Joyce Ramirez switched over to video mode on her smartphone as soon as I uttered the words “Cherry Bomb.” Her husband and 225 BBQ co-owner Rene Ramirez stood by her side. With the tips of his gloved fingers he passed me a plastic ramekin that held a bright red nugget topped with a thick slice of raw jalapeño. Joyce asked, “Do you mind if we record you?” I said it was no problem, and I put the whole thing in my mouth. Habanero peppers aren’t that large, but they pack a punch. At their Arlington barbecue trailer, Rene and Joyce cut the habaneros in half, careful to keep the seeds intact, and stuff one side with cream cheese and the other with chopped brisket. The two halves are put back together, wrapped tightly with bacon, and seasoned with cayenne pepper before being smoked. Each “bomb” is then dipped in a serrano-infused barbecue sauce before getting a dash of grated Parmesan and the aforementioned slice of jalapeño.
The couple love documenting the various reactions from customers. I like to think I handled the Cherry Bomb like a champ, at least until that final crunch into the pepper, after which I swallowed. They posted the video and, as you can see, I tried as hard as I could to keep talking as I ate, but the heat bit me and Rene happily handed over a red Solo cup with a splash of milk in it. I didn’t know it was called the Cherry Bomb challenge, but I’m up certainly up for another.
There’s plenty of heat on the brisket-loaded menu at 225 BBQ, but when you start with a Cherry Bomb, something like a brisket-stuffed jalapeño or Hot Cheetos inside a brisket burrito seem tame. For the latter, Rene fills a large flour tortilla with chopped brisket, Hot Cheetos, and mozzarella cheese before browning it on the flattop inside the trailer. It was a nice touch, but it needed some sauce besides the barbecue sauce. Luckily, a cousin of Rene’s, Yesenia Gutierrez, makes a mean salsa verde for her tamales (filled with pork, chicken, or smoked brisket) that she sells from the trailer by the dozen.
The two-year-old trailer serves barbecue only on Saturdays in the parking lot of Division Brewing, where Ramirez keeps his reverse-flow smoker. Ramirez, who started backyard barbecue catering about seven years ago, lives in Grand Prairie, but he’s from the Pleasant Grove area so he had been setting up near the old neighborhood in Balch Springs. That’s where I found him on a recent Sunday, but for now he’s looking for a new Sunday option after the previous spot proved not to be viable. Parking in the city of Dallas isn’t an option because, as Ramirez told the Dallas Observer, they serve out of a food trailer rather than a food truck, and that distinction makes an unfortunate difference for permitting in Dallas.
The menu changes often based on what they feel like cooking and what they have time to prepare [note: during the pandemic, they are offering a limited menu]. Masking tape covered the barbacoa, chicken fatties, and “Chicken Baseballs” written in Sharpie on the brown paper menu when I visited on a recent Sunday. The barbacoa sold out the day prior as did the labor-intensive Chicken Baseballs (think Cherry Bombs with a chicken thigh replacing the habanero). The Ramirezes spent two hours just stuffing and wrapping habaneros and jalapeños. Ramirez had planned to make more chicken fatties, but the lost hour from the time change the night before was the hour he needed to properly weave the bacon strips.
One hour might seem trivial, but Ramirez puts literally all of his extra time into the 225 BBQ trailer. He works for a freight company loading trucks Monday through Friday. “I start my day at six in the morning to run my errands,” Ramirez said of his Friday routine. He gets the fire started in his smoker before his shift starts at 3 p.m., and has someone watch it while the briskets smoke. At midnight, Ramirez is done with loading trucks for the week, but goes straight into barbecue mode. He takes a few naps along the way, but his barbecue shift doesn’t end until about 8 p.m. on Saturday. When I visited on Sunday he was running on just four hours of sleep from the night before, and already had to start thinking about getting back to his day job on Monday.
It’s a grueling schedule for Ramirez just to be able to serve barbecue two days a week, but he doesn’t want to take any weekends off. After a surgery he had a while back, 225 BBQ had to close for a week. Ramirez remembers how hard it was to bring back the customers when he reopened. “People kind of went their own ways,” he said, some of them former regulars. He doesn’t want to risk that now. “I’ve been working seven days since last year. Five days on my job, and two days here,” he said. The pace is relentless, but Ramirez hopes one day to make barbecue his full-time job.
Until then, you can enjoy their barbecue on Saturdays. When they are serving their full menu and specials, get the Takis Locos brisket nachos. A paper boat of Takis (spicy rolled corn chips) is cooled with queso, fortified with corn and brisket, and gussied up with Parmesan and sliced jalapeños. The brisket elotes are just as popular, but don’t be fooled into thinking the brisket here requires that kind assistance to stand out. The more traditional combo plates are just as good.
Slices of lean brisket were thick, yet still tender, with a nice fat cap. There’s a was a bit of spice and sweetness in the rub that went far beyond salt and pepper. The same for the spare ribs. They were thick and meaty, and I was bracing for them to be tough, but they were spot-on. If that wasn’t enough meat, a side of mac and cheese came with brisket, and the mashed potatoes are flecked with bacon. I pined for previous specials like pork ribs coated in crushed Hot Cheetos or the funnel cakes they were frying up the week before. A commenter felt threatened by the fried dough they posted on Facebook, and he urged Ramirez to “stay on that BBQ path.” Ramirez replied, “We don’t just stick to BBQ,” and that’s precisely why I can’t wait to come back to 225 BBQ.
Saturdays at Division Brewing in Arlington
Seeking a new location for Sunday service
Open 11 a.m.–8 p.m. or until sold out