In 2017, Randy Estrada was recovering from foot surgery in his living room, and he realized he couldn’t continue his twenty-year career as a diesel mechanic. All the time on his feet had led to the surgery and five ruptured disks in his back. “It just took too much of a toll on my body,” he says. “I was down for a couple months and started watching BBQ Pitmasters,” Estrada said. He saw an episode with Robert Sierra, a San Marcos pitmaster. Estrada tracked him down and asked for advice on getting into barbecue professionally. That led to a friendship with pitmaster Bill Dumas, who suggested Estrada apply at Schmidt Family Barbecue in Bee Cave, which led to a job in the pit room at Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue in Pflugerville. Thus began Estrada’s journey to open the Estrada’s Texas Barbecue food truck beside a gas station in Creedmoor in 2018, a journey that wouldn’t have been possible without his wife Tessa and their ever-widening circle of barbecue compatriots.
Estrada’s first big investment in his business was a barbecue pit he found on Craigslist. It was good enough to get them through several pop-ups, but the smoker had some major flaws. Both the firebox and the exhaust were too small, making it hard to pump enough heat into the smoker. He was burning up all his profits in wood costs. Estrada couldn’t afford a new smoker, and contacted pit builder Ryan Newland of Backline Fabrication about some repairs. Newland quoted him a price he couldn’t yet afford. Estrada confided in his friend and pitmaster Steven Rossler that he was saving up for the much-needed repairs, and that’s when Rossler jumped into action.
Newland was shocked when Rossler called him about footing the bill for Estrada’s smoker. Rossler explained the struggles Estrada had faced. The story made an impact on Newland, and he told me, “It broke my heart to see him spend his savings to get a pit that just didn’t function,” so he agreed to do the labor for free. The pair concocted a story about an anonymous donor so Estrada wouldn’t know who paid for the repairs. A couple months later, in December of 2018, Newland organized a pit-reveal party, and he and Rossler told Estrada the whole story. Estrada was blown away by their generosity, and loaded up his newly overhauled smoker. Just over a year later, the Estradas parked the smoker and a new food truck beside the Valero station in Creedmoor, southeast of Austin, to open their permanent location.
Randy Estrada grew up in Austin before his family moved to the Creedmoor area. There he became friends with the town’s former mayor Robert Wilhite, who once ran Wilhite’s Barbecue inside the same gas station where Estrada’s is now parked. Estrada said once he opened up, “People were happy to have good barbecue over here again.” Estrada’s serves barbecue breakfast tacos from 6 a.m. until 11, when it stops frying eggs and switches over to the full barbecue menu, which is usually sold out by around 2 p.m. It recently shifted its hours to Tuesday through Friday after disappointing too many Saturday latecomers.
A few big rigs pulled into the ample parking lot for breakfast tacos while I ate the signature El Jefe. It starts with a flour tortilla procured from Fiesta Tortillas, and is layered with refried charro beans, cheese, carne guisada, a crisp slice of bacon, and a fried egg that’s still runny. My yolk was already broken when I unwrapped the foil package, but the glorious mess that followed was inevitable. There’s so much stuffed into this taco that having two for breakfast would last you beyond lunch. Estrada uses brisket trimmings for his guisada, which is a mix of beef, green peppers, and onions, stewed on the smoker. It stays covered, so it doesn’t pick up much smoke, but it’s plenty tender. Estrada wasn’t confident in the recipe at first, but his mom convinced him. “When she was licking the plate, I knew I had something to work with,” he says, laughing.
Smoked brisket and sausage are available anytime, but the rest of the barbecue menu is lunch-only. The smoked brisket is great on its own or in a taco. Estrada said I missed out on his favorite, which is a brisket quesadilla. The slices I got from the lean side were tender and juicy, but I guess I’ll go with the pitmaster’s choice on my next visit.
One day I arrived too late for ribs, and I was an hour too early the next. “When a customer wants something, you try to make the customer happy,” Estrada tells me, which is why he pulled the ribs for me before they were done. The flavor was good, but they needed that extra hour. The smoked turkey has a similar flavor to the ribs, which wasn’t on purpose at first. “I accidentally put my rib rub on the turkey one morning when I was half asleep,” Estrada said. When he realized the mistake, he decided to glaze the turkey breasts with the same peach-based barbecue sauce (created to mimic Estrada’s favorite sauce from B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue in Atlanta) that he uses on the ribs. It was a nice change of pace from the standard pepper-heavy smoked turkey found around Central Texas.
Tessa Estrada left her job as a dental assistant to work the window at the food truck. She also developed recipes for the sides, which are a welcome variation from the norm. Fresh green beans flecked with bacon and onion went great with the turkey, as did the cucumber salad. “We made sure we packed a bunch of flavor into it,” Randy says of the latter. The same goes for the charro beans, which are seasoned with bacon, sausage, jalapeños, and cilantro. Other options include Spanish rice and loaded potato salad.
Estrada says opening in February was a challenge, but they had no idea the challenges they would soon face thanks to the pandemic. He credits the support of his former coworkers from the mechanic shop, who are loyal customers, for keeping them afloat. Estrada’s a barbecue lifer now, with a tattoo that reads, “In the name of the pork rib, the sausage, and the holy brisket. Amen.” I noted that the work of a pitmaster isn’t exactly easy, considering he’d left his mechanic job because of the physical toll. He says he’s teaching his nephew Sergio Gardea how to cook, and he has lightened the load at the food truck. But it’s also about the independence the Estradas feel working for themselves. “This is like a dream job for me,” Randy says. “I’ve always just loved coming to work when it’s cooking barbecue.”
Method: Oak in an offset smoker
Pitmaster: Randy Estrada
Address: 4903 FM Road 1327, Creedmoor
Hours: Tuesday–Friday, 6 a.m.–3 p.m.
Year opened: 2020