Jamie Galvan used to persuade folks in Temple to spend $50,000 or more on a brand-new Ford F-150. Now he has to persuade the residents in his hometown of Cameron that $18 per pound isn’t too much to pay for smoked brisket.
Galvan quit his job at Johnson Brothers Ford in January 2020 to turn his once-a-week barbecue food truck hobby into his full-time job. He and his wife Jamie (yes, same name) found a temporary home for their Hecho En Texas BBQ truck in the parking lot of a local grocery store, Arlan’s Market, and were open Thursday through Saturday. A year later, they’ve bought some land in the middle of town, upgraded to a larger food trailer, and are doing everything they can to combat rising food costs while not alienating price-conscious customers in their small town.
Cameron is a town of 5,300 and falling, but it’s still one of the two major population centers in Milam County. Rockdale (home of the highly regarded Brett’s Backyard Bar-B-Que) is the other, with just a couple hundred more residents. Temple, thirty minutes northwest, is the only sizable city nearby. That leaves Hecho En Texas BBQ without a huge pool of potential customers. It can’t operate like a big city barbecue joint, charging high prices for premium meats, sides, and desserts. I felt some reverse sticker shock here because the food is so inexpensive, especially when you take into account the rising commodity prices being experienced by all restaurants. “I’ve taken a pay cut over the last six months,” Galvan said.
Walking up to the window on a recent Thursday, I saw a chalkboard with $11 written next to the pork steak special with two sides. “How thin is that pork steak?” I wondered to myself. It was pretty dang stout, actually, with great flavor from the seasoning and oak smoke. Galvan and I agreed it needed a bit more time on the smoker, but pork steak is a new item for him. He plans to make it a regular Thursday special, so I was curious if this was just an introductory price. “I don’t have a huge market yet,” he admitted. He needs to keep his prices low to compete locally, no matter how much it cuts into his own profits.
Galvan said he can only dream of paying a premium for Prime grade brisket, though that’s what he’d prefer to smoke. He’s serving Choice grade for now, but it’s still running $3.56 per pound for raw, untrimmed briskets. That means at the $18 per pound that he charges, the brisket is still a loss leader, but that’s hard for some of his customers to understand. (A good rule of thumb is to multiply the per-pound cost of a raw brisket by six to get the price a restaurant should be charging for smoked brisket, to account for labor and overhead.) He recently went up $2 per pound on brisket after beef prices spiked, and, he said, “I had a few people say some things, and some of those people you don’t see here anymore.” When 90 percent of your business is local, losing a few customers make a big impact.
That Choice brisket still came out moist and tender, maybe a little too tender. Galvan admitted that his fire may have been running too hot in his offset smoker. Still, it’s the most popular item at Hecho En Texas, though Galvan has adjusted the amount of brisket he smokes so as not have any leftovers. That has put a damper on one of his specialties, the brisket salad, which Galvan said is made just like chicken salad but with leftover chopped brisket. I was disappointed to miss it. “That’s gonna be gross,” his wife said when he originally shared the idea with her, and I thought the same. I’ll just have to wait for another opportunity to be proved wrong.
The barbecue-loaded french fries, another popular dish, have also been retired because of budgetary concerns. The high cost of fryer oil (it nearly tripled in price for Galvan, from $17 per jug to $50) has forced him to take them off the menu. Still, there’s plenty to draw in customers from what remains of his daily offerings.
Pork ribs are what began Galvan’s obsession with barbecue. In 1999, he entered his first barbecue competition with his mom, dad, and wife. They got third place in ribs, took home second place in the next competition, and eventually became the Central Texas rib champions. Those same ribs, though less sweet, are on the menu. They’ve got a sweet glaze and great smoke flavor, and are plenty tender. The smoked turkey is admirably moist from a salt brine, and gets some spice from the peppery rub.
“Hecho En Texas” is Spanish for “made in Texas,” though you’d usually find it spelled “Hecho en Tejas.” Galvan wanted to honor both his Hispanic father and his Anglo mother, thus the Spanglish version of the name. It’s fitting that the menu includes so many Tex-Mex options, such as the brisket-topped queso, brisket nachos, and loaded tacos with barbecue, queso, and pico de gallo. Galvan gets the flour tortillas from the H-E-B in Temple; I suggest ordering up the hot one wrapped around a sausage link for the $4 sausage wrap (you can get white bread too, but don’t). Load it up with the house-made sweet pickled jalapeños and onions.
Galvan doesn’t make the sausage, but when you have Green’s Sausage House right down the road in Zabcikville, you take advantage of your proximity. It makes the sausages per Galvan’s recipes, which include a version with cheese, another with jalapeño and cheese, and a standard recipe that’s all pork. I tried the pork sausage, and it was bursting with juice.
The same queso that goes on the tacos is spooned over naked macaroni for the mac and cheese, which is a mix-it-yourself variety. The simple pinto beans were thoroughly comforting. The pasta salad was refreshing, and the finely diced potato salad was just this side of mashed. Once you’re finished with the meat and sides, there aren’t many dessert options, but I did appreciate the portion options for the banana pudding. If you want just a few spoonfuls, there’s a four-ounce cup for just $2, while the larger $4 portion is for hearty appetites (or sharing).
I wondered if Galvan had some regrets about quitting his well-paying job when the pandemic hit just two months later. He said the timing was a boon. “It helped my business because all the restaurants went to takeout only,” he said. Either way, he was just missing too much of his family life at the dealership. “Leave in the dark and get home in the dark” is how he remembers it. No matter the rising costs of running a barbecue truck and the corresponding slice out of his profits, he said he’s doing what he always dreamed of. “I haven’t looked back.”
1511 N. Travis Avenue, Cameron
Hours: Thursday–Saturday 10:30–4
Pitmaster: Jamie Galvan
Method: Oak in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2020