At the beginning of 2020, Lance Eaker was given an ultimatum by his wife, Boo. “You’ve got one year,” she said. “We’re in a restaurant or we’re going back to work. I’m not doing the food truck anymore.” Their success running the Eaker Barbecue food truck in Houston gave them hope that the goal was achievable. Back then, though, neither expected for her declaration to lead them to a Hill Country life in Fredericksburg.
“I had never lived in a small town before,” Boo tells me. She grew up in Seoul, South Korea, and since moving to the U.S. has lived in New York City, San Antonio, and Houston. Lance, a Uvalde native, decided in 2017 to quit his job as an IT consultant in Houston to open a barbecue food truck. He could do so only because the couple planned to live off of Boo’s salary as a fashion designer. Two weeks after Lance put in his notice at work, Boo was unexpectedly let go from her job. Now dependent on the food truck to make a living, they both went all in on barbecue to get the Eaker Barbecue food truck open that fall.
The business had a slow start, but it eventually picked up steam in Houston thanks to Lance’s barbecue and Boo’s desserts and side dishes, many of them adapted from her Korean roots. Despite their growing success, operating out of a food truck during the Houston summers was an unbearable long-term plan. “In the food truck, everything was difficult. It was like pushing boulders uphill,” Lance says. Two months after Boo set an expiration date on the food truck, the pandemic hit. They began searching for a permanent location, and decided to look outside of the crowded Houston barbecue scene.
The Eakers considered several small towns, then Lance called the Houston Chronicle‘s barbecue columnist, Chris Reid, to ask his advice. Reid suggested Fredericksburg. “I hadn’t been there in fifteen years, when it was a small antique town,” Lance says, but he started researching. Boo was more blunt: “I thought Lance and Chris were out of their minds.” A few visits to Fredericksburg convinced her, and they moved their family (they have two school-aged sons) to the Hill Country late last year without so much as a restaurant lease secured, and with the food truck parked back in Houston. “It was like a blink of an eye, and we were here,” Boo says.
After their arrival, everything seemed to fall into place. They persuaded the owner of a restaurant space to lease rather than sell. They sold their house in Houston easily, and used the funds to finish building out the restaurant. A Cen-Tex offset steel smoker arrived months ahead of schedule, and the doors to the first nonmobile version of Eaker Barbecue opened in June of this year.
After navigating around a massive parade that shut down Fredericksburg’s Main Street, I skirted the street closure signs and walked a block to Eaker Barbecue. Lance was just stepping out to raise the Texas flag on the sign out front. I was the first customer of the day, so I had plenty of time to study my options. Kimchi, Korean cucumber salad, fried rice, and gochujang pork ribs all graced the butcher paper menu. I ordered them all, plus a few Texas barbecue basics.
Lance said later that they weren’t sure how a new audience would react to the Korean items, but he and Boo have been pleasantly surprised. Gochujang ribs are the second-most-popular protein option after the brisket. The ribs are marinated overnight in a sauce developed by Boo’s brother, then smoked. When an order is placed, Boo takes individual ribs, coats them in more sauce, then browns the surface with a gas torch. (“I’m the torch lady,” she jokes.) They’re finished with a topper of green onions and toasted sesame seeds. The ribs are vibrant, tender, and far more compelling than the traditional pork ribs, which are seasoned too heavily with black pepper.
Lance smokes everything over mesquite wood, and runs a clean fire. The smokiness is apparent on the juicy slices of turkey, and on the Prime-grade brisket slices, but it’s not too heavily applied. The latter was overcooked, but it’s better to serve brisket that’s too tender than too tough. Besides, when you can pair every morsel of brisket with a bite of the refreshing Korean cucumber salad, fragrant with fish sauce and toasted sesame seeds, it makes you wonder why there aren’t yet restaurants serving nothing but Texas barbecue cuts paired with Korean banchan. I added Boo’s kimchi to an otherwise well-made pulled pork sandwich, and could only wonder why it wasn’t on there to begin with.
In a 2018 interview with the Houston Chronicle, Lance admitted, “If [Boo] hadn’t been laid off, I would have already failed,” with the barbecue food truck. Today, even in a small town, it’s Boo’s influence that keeps Eaker Barbecue from being just another splendid smoked meat joint, the likes of which are no longer uncommon in the state. Here, the leftover brisket goes into the fried rice, along with some kimchi. There’s meat in the perfectly adequate pinto beans too, and though she makes them, Boo admits, “I don’t like beans. I don’t eat beans.” She uses Lance as her taste tester.
Boo does like macaroni and cheese, and her preferred method is a lot like mine at home. Large elbow macaroni is mixed with creamy and deeply rich cheese sauce, but it’s not overcooked and mushy. She then tops it with a cheese blend before browning it, properly eschewing the bread crumbs that Lance believes are necessary. My paper boat ranneth over, but only for a minute or so, before I’d eaten every browned, cheesy bit.
I scraped the bowl clean of the magnificent, boozy banana pudding too. Boo bakes several varieties of cookies for it, and I couldn’t pass up the tower of creamy pudding, real whipped cream, and brûléed banana slices soaked in bourbon and brown sugar. It’s based on the bourbon banana pudding from Roegels Barbecue Co. in Houston—not quite as a sweet or boozy, but just as satisfying.
The Eakers didn’t expect this new life, but things are working out in Fredericksburg. The kids are happy in their new school and on their new sports teams, and Boo has been pleasantly surprised by how nice folks are at the local post office. Leaving Houston was a tough choice, but leaving the food truck behind wasn’t. Eaker Barbecue is bound to make its mark in the Hill Country, and it’s bound to draw out-of-towners looking for a unique take on Texas barbecue.
Hours: Wednesday–Saturday 11–3
Pitmasters: Lance and Boo Eaker
Method: Mesquite in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2021