Naser Alzer never planned to be a pitmaster. Palestinian by birth, he moved to San Antonio when he was 17, then joined the Army. He got his degree in electrical engineering, plus an MBA. He was working full time as a financial advisor when he and a promising young cook decided to open a barbecue food trailer. Michael “Mikey” Garcia closed his popular Bob & Mike’s Chicken, in Cedar Park, in order to help launch Alzer’s Barbeque in 2017. Tragically, this year a serious illness struck Garcia, and he passed away in March at the age of 34. Alzer had to shift his focus if he wanted to keep the business afloat.
With the help of sons Amir, Sammy, and Omar, and his wife, Veronica, Alzer has kept the smokers going. In a Shell station parking lot, there’s a trailer for serving and a separate trailer just for the smoker. I found Alzer in the latter, loading briskets into the two Lyfe Tyme brand offsets. Their insides were shiny with fat. The briskets he was loading were heavily seasoned, but he doesn’t like using a lot of salt. He provides salt to any customer who says the barbecue needs more, but I didn’t feel like the fatty brisket was missing anything. It was tender, juicy, and had plenty of deep smoke flavor.
On the menu, you’ll find more options, many of which are rare in Texas barbecue—like smoked quail, Cornish hen, and smoked lamb chops. The first quail I tried had been in the warmer for a while, and the smoke on it tasted stale. I didn’t say a word about, but Alzer seemed to sense the problem. He brought me a new quail, fresh from the smoker. The color was more vibrant, and the spices sung. It was some excellent poultry.
I didn’t try the Cornish hen or the turkey breast that Alzer said is one of his most popular items. You can add quail, hen, or even a couple lamb chops to any barbecue plate for just $3, $4, and $5 respectively. That’s ludicrously cheap for lamb chops. “I don’t make any money on the lamb,” Alzer told me, adding that you can buy a whole rack for $22. The lamb isn’t as rare as I’d like. It’s cooked to medium well. Alzer explains that to get any smoke or bark on the meat, he has to cook it that long.
The lamb and the brisket are both halal. Alzer doesn’t advertise it because he wants to be known as Texas barbecue, not just halal barbecue. He doesn’t cook pork. The sausage is all beef, and the ribs are beef back ribs, which aren’t the massive short ribs that have become so popular. These ribs are thinner and often notorious for having no meat left on the bone. Not so at Alzer’s. He knows he’s onto something unique with these meaty back ribs because he wouldn’t give up his supplier. They’re just tender enough to get all the meat off the bone, and the ribs had great color and smoke flavor.
The sides aren’t as adventurous as the proteins. The beans are sweet and from a can, with some added ground beef. There’s a basic potato salad, slaw, greens beans, and corn. Alzer said making the sides, which he leaves to Veronica, is more laborious than the smoked meats. “I do the easy work, and she does the hard work over there,” he said, pointing to the food truck as we sat at the shaded picnic tables. As for tending the fires and loading the smokers, “it’s a lot of physical demands, but I enjoy it.” He’s grilled for most of his life and was introduced to Texas barbecue during tailgate parties for Cedar Park’s high school football games. His son, Amir, was once the quarterback (leading CPHS to the state title game in 2014), and over several seasons Alzer became obsessed with barbecue.
It took him months to secure his food truck permit, which he believes was the first one granted by the city of Cedar Park, so he didn’t want to abandon it after Garcia’s tragic death. “This is my baby,” Alzer said. He still operates his financial planning business too, but noted, “You have to wait a few years to get a return,” as a financial advisor. It’s easier to make people happy as a pitmaster. “You get an immediate return on your work,” he said.