Hill Barbecue smoked its meats in an unspecified location the night before I visited. Andrew and Jewel Hill were dealing with a thief in Lubbock who had stolen briskets right off their smoker twice in one week. They welded locks onto the smoker doors. A few days later, in the forty minutes between the overnight crew member leaving and Jewel arriving at the restaurant, the cooking chamber of the pit caught fire, and the barbecue for the day went up in flames. Andrew suspected sabotage from the frustrated brisket bandit, but they still haven’t nailed the culprit. To be safe, they borrowed a smoker from a friend and cooked in secret while their burned smoker was pressure washed back into working order.

For using a borrowed smoker, Andrew did well on the brisket and spareribs I sampled. I first covered the couple’s barbecue journey when they were still out in Jewel’s native Levelland, west of Lubbock, running Embers Barbecue. The year after that story ran, they downsized to hosting a twice-a-week barbecue pop-up in Lubbock under their new moniker, Hill Barbecue. “We didn’t have our restaurant, but I was getting more sleep,” Andrew said. They upgraded to a food truck in 2020, then took over a mustard-yellow building last year that previously housed a coffee shop. It’s on Thirty-fourth Street, right across from the legendary Tom & Bingo’s Hickory Pit Bar-B-Q.

In addition to all the brisket-related shenanigans, Andrew was dealing with the lingering effects of a concussion. One of the heavy steel doors on his smoker attacked him. “I lifted the lid to the pit door and it bounced back and hit me before I even realized what happened,” he said. Andrew didn’t pass out, but he knelt on the ground for a while, trying to compose himself and figure out what had hit him.“I finally came to grips with the fact that I smashed my head with the pit,” he said. The symptoms really hit the following week, when the weather heated up, and the Hills had to close the restaurant for couple days of recovery. They’re back at it, but Andrew said he’s trying to cook more carefully, and the pit door has been well-behaved ever since.

The Hills still have the old coffee shop’s equipment, and they offer lattes and cold brew alongside their barbecue. The day I was in, they were also carrying baked goods from nearby Jiménez Tortilleria y Taqueria. A fresh concha was a nice addition to my tray. The meats are all seasoned with just salt and pepper. “I’ve always chosen simplicity like that,” Andrew explained. I couldn’t pick a favorite between the juicy turkey breast or the spareribs with a splendid bark. Both the lean and fatty slices of brisket were moist and incredibly tender. Sadly, the Hills didn’t have any of their signature smoked sausages available that day.

Turkey breast and spare ribs alongside popular sides of charro beans, cheesy papas, and street corn.
Turkey breast and spareribs alongside charro beans, cheesy papas, and street corn.Photograph by Daniel Vaughn

Andrew said they rotate their side options to include potato or macaroni salad, mac and cheese, slaw, and creamed corn. I tried the popular charro beans, cheesy papas, and street corn, which all have permanent spots on the menu. I appreciated the simplicity of the pinto beans, which are cooked until creamy and get just salt, pepper, and parsley for seasoning. The sweet corn had good spice, and the mashed potatoes had plenty of butter and cheese. There are also pickles, pickled onions, and jalapeños, so the tray can be enjoyed like a charcuterie platter, with all the components remaining complementary to one another.

For now you can get the Hills’ barbecue three days a week, Thursday through Saturday. The joint is usually open on Sundays as well, but it just offers burgers. There’s plenty of beef left over from trimming all those briskets, so the Hills make their own patties. If you want to try some of Jewel’s recipes that aren’t normally served at the restaurant, she’s hosting an upcoming dinner with other local women pitmasters. They call themselves the Bar-B-Que Bandidas, and they will hold their first event in Lubbock on July 16.

Listening to Andrew talk about barbecue, it’s obvious he has a passion for his work. “If you can make your meat come out just so damn good, with the right amount of char and the right amount of life left in it, the juiciness, with the salt and pepper broken down into the fat, caramelized and stuff like that, it’s a beautiful thing,” he said. That enthusiasm can be infectious, and he said some of his customers who fancy themselves future pitmasters ask his advice about getting into the business. He said that with all the struggles he and Jewel have seen, especially the recent ones, he warns them about the potential pitfalls. But he also understands why the barbecue business has such a strong pull on young entrepreneurs despite its challenges. “It’s more than a craft,” he told me. “It’s damn near religion.”

Hill Barbecue
3017 34th, Lubbock
Phone: 806-632-3313
Hours: Thursday–Saturday 11–9
Pitmasters: Andrew and Jewel Hill
Method: Oak in a reverse-flow smoker
Year opened: 2019