Before Tomball became a barbecue destination, Justin and Kathyrn Haecker began to slowly build their barbecue dream in the small suburb northwest of Houston. I first wrote about Tejas Chocolate + Barbecue in Tomball back in January 2016, before it made repeat appearances in our last two Top 50 barbecue lists. Two months later, the Haeckers set up their Bexar County Brisket tent at the Saturday farmers’ market held in the middle of Tomball. “I sold [brisket] any way possible,” Justin said, including in the signature Bristick, which featured sauce-doused sliced brisket and Hawaiian rolls speared onto a wooden skewer. After socking away all of their profits in a restaurant fund for a few years, they were able to open Bexar Barbecue in Tomball in June 2020, providing one more excuse for a suburban barbecue crawl.
Construction on the restaurant began two months before the coronavirus pandemic hit. I asked Justin if the prospect of opening a restaurant in what would be a changed world gave the couple pause. “We were already so deep, there was no turning back,” Justin said. He had just abandoned his career in oil and gas, which kept him on a rig in the Gulf of Mexico for as long as five weeks at a time. In hindsight, the timing of the restaurant’s opening “was kind of a blessing in disguise,” Justin said. The pandemic was going to be challenge for every restaurateur, but at least the Haeckers could plan for the new normal before opening.
I should note the name of the restaurant is pronounced with a hard x, just as it’s spelled, and not like the county that’s home to San Antonio. Justin grew up east of San Antonio near the Bexar Bowling Society. That business used the hard x pronunciation, as I confirmed via its voicemail greeting. Given that his restaurant’s name is an homage to Justin’s upbringing, he chose to mimic that pronunciation.
A month after opening the restaurant, the Haeckers were asked to vend at a Fourth of July event. Not knowing what the crowd might look like, they opted to grill burgers rather than smoke a massive batch of barbecue. Justin wanted to simplify the grilling process, so he seasoned the ground beef and added some curing salt. Basically, he made a beef sausage without the casing. It was so popular, he kept it on the menu. I tried the Candy Melt version, in which the thin patty is topped with American cheese and tender, saucy brisket burnt ends and served on a buttered and griddled bun. I prefer a thicker patty and a lighter touch with the barbecue sauce, but I appreciated that the burger was decadent yet didn’t require an unhinged jaw to consume.
The actual sausage on the menu is a blend of beef and pork made with trimmings from the briskets and pork spareribs. It’s seasoned with a blend of salt, black pepper, and garlic, which makes for a traditional Texas-style link with great snap. Justin keeps the seasoning simple on the brisket and the pork ribs as well. The brisket’s black pepper bark was stout with a bit of a crunch—it’s smoked along with everything else in a pair of Cookshack rotisserie smokers fed by wood pellets rather than logs. The ribs were tender, and it was refreshing to get a savory rib when the embrace of the sweet glaze has become nearly universal. Desserts like banana pudding, pecan pie, and chocolate sheet cake, made by Bexar’s in-house baker, Leann Hughes, reflect the same classic aesthetic as the barbecue. “We just want to do things really well and really classic and nostalgic,” Justin said.
I tried only a couple of sides. Casa corn was an oversalted cross between creamed corn and elote with a cheese topping that had gone from browned and crisp to drowned and chewy. I preferred the baked potato salad, available hot or cold. I tried the former, and between the chunks of skin-on potato and slivers of green onion were bits of smoked meat that I assumed was bacon. It turns out the price of bacon increased to the point that Justin looked for an alternative. Even after producing sausage and the burgers, he still had plenty of fatty brisket trim in the cooler. Now he slices it thin, seasons it like bacon, and smokes it on the pit until the fat is crisp. The resulting brisket “bacon” is then chopped up and added to the potato salad.
The Haeckers have been forced to get creative to make the most of their briskets. They currently pay $5.19 per pound for Choice grade Angus brisket from Creekstone. That’s a 66 percent increase from last January’s price. “Being on the retail side, we’re the last guys in line that have to eat the cost,” Justin surmised. While you might argue that that position is held by the customer, this would be the case only if the brisket were sold on an ever-sliding scale that reflected the current market. Bexar Barbecue hasn’t gone to market pricing. Like most other joints in the state, it raised the menu price of its brisket, but it’s still a deal at $23 per pound.
Being on the retail side of the beef market has kicked the Haeckers’ desire to produce their own beef into gear. After Justin left his Houston-based career, the couple bought property in Anderson, which is closer to College Station than to Tomball. They moved to the property last fall, and are building a house along with a herd of black and red Angus cattle. “If you go straight to a farmer or producer, you get [beef] for much cheaper, and they get a lot more profit,” Justin explained. Once the herd is large enough, he plans to begin selling raw beef from his ranch at Bexar Barbecue so he can enjoy the higher profits and his customers can enjoy the lower prices. Just don’t expect the smoked brisket served at the restaurant to be from the Haeckers’ cattle anytime soon, if ever. As Justin pointed out, the age-old problem with briskets is that there are only two per animal, and that would require too many cattle to keep the smokers full at Tomball’s newest barbecue destination.
28301 Texas Highway 249, Suite 800, Tomball
Hours: Wednesday–Saturday 11–9
Pitmasters: Justin Haecker and Rafael Cardozo
Method: Post oak pellets in an electric rotisserie
Year opened: 2020