In barbecue rich Austin, so many great joints have opened in the past half-decade that it’s hard for a new spot to make a blip. The most glaring example was witnessed at the nearly empty picnic tables beside the LeRoy & Lewis Barbecue truck in South Austin. In a town known for barbecue lines, I’ve spent a total of zero minutes over three visits waiting for some of the best and most inventive barbecue in Austin.
Evan LeRoy left Freedmen’s Bar after a few years of brilliant work on the pits. He partnered up with Sawyer Lewis, who manages the operations and is usually the one taking food orders, for a barbecue truck in January. LeRoy, meanwhile, keeps the pit fires going along with his assembled talent. Tom Spaulding, formerly of Live Oak BBQ, is on the team, and LeRoy recently snagged Brad Robinson from his former employer. (Robinson was the pitmaster when Freedmen’s made our recent Top 50 BBQ list.)
You won’t always find brisket—which is reserved for weekends—or other traditional items like ribs and sausage. LeRoy & Lewis serve everything from beef cheeks to smoked quail in a lot off of South Congress just up from Ben White Boulevard. The menu changes a bit every day, and is always updated on the restaurant’s site.
The brisket, though, is worth planning for. LeRoy perfected his method of smoking them in a foil boat at Freedmen’s. It keeps the lean underside of the brisket in contact with its own juices. The method mimics the old days when the deckle—or the fatty layer that used to be left on the underside of briskets—protected the lean meat. The method also allows constant heat on the brisket’s fat cap, which is left exposed. “I’m a fan of the crust,” LeRoy told me (and so am I). The seasoning concentrates as the fat becomes crunchy on the outer layer, a process hastened by high heat (up to 300 degrees) on the pit toward the end of the cook. That fat from the 44 Farms briskets also develops a sweetness, but there’s not a speck of sugar in the rub. It’s some of the finest brisket in Austin, but LeRoy & Lewis has only enough demand for a dozen briskets on a good day.
Their unconventional barbecue menu means some irate customers on days when they’re not serving brisket or sausage. “Why wouldn’t you cook something you were famous for?” an older man yelled through the window, before walking off without ordering. But it’s too bad he missed out on the beef cheeks. This underutilized cut (for now, at least) has all the juiciness of fatty brisket, but more surface area for black pepper lovers. LeRoy smokes then confits them in beef fat. They’re incredibly tender, and perfect alone or on a sandwich paired with beet barbecue sauce and kimchi.
More magic in a bun comes with the pit burger. LeRoy & Lewis collect their brisket trimmings and grind them for a smoked burger. The patties are smoked until rare, then seared in a cast iron skillet sitting in a firebox. It’s hard to see this method scaling up when the place gets busier, so get them while you can. The sides, which are made from local, in season produce, could have a limited shelf life after scaling up. I’ve loved the tart vinegar slaw and potato salad in the past. The cheesy squash, made with a variety of squashes from Johnson’s Backyard Garden, hit the menu earlier in August. The cheese makes it decadent, but the squash still have a little crunch left.
You’re less likely to find smoked turkey breasts and half chickens here, but the mac & cheese stuffed quail fills the poultry role just fine. So do the “Austin hot chicken wings.” This play on the Nashville-style seasoning uses pork fat in place of oil. The heat isn’t overwhelming, but the heavy seasoning blend on small wings borders on it. “We’re not big on subtlety here,” LeRoy reminds me.
But that wasn’t the case with a double cut pork chop, which was the perfect example of light smoke and seasoning allowing a great product to shine. The LeRoy & Lewis team used everything but the chops, which came from a hog at the Peaceful Pork ranch in Dinero, for their entry in the recent Cochon 555 contest (which they won), and the truck’s customers were the lucky recipients. Brined in bourbon and brown sugar, the fat cap on the chops took on a flavor reminiscent of bananas foster. The meat was incredibly juicy, and the double frenched bones made for a nice show piece.
The truck isn’t the permanent plan. LeRoy & Lewis have plans for their brick and mortar in the works, but with no word on the schedule. They have a long way to go before figuring out that daily menu, but LeRoy is using his time now to enjoy cooking barbecue again. Instead of getting burnt out on the daily brisket grind, he now enjoys the process of cooking them once or twice a week. With an open barbecue mind, it’s a fun spot to eat, especially in Austin where it’s not hard to find a good slice of brisket. I would love a few bites of the sausages I enjoyed at Freedmen’s while LeRoy was there, and the upcoming restaurant will certainly feature them. For now, I’m happy to settle for smoked beef cheeks and letting brisket-day be its own special occasion.