Since it was erected in 1962, a replica of a nut that stands in front of the Guadalupe County courthouse has been about the most popular reason for travelers to visit the courthouse square in downtown Seguin. The concrete and plaster spheroid, dubbed the “world’s largest pecan,” is no longer the world’s largest, is zero percent pecan, and is about to be upstaged by a legume across the street. Burnt Bean Co., a new barbecue joint on the square, opened in December, and has already cemented itself as a destination for barbecue lovers in Texas and beyond.
I’ve simply never been to a barbecue joint that is this good so soon after its opening. The weak spots in a barbecue menu are generally multiple and obvious, but after trying breakfast (served on Sundays only) and lunch in a single day at Burnt Bean Co., I have no holes to report. Both meals were flawless. Co-owners Ernest Servantes and David Kirkland didn’t wait this long in their barbecue careers to open a restaurant just to let it fail, though they did fear their dream was over before Burnt Bean Co. even opened for business.
For fifteen years, Servantes worked as a corporate chef for large-scale hospitality company Sodexo, most recently as the executive chef at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin. He needed a hobby and didn’t like golf, so he entered a barbecue competition in 2009. He asked for a weekend off to compete, and a woman he worked with, Flora, asked what he’d be cooking. “Brisket, ribs, chicken, and beans,” he told her. In Spanish, she replied, “Hey fat boy, you’re probably going to burn the beans.” Burnt beans in Spanish is frijoles quemados, and Servantes thought that would make a great barbecue team name until he imagined the judges butchering it on stage. Instead, he translated the phrase back to English: Burnt Bean Co. Servantes was hooked on barbecue from the first competition, and dreams of owning his own barbecue joint weren’t far behind. First, he needed a few more years of smoking under his belt. “I had to make sure I wanted to do this for the rest of my life,” Servantes says.
Servantes met Kirkland on the competition trail. They were friends, but hadn’t worked together until Servantes, who lives in New Braunfels, asked for help running a barbecue pop-up in Kirkland’s native Seguin. A local bar on the square let them take over the spot for lunch in October of 2019. The barbecue sold out in 45 minutes, so they cooked double the amount for the next pop-up two weeks later. Every other Saturday, the Burnt Bean Co. following grew. The duo had momentum that seemed poised to propel them to the culmination of the restaurant dream Servantes had carried for over a decade. Then the pandemic hit.
“It put a stop to everything we did,” Servantes says. “I went into feeling-sorry-for-myself mode.” His depression lasted two months, then he and Kirkland decided to lick their wounds and fire up the pits for Mother’s Day. They offered a cash-and-carry brisket package, which sold well enough to keep business afloat until October. In the meantime, the bar they had been using for pop-ups closed, so Servantes and Kirkland took over the lease. The timing wasn’t so bad after all. “Not only did we hone our skills and make our food better, we got to work as a team,” Servantes says, looking on the bright side.
They got to work renovating the bar and bought two Mill Scale offset smokers. “I quit my job. I sold everything I had,” Servantes says. “I used to have thirty-some smokers and trailers, and now I have a smoker at home.” He and Kirkland, who had quit his long career in HVAC when they began the pop-ups, told each other, “We only have one shot at this.”
The breakfast menu at Burnt Bean Co. is daunting. Most barbecue joints that serve breakfast might offer a taco or three. There are tacos here, sure, but there’s also menudo, huevos rancheros, and barbacoa. Locally made corn or flour tortillas are available for the breakfast tacos, and they can be topped with any or all of the extras like avocado, cilantro, cotija cheese, onion, lime, or salsa. I got them all on a thick slice of brisket wrapped in a flour tortilla, which alone would have been enough for a full breakfast. One bite confirmed my long-standing theory that salsa goes better with brisket than most barbecue sauces do. Another taco with smoked mollejas (beef sweetbreads) was just as satisfying, but the barbacoa is the real prize at breakfast. Unctuous strands of tender beef were well seasoned, with just a hint of smoke.
Another stunner was the criminally underpriced plate of huevos rancheros. There was probably $12 worth of a brisket on the $12 dish. It starts with a layer of salty refried beans covered with two fried corn tortillas. A thick slice of brisket is next, with two sunny-side-up eggs draped over top, capped in salsa verde, salsa roja, crema, and cotija cheese. The corn tortillas stayed crisp far longer than expected, and each bite brought new flavors. The brisket was perfectly smoked. The Sunday breakfast is “an homage to my parents and to my family down south in Uvalde,” Servantes says. Items like menudo and barbacoa are too special to offer every day, so don’t expect breakfast on any day but Sunday at Burnt Bean Co. On Sundays, the staff has almost no time to switch over from breakfast to the barbecue lunch service. Did I mention this place is a barbecue joint?
After a post-breakfast trip to get some coffee and gas up the car, I parked in front of the restaurant, waiting until 10:45, when they said the lunch menu would be available. I’m glad I jumped on the opportunity early, because the line stretched out the door by the time I was done eating.
Ordering the beef rib special would have been unabashed gluttony, so I opted for the smoked pork chop instead. The whole, bone-in loin was seasoned and smoked, then each chop was sliced off to order. I got the end cut, and it was juicy, smoky, and deliciously peppery. Thin slices of turkey breast were just as moist and even more peppery. After just a few bites, it was evident that this was going to be a meal matched only by my breakfast from a few hours before. I had most of the menu left in front of me, but it was only after leaving that I realized I forgot to order the pinto beans.
No matter, the green beans more than made up for the oversight. At the bottom of a pot of greens is a liquid called potlicker, which is the highly seasoned broth that the greens were cooked in. These green beans—stewed with bacon, tomato, and onions—leave a similar broth after you eat them. Drink this juice. It’s medicinal, like a digestif. For more pure comfort, dig into the bacon ranch taters, which are frozen hash browns loaded with more bacon and cheese, it seemed, than potato.
Every side dish at Burnt Bean Co. shows a similar level of care. A honey butter drizzle on the soft, baked, halved sweet potato would be enough, but the potato also gets stuffed with tiny marshmallows, toasted with a torch a la minute. A spectacular sweet corn pudding, which tastes like many other great versions of the stuffing-like dish, wasn’t enough. This version gets an acidic tang from a drizzle of crema, and a little heat with a tajín sprinkle. Fusilli pasta is boiled to just below al dente so that it finishes cooking in a bath of warm queso. An optional layer of crushed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos adds texture and vibrancy to a dish that’s so often a soggy afterthought at barbecue joints.
But back to the barbecue: It’ll be hard to choose between the dry rib or the glazed version, so get one of each. The latter gets a generous squeeze of a thin, sweet sauce before going on the tray. Without the pop of sweetness, it’s merely the perfectly smoked, savory rib that you’d expect from a great Central Texas barbecue joint. Slices of lean brisket were juicier than some fatty brisket I’ve eaten. The fat cap rendered into submission, melting onto the butcher paper before my eyes.
This is spectacular barbecue, but it’s not the competition-style barbecue Servantes and Kirkland cooked for over a decade. “I had to take everything I learned in competition barbecue and leave it behind,” Servantes says. The only similarity is that he still cooks with oak. His competition cooking was done at a frenetic pace, and the food was packed with flavor that overflowed from every bite. At Burnt Bean Co., it’s more about coaxing the natural flavors of pork from a rib. “We went from the autobahn to the backcounty roads in Texas,” he jokes.
You’ll want to slow down and make sure to get dessert to end the meal. The “better than brisket” cake might be better than some brisket, but not the one at Burnt Bean Co. Still, the combination of caramel, sweetened condensed milk, and chocolate cake is hard to resist. I didn’t try the other cake option made with Big Red because the banana pudding was too distracting: rather than Nilla wafers, it features a layer of crushed pecan sandies at the bottom of the cup, and wedges of buñuelo (similar to sopaipilla) plunged into the whipped cream layered over the custard. With plenty of banana slices in between, it’s a unique take on a Texas barbecue classic.
That description really sums up Burnt Bean Co. as a whole. “I cook what I want, from Cajun, Creole, to Mexican,” Servantes says, “but my primary focus is serving Central Texas barbecue.” This level of barbecue demands a visit, which should help attract those who know Seguin only for what’s along Interstate 10 on the north side of town. With a Texas barbecue classic like Davila’s BBQ (since 1959) just down the street, Seguin now has a real one-two punch for barbecue tours.
Burnt Bean Co.
108 S. Austin, Seguin
Hours: Thursday–Saturday, 11–3, Sunday 8–3
Pitmasters: Ernest Servantes and David Kirkland
Method: Oak in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2020