Talented pitmaster Evan LeRoy has left his position at Freedmen’s Bar in Austin. He’s planning a place of his own, but details are still vague. LeRoy told me over the phone that he hoped to have something open in the Austin area within the next year, and promised that it would be a barbecue-centric menu. In the meantime he’ll be teaching barbecue classes with the 500 gallon smoker he has parked at his home, and working with the butchers at Salt & Time in Austin. You might also find LeRoy’s barbecue at yet-to-be-scheduled pop-ups around town.
After starting in fine dining in New York, LeRoy found a job in Manhattan at Hill Country Barbecue. He left New York for Texas where he became the opening day pitmaster for Freedmen’s in 2012 at the young age of 26. Since then, Freedmen’s has built a solid reputation for great barbecue in a highly competitive city, while maintaining a unique menu that goes beyond the barbecue classics. We named Freedmen’s as our newcomer to the TMBBQ Festival last year based on their success, and we’ll see them again this year under new lead pitmaster Chris McGhee.
McGhee isn’t some barbecue newbie. He began his barbecue career at La Barbecue before moving over to Freedmen’s in 2014. LeRoy credits him with developing many of their unique sausage recipes and for helping LeRoy push the boundaries of the barbecue at Freedmen’s. Freedmen’s owner, Cuatro Kowalski said he didn’t expect much to change with McGhee taking the lead role, and that LeRoy leaving wasn’t a big surprise. “We planned on this happening at some point,” he told me while echoing LeRoy’s take that the departure is amicable.
While it’s sad to see any pitmaster leave a restaurant I admire, I look forward to seeing how McGhee steers things at Freedmen’s. I also hope this means we’ll see some new life in the Austin barbecue scene. Since a flood of great new barbecue joints from 2010 t0 2013, things have been relatively quiet for Austin barbecue joint openings in the recent past. LeRoy is a great talent, so here’s hoping this means one more great barbecue option in Austin sometime next year.