Interview: Kerry Bexley of Snow’s BBQ
Owner/Pitmaster: Snow’s BBQ; opened in 2003.
Smoker: A steel smoker with an offset firebox for briskets, a direct heat pit for everything else.
Wood: Post Oak
It was Friday afternoon and Kerry was getting ready to start the fires for the pits at Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, Texas. Snow’s is open just one day a week, but Kerry has plenty other activities to keep him busy. He opened the place in 2003 and was named the best barbecue joint in Texas by Texas Monthly in 2008. In this year’s BBQ list Kerry maintained their quality well enough over the past five years to remain in the top four. Kerry shares cooking duties with Tootsie Tomanetz at Snow’s and and interview with her will be the next one for TMBBQ. This week the spotlight is on Kerry.
Daniel Vaughn: Today you’re getting the pits ready for tomorrow, so what’s a normal Friday like for you?
Kerry Bexley: I took the last two days off so it’s kind of like Monday for me.
DV: How much meat are you putting on the pits tonight?
KB: About 1200 pounds, I imagine.
DV: Friday’s are different for you because of the barbecue. What do you do with the rest of your week?
KB: A lot of stuff. This week we had to cook one extra day for our shipping orders. [which is usually all done on Tuesday] I had pretty well a full cook on Wednesday. We’ll cook tonight then open up for barbecue tomorrow. Saturday evening we have a barbecue event in Austin. Then it’s Father’s Day on Sunday.
DV: What’s your daily job for the rest of the week?
DV: That’s it? It sounds like you’re a busy man.
KB: We also process shipping orders for barbecue on Monday night and ship out on Tuesdays.
DV: How much do you have to cook on an average Monday?
KB: It varies from week to week, but it’s by no means what we do for a Saturday.
DV: I saw that you’re headed out of state for a rodeo soon. Do you still work rodeos?
KB: I don’t really work them. I’m on the Rodeo Austin committee. My boy’s very interested. We’re going to fly out to Colorado next Friday night for a barbecue. I’m going to be supplying all the barbecue for Friday night. Then we’ll go to the rodeo in Greely, Colorado on Saturday and Sunday before flying back on Monday.
DV: So you’re bringing Snow’s BBQ to Colorado?
KB: Yeah. We’ll ship it to them so they’ll have it ready for the party on Friday night.
DV: You used to work rodeos as a rodeo clown. Is that as dangerous as running a barbecue joint?
KB: I did that for about fifteen years, but it depends on how you look at it. Wrangling bulls is tougher than wrangling Tootsie [who works the pits with Kerry every Saturday at Snow’s] usually, but sometimes she compares.
DV: You were named the best barbecue joint in Texas in 2008 by Texas Monthly, but you’ve been open since 2003. Had you gotten many accolades before 2008, or was all of your business from locals up until 2008?
KB: We had some travelers, but it was mainly locals. Since Texas Monthly it’s been steady. It’s been good to keep up the quality with the demand. We’ve made some changes along the way to try and manage and keep up. It’s been a very interesting ride.
DV: With all of that demand, have you considered opening up any more than just Saturday?
KB: We’ve thought about it. We’ve even looked at different locations, but part of our story is that it’s only one day a week. Everybody here works full time elsewhere. To make the barbecue full time would take it to a different level. We want to keep it interesting and still fun. Going big is not my forté.
DV: Does having a job outside of barbecue help you from feeling beat down by the business?
KB: I think so. Wayne [Mueller of Louie Mueller Barbecue] and Aaron [Franklin of Franklin Barbecue] and them that do it day in and day out, it’s tougher for them. That’s their business.
DV: Do your coworkers at Luminant know you’re a famous barbecue man?
KB: Oh yeah [laughing]. It just turns into some bulls— and joking.
DV: Do you still look forward to going into Snow’s on a Friday night?
KB: It actually starts on Monday when we process orders. Tuesday’s for shipping. Thursday we season the meat. Friday we cook and Saturday we serve it. So it’s still practically a full time job, but I still look forward to Friday nights. It’s just Herschel and myself and nobody else, so we get the chance to shoot some bull, have a drink, and discuss things we can do to keep making things better. I never regret having to go in [to the restaurant].
DV: Can you explain the timeline of cooking that leads up to Saturday morning when you open?
KB: On Friday night Herschel will start the fires unless I get there first. Once we get it blowing and going we’ll both get the briskets on. Miss Tootsie will come in at 2:00 or 2:30am to manage the pork, chicken and ribs that are already on the other pit when she gets there. From that point we kind of put the gavel in her hand. The briskets are watched by Herchel through the night. We’ll wrap them in the mid-morning hours. I try to catch a nap at some point after we get all the briskets on. Sometimes Herschel does too after Tootsie gets there.
DV: I know you use smaller briskets. Have you ever had any issues with your meat supplier to keep the sizes uniform?
KB: We get our meat from O’Brien Meats in Taylor. They’re pretty well able to provide what we ask for.
DV: Do you season with anything more than salt and pepper? Are there any other rub ingredients?
KB: We use straight salt and pepper.
DV: Are you working with the same staff now that you had back when you first opened?
KB: It was just Tootsie and myself then. Prior to the [Texas Monthly] recognition Miss Tootsie did everything. Herschel came aboard shortly after the recognition.
DV: How did you find Tootsie?
KB: She had a market there [in Lexington] for twenty years and had a good reputation. She was ready for a change. When we built the new place and the new pits it was like Christmas for her. Now she gets lots of attention. She acts like she doesn’t like it, but she loves it. She’s recognized for something she’s done for forty years.
DV: Did you know her before then, or did you just know of her?
KB: Oh yeah. Our families have been life long friends. We’ve known each other forever, I guess.
DV: If Tootsie was the only one working the pits when you opened, how did you become more involved in the cooking process?
KB: We made some changes in the meat and our processes. That’s when I got involved. A woman that’s seventy some years old who’s been doing the same thing for forty years, you just don’t make a suggestion and see a change right away. You’ve got to really, really work to make those changes. These days it’s a weekly issue managing the whole staff. You can always do better, and the consistency is huge and without proper attention that’s just not going to happen.
DV: One of those changes we saw recently was a change to the ribs. Can you describe what you’re trying to do with the ribs now?
KB: The feedback we’ve gotten on our ribs for some time is that they can get overdone. We do those over direct heat. I like ribs cooked in a smoker like the briskets. I think they’ll be easier to manage on there. I’m also doing a different cut with the St. Louis ribs to get them more consistent. It’s going to be a slow process because we’re working on building the other pit right now.
DV: You’re bringing in a new pit?
KB: Yes. I’m probably going to build two more. I want to have one that’s mobile so I can do functions, and I’ll have one stationary at Snow’s.
DV: Are you getting into the catering business?
KB: No. I’d just like to have one for when I need it. If I’d had one on hand when Wayne’s [Mueller] pit burnt up I could have had one up there the next day for him to use.
DV: Are you building it?
KB: Yes. It’s another project. Something else for me to do. I’ve built all of my pits.
DV: A welder too? You’re a man of many talents.
KB:…and a master of none.
DV: Do you find that pressure for consistency is bigger these days?
KB: It’s a reputation you want to uphold. I’ve learned that attention is where a lot of it comes from. I have to instill this in everybody here, Things don’t happen on a 10, 2 & 4 schedule. With barbecue and fires and everything else it’s just not the case.
DV: How did you learn to barbecue?
KB: I’d cooked in cook-offs some, but I didn’t have a lot of barbecue knowledge prior to working with Tootsie. I’ve learned a lot form her, but I do a lot of research on my own too. I practice with small changes.
DV: So even after all this popularity at Snow’s you’re still tinkering with recipes and pits?
KB: The hardest part of all the recognition is when someone’s not satisfied. I take that to heart. It’s not “That one’s gone, but another customer will come in.” I want to make them all happy.
DV: Are you from the Lexington area originally?
KB: Born and raised here.
DV: Do you still live in Lexington.
KB: You drive right by my house when you drive into Lexington from Austin.
DV: We’re five years beyond when Texas Monthly named you #1 in the state. Are you surprised at how well business has kept up since then?
KB: I’m very surprised. I credit that to our interest in maintaining quality. Our repeat business is huge.
DV: What’s the furthest someone has come out to eat at Snow’s?
KB: I don’t really know. I know there’s not a state that hasn’t been represented here. I bet there’s twenty different states represented every week. I never would have dreamed somebody from Dallas would drive three hours to eat some damn Snow’s barbecue.
DV: It’s really a destination.
KB: You want everyone’s trip to be memorable and not just for the barbecue. You want the whole visit to be good.
DV: Do you get a sense of higher than normal expectations from your new customers because of all the recognition?
KB: Some people will come with an attitude about how this newcomer is getting so much attention. You’ve just got to stay on your toes and deliver. If you would have told me how little negative publicity we’ve gotten in the last five or six years, I wouldn’t have believed that.
DV: Do you ever go eat other people’s barbecue?
KB: Occasionally. I used to just stop at one of the place’s in Elgin on our way to Austin. These days I find myself doing more critiquing than I did before, but I’m pretty easy. I can be just as happy with a wrap-around as I can a ribeye. We also made a road trip out to Taylor and Lockhart. There’s lots of good ones and lots of bad ones out there.
DV: Did you grow up eating anyone’s barbecue in particular, or did your family cook barbecue?
KB: My family didn’t that much. We grew up eating at Miss Tootsie’s here in Lexington or down at City Market in Giddings.
DV: So y’all have had good barbecue in Lexington for a very long time.
KB: That is true. There’s always been doing good barbecue here in Lexington since I can remember.
DV: Have you ever thought of opening up other locations?
KB: Yes. We’ve looked at College Station and Austin, but that turns into a full time job. I’m not ready to make that move. I don’t want to work nine days a week. I’d consider finding and training the right person to open another location. We’ve had lots of inquiries, but I’m not going to franchise the name to some Tom, Dick or Harry that shows up.
DV: With the new pit you’re bringing in, are you looking to expand significantly?
KB: I don’t want people to misunderstand. We’re not looking to grow, but when someone drives from Dallas and gets here at 11:00 and we’re sold out that’s tough to tell them. We want to increase the volume a little bit to accommodate that. We’re cooking what we can manage well right now and we aim to keep it at that. I could cook three times what I’m doing right now and we’d sell all of it for a while, but would I be able to still do that a few years from now? Probably not if the quality is no good. No matter what I do whether it’s barbecue or the rodeo or – if I don’t have time to do it right then I don’t have time to do it at all. You can sheer a sheep many times, but you can only skin it once.