Until recently, Bryan Bingham had a young pitmaster’s dream job. Five years ago, with no commercial barbecue experience, the 34-year-old was brought on to assist on the pits at the Bodacious Bar-B-Q on Mobberly Avenue in Longview. (The location had just been named the number four barbecue joint in the state in our 2017 top fifty barbecue list.) By 2019, thanks in part to Jordan Jackson’s decision to leave the business, Bingham was in charge. He eventually hired his wife Kimmy Bingham and his friend David Segovia, and the trio ran the restaurant well. Although they didn’t earn the same accolade on this year’s barbecue list, they held up the quality to a point I felt would keep the restaurant—the original location of a larger chain—in the discussion of the state’s best barbecue.
For Bingham, the gig was a blessing and a curse. He had a steady job at a well-known joint, but he was anonymous. His name wasn’t on the door, he didn’t have an ownership stake in the business, and lots of customers still asked to meet Jackson, even years after he’d left. Bingham felt like a caretaker, and wanted a place of his own with the freedom to cook whatever he’d like.
His dream was contagious, and Kimmy and Segovia agreed to partner on a future business called Sunbird Barbecue. They bought a food truck with a smoker attached and had stickers made with the Sunbird logo. It was the worst-kept secret in barbecue as the trio planned their future while still smoking away at Bodacious. Then the future quickly became the present. All three made a sudden departure from the business on May 4 after a disagreement with the owners. Later that evening, the original Bodacious announced it would close temporarily, and it remained closed until June 30. The Binghams and Segovia didn’t have that long to wait for their next move.
“No. We were definitely not ready at all,” said Bryan Bingham when asked if the Sunbird Barbecue truck was ready to roll on the day the group left Bodacious. They still needed to finish the interior, get permits in order, and secure a permanent spot to park the trailer. They organized pop-ups and collaborations with other barbecue joints until June 15, when they celebrated their first official day of serving to the public, at the lot of Heritage the Market at Green Top, north of Longview.
If you ever visited Evie Mae’s Pit Barbeque in Wolfforth in its early days, you may recognize the Sunbird Barbecue trailer. Bingham and crew purchased it, and it came with a reverse-flow smoker attached. They’ve since parked two more mounted smokers behind the trailer to increase output, but they’re still having trouble keeping up with demand. On a recent visit they had smoked as much barbecue as the pits would hold and sold out of brisket just after noon. Tending all those fires is also a challenge, as the pork ribs demonstrated. They looked great and were perfectly tender, but had the flavor of dirty smoke from a mesquite fire that had smoldered too long. That’s an easy issue to fix, especially with the new thousand-gallon Cen-Tex smoker that will soon arrive.
At Sunbird, they smoke mostly with mesquite (there’s a bit of oak thrown in there too), the same combination as at Bodacious. “I like the way [mesquite smoke] tastes, especially on sausage and brisket,” said Bingham. The simply-seasoned original sausage links were impressively juicy, and the jalapeño cheese variety was just as good. Keep an eye out for specialty sausages, which Sunbird prides itself in making. I just missed the Thanksgiving-themed turkey boudin.
On a recent Thursday, I got there just in time for one of the last orders of sliced brisket. One smoker is dedicated to briskets, and I suggest they keep it around. The lean slices were expertly smoked with a well-rendered fat cap and juicy, tender beef. Basic seasoning lets the beef flavor shine through. Smoked turkey with a sweet and spicy rub was equally juicy.
Segovia danced among the three smokers, checking the progress of the barbecue. Before service he whipped up the salsas, including a robust salsa verde that went well with the pulled pork taco topped with cilantro, raw onion, and cotija cheese. The flour tortillas come from La Fama Foods in nearby Ore City. Alongside, I’d suggest a dish of elote, which exhibits a good balance of creamy and spicy. Kimmy developed that recipe, along with the savory pinto beans and the rest of the sides. If you see her honey butter cornbread on the ever-changing menu, grab a square.
Back in August, another taco from Sunbird blew me away. Don and Theo Nguyen from Khói Barbecue in Houston were in town to smoke up a collaborative barbecue menu. They served pulled pork quesitacos with a side of panang curry dipping sauce. It was a magical combination. After the event, Don reflected on what it meant for Sunbird to invite him and his brother to deep East Texas to serve barbecue flavored with fish sauce, curry, and lemongrass. He wrote, “People gave a chance to something unfamiliar and ended up liking it. It gives me hope.” That’s the sort of interaction Bingham and crew will continue to foster at Sunbird, though the next collaboration is still tentative.
Segovia and the Binghams are satisfied with the business’s momentum over the past five months. “It’s been really exciting to actually have people really care about what we’re doing, and be genuinely happy for us,” Bingham said. He’s already looking to the future with plans for a brick-and-mortar. Until then, his goal of barbecue freedom has been realized, and he knows his customers are coming to see what he, Kimmy, and Segovia have built.
7486 U.S. 259, Longview
Hours: Wednesday–Saturday 11–3
Pitmaster: Bryan Bingham
Method: Mesquite (and some oak) in a reverse-flow smoker
Year opened: 2021