Kevin Mason’s barbecue business began from the trunk of his patrol car. The Houston native was stuffing and smoking sausages at home, and then selling them to fellow Harris County sheriff’s department officers with their own coolers at the ready. Word spread, and more orders came in that required delivery to strangers. “I was always afraid to go back to the areas I patrolled to sell sausage,” Mason admits, but he never encountered a problem. Soon after, folks found him on Facebook and would peer into the large front window of his house looking for their fix. “I had people knocking on the front door for sausage,” he said, so he figured it was time to move his operation.
In 2016, Lonestar Sausage & BBQ opened in a warehouse on the north side of Houston. Coincidentally, it backed up to the backyard of the house where he grew up. Mason sold seven kinds of cold sausages inside the warehouse, and a food truck parked out front served hot barbecue. The idea was to get customers to buy both a hot lunch as well as a cold sausage for dinner at home later. The food truck also provided a convenient way to sample the sausages he was selling inside. There was chicken sausage, summer sausage, and pan sausage along with a Central Texas–style pork and beef sausage Mason developed after his many sausage tours of Texas with his father, King. “I’ve been in every town in Texas to eat sausage,” he said. Mason enjoyed what he tried in Weimar and Giddings, but his favorite sausage was from Southside Market in Elgin. He and his dad, also a sheriff’s department veteran, then traveled east to try the unique sausage recipes from Beaumont, and Mason would try to deconstruct the ingredients from each one.
To reconstruct the ingredients into a good sausage, Mason leaned on B&W Meat Company. The owner there explained the proper ratios of meat, fat, and moisture for chicken sausage. Mason also bought dried jalapeños from them for his jalapeño and cheese sausage, which led to an uncomfortable situation one day. “A pound of dehydrated jalapeños looks absolutely like marijuana,” Mason explained, so when he walked out from the back of B&W with a plastic bag full of dried jalapeños while in uniform, a customer thought he had seized it from the owner. From then on, they put his dried jalapeños into a paper bag.
Mason retired from the force after 29 years in April 2019 and soon after started renovating a small restaurant space he found in northwest Houston. Although his warehouse had served him well temporarily, he needed a real commercial kitchen. The current iteration of Lonestar Sausage & BBQ opened in December of last year. Only the pork and beef sausage and the East Texas–style hot link made it onto the barbecue menu. Mason said he plans to add the jalapeño and cheese sausage soon. Also gone is the cold sausage, but Mason is determined to develop a business model similar to Southside Market in Elgin, which is both barbecue joint and meat market.
Even with an abbreviated sausage selection, Lonestar is worth a visit. Rarely do you find two sausages that differ so greatly made so well in one spot. The hot link is so plump it looks ready to burst, which Mason admits happens sometimes, though he wouldn’t serve a sausage after it popped. The pitmaster gets all the rejects, he jokes. Biting into the sausage releases the juices, flavored heavily with paprika and garlic. It’s a great hot link that’s intentionally messy. The pork and beef sausage is on the other end of the sausage spectrum. It’s a neat and clean sausage that’s well constructed. The casing has a great snap, and the filling is emulsified into a cohesive link. Mason said he adds marjoram and allspice to the seasoning for a personal touch, but it still brings forth a classic Central Texas flavor.
The rest of the barbecue is hit or miss. Mason said he’s still working on his brisket method, and the thick slices I received were a bit dry and undercooked. The ribs and chicken were better, but I was more drawn to the smoked turkey breast. It’s smoked while in a butter bath, and that rich flavor comes through in the finished product. A swipe through the house-made sauce makes it even better. Mason thinks the sauce recipe goes back to his grandfather, but his dad now holds the key to the formula, and he’s not sharing. “Dad makes it offsite in some private lab,” Mason says, laughing. They sell thirty gallons of the jarred sauce every week.
Jumping into the barbecue business so late in life is quite the diversion from Mason’s original path. He was a track star and competed to qualify for the 1988 Olympics. He also played receiver for the University of Houston, but his career was cut short in 1989. “That ended when [Houston quarterback] Andre Ware threw the ball too high in Las Vegas,” he recalls. A hard hit from a defender while Mason was reaching for the ball caused a blood clot in his lung. He never played again. Mason said the uniform, the camaraderie, and the teamwork of the sheriff’s department reminded him of football and filled the void.
Barbecue is more of a solitary lifestyle, but Mason has found his tribe in Houston. He credits Ray Busch of Ray’s BBQ Shack, who also used to work in law enforcement, as his mentor. “I didn’t buy anything that Ray couldn’t help me use,” Mason says of his equipment choices. He burns post oak in an Ole Hickory rotisserie because that’s what Ray uses. Ray had to visit to sign off on the barbecue menu. “It was not a meal for him. It was a test,” Mason remembers. Ray’s is also known for fried catfish. Mason just bought a deep fryer, but before he could add fried fish to the menu, he needed Ray to come and try it. When Mason and I spoke he was awaiting Ray’s visit, but I noticed the Friday special at Lonestar is fried shrimp and catfish, so he must have gotten the nod. It seems the sausage savant of north Houston knows how to fry fish as well as he smokes barbecue.
Method: Oak in a gas-fired rotisserie
Pitmaster: Kevin Mason
Address: 13712 Walters Road, Suite 140, Houston
Hours: Tue–Sat 11–7
Year Opened: 2016