and be able to ensure that we would not run out of meat during our busiest times. My search for such a beast led me to BBQ Pits by Klose in Houston, Tx. Dave Klose has been building quality smokers for 30 years and is quite a character. He built The Beast as it has come to be known and we can now smoke forty four pork butts and twenty two briskets at one time. To put it in perspective, that is a thousand pounds of meat. With this additional smoker capacity we have been able to continue a steady rate of growth over the years.
So, that is how I ended up owning a BBQ Joint. Is it what I thought I would be doing at this age? No. It is far better than anything I thought I would be doing at this age.
When I decided to open River Road BBQ I never used BBQ sauce on my meats. They just don’t need it so I was not planning to make one to sell. My son Jonthought I was crazy (he still thinks that sometimes) and said “Pops this is Kentucky not Texas”. Knowing that I am not always right and my son sometimes is, I set out to make a BBQ sauce for our new business.