Bread at most barbecue joints is an afterthought. Slices of cheap white bread are handed out for free and often end up in the trash. So I was struck by a new food truck in Austin where the bread, in this case biscuits, is as much of a star as the brisket. Briscuits has been serving on the lot next to Radio Coffee & Beer for only a month, and the menu will continue to expand, but this new venture from Christopher McGhee and Will Spence puts the biscuit in briscuits, and the brisket in the biscuit.
When McGhee met Spence in the kitchen of the Switch in Austin three years ago, Spence was new to barbecue and McGhee was the seasoned veteran. “Christopher kinda taught me everything I know about barbecue,” Spence said of the pitmaster and sausage maker who started his barbecue career nine years ago in Austin with John Lewis at la Barbecue and then with Evan LeRoy at the late Freedmen’s. But neither of them had a go-to biscuit recipe when they decided to pair up on a barbecue and biscuit food truck.
By the time Briscuits opened, the pair were confident in the biscuit recipe they developed together via dozens of iterations. “We tore the recipe down and put it back together,” McGhee said of the yearlong process. Just when they were doubting their progress, McGhee went back to basics. “I took the same approach as making sausage, and I realized it was just math,” he said. The secret to a great biscuit, says McGhee, is not any one ingredient, it’s replicating the exact ratios. The ingredients are just flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and good butter. The duo tried brisket fat and pork fat, both of which made for a bitter biscuit. The winning recipe uses a special technique for blending the butter into the dry mixture (a process they’d rather not explain) to create a buttery, flaky biscuit. Now they make around 350 per day.
I tried a trio of the brunch sandwiches on a recent Saturday, and the biscuits are flawless. They’re buttery and tender, but don’t break apart halfway through the sandwich like so many other biscuits do. The square shape keeps the brisket slices, folded layers of scrambled eggs, and cheddar cheese tidily within its borders. In the trailer, McGhee and Spence fry the eggs to order in individual sauté pans, and they come out perfectly fluffy. Slices of smoked brisket that would be excellent on their own only heighten the experience, but my favorite biscuit sandwich didn’t have egg or cheese. The combination of brisket and smoked strawberry jelly was the first the pair tried in testing the menu, and it’s their best-seller for a reason. The sweet jam obviously goes well in a biscuit, but it also clashes with the salty, peppery, smoky brisket in all the right ways.
More options will come as Briscuits finds its footing. “Our whole idea was to start small, execute, and grow from there,” McGhee said. A smoked pork belly biscuit is on the way, and it might go well with the house-made peach preserves. And while the biscuits are usually available through the afternoon, Briscuits offers a more recognizable smoked meat menu most evenings. There’s not a set menu, but brisket is available every day until it sells out. The smoked chicken wings have been popular, while the pork ribs haven’t yet hit. “Customers have complained that they’re too messy,” McGhee said of the ribs, which he’s rather proud of.
Despite the focus on carbs in addition to protein, the duo remain committed to smoked meat. “We’re not trying to get away from barbecue, but we wanted to do something different with it,” McGhee said. Still, I was worried that their love for biscuits and jam might fade as the excitement of a new venture gives way to normalcy. McGhee said they’ve discussed it. “It’s gonna get repetitive just like barbecue, but this is us working for something of our own.”
4204 Manchaca Road, Austin
Hours: Thursday–Saturday 10:30–8:30, Sunday 9–3
Pitmasters: Christopher McGhee and Will Spence
Method: Oak in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2021