Trevor Sales had lived in Texas for only a few months when he swapped a handgun and a wad of cash for a barbecue pit. He was trading up from the small pellet smoker his mother had purchased for him in early 2017, when he moved to Fort Worth from La Porte, a small northern Indiana town where he was born and raised. Sales moved for a job selling massive steel power poles to utility companies, a job he still has, and quickly fell in love with Texas barbecue. “When I moved down here and I saw the Texas barbecue lifestyle, and the passion that these guys put into it, and then what it means to people to cook real Texas barbecue … I was just instantly infatuated with it,” he said. Six months after arriving, and with no previous barbecue experience, Sales was already hosting Saturday barbecue pop-ups outside a Metroflex Gym in Fort Worth. Now he’s got a permanent spot for his Brix Barbecue trailer on the city’s Southside.
While Brix Barbecue, named after Sales’s rescue dog, has been operating since 2017, the business didn’t have a fixed location (besides a very brief stint at the defunct Americado food hall) until February. Now the gleaming Airstream trailer sits in a parking lot catty-corner from the HopFusion Ale Works brewery just north of Republic Street Bar—the same spot where Heim Barbecue got its start and where Panther City BBQ resides. After HopFusion opens at noon, diners can enjoy both beer and barbecue from Brix at one of the brewery’s tables. Brix also has a couple of picnic tables in front of the trailer, but most customers were taking their orders to go when I visited on Saturday, the only day most of the barbecue menu is available. The restaurant also hosts Brix After Dark starting at six on Sunday evenings, serving burgers, wings, and what Sales describes as “more of a bar food menu.”
The Saturday menu isn’t all barbecue. I placed an order for my smoked meats to go, but I wanted the fried foods to be fresh. I found a barrel top in the parking lot and admired the Funkytown Hot Chicken sandwich. The cratered surface sparkled from a coating of hot oil. This is Nashville-style hot chicken, not the buffalo chicken I’ve seen passed off as “hot chicken” in DFW-area restaurants. Sales, who played center for the University at Buffalo football team, knows the difference well. The biggest variation between the two is the foundation of the sauce. Buffalo sauce uses butter and hot sauce, while Nashville hot chicken is coated in dry spices suspended in hot oil. Sales uses smoked beef tallow for the oil, and a mix of thirteen spices brings the heat. It’s not an uncomfortable heat, and it’s tempered a bit by a layer of “dank sauce” (somewhere between crema and ranch)—but you should still have a drink at the ready.
I also tried an order of Brix Balls, which are cheesy chorizo meatballs that have been breaded and deep-fried. It’s a three-day process to sauté onions and peppers with the chorizo, cool the mixture, add in the cheese, form it all into balls, and bread them. They’re deep-fried to order, topped with dank sauce, and are addictive. Even knowing how much barbecue I had in my near future, I couldn’t stop at just one.
All this talk about fried foods may have you wondering if Brix’s focus is missing from the barbecue. Sales says he hopes that the creative side dishes will help him compete in the rapidly growing Fort Worth barbecue scene. “That’s something we do to set ourselves apart and appeal to a base of customers that we probably wouldn’t get [otherwise],” he says.
My first bite of barbecue was the smoked barbacoa tacos. Beef cheeks are smoked, then braised in HopFusion’s Tejano Lager. The shredded meat fills tortillas made in Kansas (Kansas!) by Caramelo Tortillas and topped with chimichurri and pickled red onions. I enjoyed the combination of flavors and the pleasantly chewy texture of the tortillas against the tender, shredded beef cheeks.
I know waiting 45 minutes to eat barbecue after it’s sliced isn’t ideal, but back at home in Dallas it was still an impressive spread. The massive spare ribs were a steal at $28 for a full rack, and the staff was kind enough to cut just half the rack, leaving the rest intact for leftovers. The peppery rub is heavy, but the only burn comes from a sweet and spicy glaze that goes onto the ribs before they’re wrapped and finished in the smoker. The brisket is less complicated, and is simply superb. Both fatty and lean slices were perfectly tender and juicy. Sales gives much of the credit for that to his co-pitmaster, J Jemente.
Jemente started out as a fan of Brix Barbecue, then eventually began helping with the pop-ups. Now he’s a permanent fixture and even found the thousand-gallon tank used to build the smoker they call the Brisket Bomber. It’s painted with a stylized shark mouth to mimic an Air Force bomber. Sales said the tank is from 1947 and is fatter and shorter than most thousand-gallon smokers. It’s easy to spot if you’re driving around the neighborhood.
Jemente also helps craft the house-made sausages. This past week they made a mostly beef sausage spiced with red pepper flakes and sage. It was a little on the dry side (maybe some more pork fat would have helped), but was pleasantly reminiscent of a Chicago-style hot link. Sales said he wasn’t necessarily looking to Chicago for the recipe, but admitted he was aiming for the classic sausage flavor from his childhood memories formed just an hour from the city.
Even before I knew Sales’s Midwestern background, I guessed as much from the pasta salad he served. I grew up one state over, in Ohio, where every backyard get-together included a pasta salad made with Italian dressing, grated Parmesan, tomatoes, black olives, and onions. The Brix version brought back those memories instantly, and Sales says the recipe is identical to his grandmother’s. It brings a lighter flavor to the meal that the beef tallow and brisket beans definitely don’t.
Fort Worth has become known for pork belly burnt ends thanks to Heim Barbecue, and plenty of local barbecue joints serve their own versions. I appreciated that Brix zagged a bit with its beef belly burnt ends coated in a sweet glaze. The flavor was great, but about every third bite was a reminder that beef belly has a tough membrane running through some of it that just doesn’t cook away, no matter how long it smokes.
Sales is admittedly new to the business, but already has some great advice for amateur barbecue cooks looking to get into real barbecue sales. “If you want to start a barbecue business, don’t get a 250-gallon smoker,” he says of the smallish barbecue pits. “Go right to a 500. A 250 gets way too small, way too quick.” He also loves the look of his Airstream trailer, but he’d never retrofit one for a food truck again. “There is not one single square corner in the whole thing,” he says, which isn’t great for squeezing in most kitchen equipment.
Sales and Jemente are putting out some incredible barbecue for being so new to the business, and in Sales’s case, so new to Texas. He said his first barbecue awakening was a memorable meal at Hutchins BBQ in McKinney, but in his cooking he’ll forever be trying to match the meal he had at 2M Smokehouse in San Antonio. That’ll probably take more practice than once a week, but for now Sales isn’t quite ready to make barbecue his full-time job. “I really, really enjoy it, and I want to keep it that way,” he says.