“Smoky Spicy Pig Parts” is the motto painted on the door of the Crimson Creek Smokehouse food truck. It’s an invitation to come and enjoy a wealth of pork prepared in various ways, including pulled pork shoulder, pork belly burnt ends, and three different types of pork ribs. What you won’t find is beef, unless you plan ahead. Co-owner Jamie Dickens said she and her pitmaster husband, Marcus McNac, wanted to provide something different to the folks in far West Austin. “There is a lot of brisket down here,” she said, so the couple leaned into the pork barbecue McNac grew up eating in Lawton, Oklahoma.
McNac is a proud Oklahoma native. The handle for his personal Instagram account is @austinsooner. The trailer’s opening day was on the day of the 2020 Red River Rivalry college football game, which McNac refers to as the OU-Texas game rather than Texas-OU. The name of the joint is an homage to the Red River, and to the Creek heritage of his mother (who also has African American heritage).
McNac’s father, who is Seminole and African American, provided his barbecue foundation. As a child, the family would visit McNac’s uncle on Lake Eufaula, in Oklahoma. The young McNac was responsible for flipping the meat and tamping down any flare-ups with a squirt bottle of water. When he graduated to cooking barbecue on his own, his father trusted him with the family rub recipe, which is salt-free. “Dad never used salt because everyone around him had high blood pressure,” McNac explained. He wouldn’t divulge the spice mixture, but did offer that his dad came up with it while serving in Vietnam. “He had access to all these different spices that they didn’t have in the States,” he said.
McNac is proud of his Oklahoma heritage, but he loves Texas too. He has called Austin home since 1997, and he has nothing against beef barbecue, but he bluntly states that “brisket is not my thing” in his bio on the Crimson Creek website. Ironically, the restaurant’s showpiece menu item is smoked beef, but in the form of a bone-in tomahawk ribeye steak. You must order it at least 24 hours in advance, and the steak— three-plus pounds before it’s cooked—is $99.95 before tax.
Those tomahawks are cut from a whole prime rib, then heavily seasoned with salt, pepper, and spices and chilled overnight. McNac starts them on the cool side of the smoker, then gradually moves them closer to the fire. At a 122 degrees F internal temperature in the center, he pulls them out of the smoker to rest. When the preorder customer arrives, he finishes the steak over a hot grill to sear the exterior. It’s served on a butcher paper–lined tray with nothing more than a serrated steak knife and a side of melted butter and duck fat that’s seasoned and smoked along with the steak. After gorging on steak, my dining companion and I had a little left over, but it was hard to stop, even with a forthcoming tray of pork barbecue. Smoky, salty, buttery, and cooked to a perfect medium rare, it was an impressive chunk of beef.
Dickens said they’ll be open Monday for Valentine’s Day, though they’re normally just open Friday through Sunday. They have 75 tomahawk preorders and counting. Luckily, they don’t have any more items to smoke that day, or the steel smoker wouldn’t have enough room for all those steaks. On regular days, there’s not enough room to meet the demand for the popular rib tips. Jamie, a Chicago native who went on rib-tip tours through Chicago with her father as a kid, said it was that cut that hooked her on McNac’s barbecue. “I’m mostly vegetarian,” she confessed, “though I do eat pork now.”
They were out of those rib tips when I ordered at noon on a recent Sunday. I opted for the pork belly burnt ends instead, which ended up being my favorite bite of pork from Crimson Creek. “The cut on the pit that takes the most time, the most energy, the most effort, and the most love is the pork belly,” Dickens said. They were crisp on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. The deep red glaze that coated the outer crust was sweet enough that I skipped dessert. The minimum rib order listed on the menu is a half rack, but they let me get a quarter rack of both baby back ribs and spareribs. The flavor of the family spice mix came through beneath the sauce brushed on top, which had enough salt to bring out the pork flavor of the ribs. I preferred the baby backs.
The sides were well made, like the creamy mac and cheese made with smoked queso. The generous portion overflowed the cup it was served in. A sweetened vinegar slaw was crisp and refreshing, and the green beans with bacon weren’t bad for canned beans. Susan Dickens, Jamie’s mother, makes all the pies and cakes from scratch, but I’ll have to wait until another visit to try the frozen margarita pie.
McNac and Dickens started small, and they’re building the business gradually. They have lots of outdoor seating—some shaded—outside the food truck, and there was live music during our meal. They’ve got a good thing going, even if it’s not what you might expect from a Texas barbecue trailer. By the summertime, they’ll have another food truck location at the Deep Eddy tasting room, and they’re already looking for a third Crimson Creek location. McNac is also toying with adding another permanent beef option to his menu. With all the Californians moving to nearby Dripping Springs, he recently offered smoked tri-tip to a receptive audience. It seems the pork guy from Oklahoma may have a few more surprises in store—but don’t hold your breath for brisket.