When Mark Albright opened the BBQ Barn in 2016, he had no idea that the joint would bring him new, stronger family ties. Barbecue had been just a weekend hobby for him before he was laid off from his oil rig job of seventeen years. Needing income, he channeled the success he’d enjoyed at a few barbecue competitions into the restaurant in Beasley, the small town southwest of Houston where he grew up.
Early on, without much help, service was rough. Albright was swamped one day, facing a line that stretched out the door, when a woman who’d been standing in the queue peeked her head through the window to offer Albright help. “Do you know how to run a register?” he asked her. The woman, Maranda Fabbro, did. The two are now engaged.
But that’s not the only surprising familial connection Albright has made thanks to the BBQ Barn. As he assembled his menu before the restaurant’s opening, he needed to find the right sausage. He sampled several local varieties before settling on one from Cernoch’s Custom Caterers & Sausage, in nearby Rosenberg. The coarse grind and the simplicity of the seasonings appealed to him. It wasn’t until more than a year later that Albright learned that his preference for the Cernoch’s sausage ran in the family. The recipe was his great-grandfather’s.
“Frank Albright, my great-grandfather, came up with this black pepper, garlic, mustard seed, and salt sausage called the ‘Albright special,'” Albright told me. He learned the sausage’s code name from Cernoch’s co-owner Camille Cernoch. After closing his own slaughterhouse in the eighties, Frank went to work with the Cernochs. There he helped to develop a sausage that tasted like one his own father had made when he was a kid: the Albright special.
It’s good. At the BBQ Barn, they smoke it over oak wood and give it a great snap. The juice runs and brings saltiness along with it. They also serve a jalapeño cheese variety, also from Cernoch’s, that’s almost as tasty.
I never would have tried the sausage had the brisket and ribs not unexpectedly impressed me. I took a two-meat plate out to my car to give it a try while I planned the route to my next stop of the day. I wasn’t even sure how the BBQ Barn had ended up on my radar, but the slices of lean brisket were tender and smoky with a line of perfectly rendered fat running along the top. The pork ribs had a reddish bark with bits of black pepper. The meat beneath was yielding without falling off the bone. After just a few bites, I knew I had to go back inside to sample the rest of the menu.
Fabbro stood behind the counter as I peeked my head back into the window to order. I learned later that she thought I was coming back to complain about the food, but I just wanted some smoked chicken and a bite of that smoked sausage, the lineage of which I didn’t yet know.
The half chicken was massive. The couple shop around at the local grocery stores to find the largest available, shake on some salt and pepper, and smoke the chickens until the skin turns bronze. Juices from a freshly halved bird filled the bottom of the serving tray, which is made of the same galvanized metal as a milk pail. A basic slaw and green beans from a can sat beside them. Albright said he’s gotten positive feedback from customers since he switched to fresh green beans a week after my visit.
The pinto bean recipe comes directly from the competition circuit. The beans are in a broth studded with onions and jalapeños. Red potato salad is made fresh daily with mayo, Dijon mustard, and pickles. It never hits the fridge because they prefer to serve it warm. Fabbro makes the banana pudding, a recipe she’s tweaked. She said a few customers will leave without ordering barbecue if they find out the banana pudding is already sold out.
The BBQ Barn officially closes at 7 p.m., but the barbecue rarely lasts that long. The couple smoke everything on a 250-gallon smoker that can hold fifteen briskets at the most. A five-hundred-gallon smoker is on the way to meet the increased demand—something that would’ve been hard for them to fathom when the joint first opened. “I took a gamble. I cashed in everything I had,” Albright said. He had already leased the building—a former car repair and tire shop—as an event space before being laid off. Turning it into a barbecue restaurant was about his only option for income.
Albright said he had $3,500 left in the bank after renovating the building, and the first food order took a little more than $3,000 of that. He had “fourteen days to make that money back,” before he had to place another food order. It worked out then and continues to do so, as he and Fabbro look for a new house for their family of six. “We are barbecue fanatics, but we’re both beach bums,” Albright admitted, so they plan to move an hour away to Surfside Beach. They’re not worried about the long drive to the restaurant. If need be, one of them can stay overnight with the pit on the air mattresses they used in BBQ Barn’s early days. They’re used to hard work, but the business has been good to them. “It’s been a blessing, and we enjoy every day of it,” Albright said.