When a pitmaster runs the smoker overnight, rest is a luxury. But few take it to the extreme of Luis Gonzales, who owns Luchi’s Smokehouse, in Stanton. “I cook four nights a week, so I sleep three nights a week, usually,” Gonzales said. He opened his barbecue joint (pronounced “Loochee’s,” though I was hoping for the pronunciation of “Lucky’s”) in 2007, just a rib bone’s throw from Interstate 20. In addition to his pitmaster duties, Gonzales works at least fifty hours a week for his day job with the electric utility Oncor, so there’s not much downtime.
Gonzales got into barbecue to help a friend in need. A caterer fell though for an event, and his friend needed eight smoked briskets the following day. Gonzales babied those briskets in the smoker overnight and served them at the event. “They came out pretty good, so people starting asking me for it,” Gonzales said. With help from his mother, Olga, and his late father, Leandro, who passed away in 2020, he opened the restaurant and catering business in a converted Dairy Queen. He has maintained the catering business since 2007, but he closed the restaurant between 2013 and 2017 because the booming oil fields created longer hours at his other job.
“It was my wife’s idea to reopen it,” Gonzales said. She helped run the place for a while, but the couple divorced two years ago. He considered closing again, but, he said, “I had four good people who were helping me and I didn’t want to let them down, so I kept it open.” Merisa Ruiz and Robert Quiro run the place when Gonzales isn’t there. Gonzales loads the smokers, and Ruiz and Quiro unload the barbecue in the morning to serve the diverse customer base.
People-watching at Luchi’s is one of the highlights. It gets a unique mix of locals, oil field workers, truck drivers, and travelers who’ve hopped off the highway for a quick meal. Hearing all their names is a treat, too. Orders are placed at the counter, and a server yells the customers’ names when their food is ready. On the day I stopped in, one of those runners yelled out, “Pork Chop.” A man in line looked at the tray as it passed by for a glimpse, but the order was actually for a man called Pork Chop (although his employer made him use “Dwayne” for his work shirt).
What I didn’t find were any of the old “soreheads” Stanton is known for. A billboard along the highway welcomes motorists to Stanton, proclaiming the town to be the “home of 3000 friendly people and a few old soreheads.” Twice a year, in April and October, the town hosts Old Sorehead Trade Days, an arts and crafts festival downtown. Gonzales, a native of Stanton, said he remembers when the town passed out bumper stickers with the soreheads saying many years ago.
I spoke with Gonzales on a Friday morning while he was in his Oncor office, in Big Spring. The night before, he had taken the briskets out of his Southern Pride rotisserie smoker at 3 a.m. to wrap them in foil and put them back into the smoker to finish. Gonzales keeps a big RV in the parking lot so he can sit and watch television while the meat cooks. He doesn’t feel comfortable sleeping while the smoker is going because of a pit fire he fought several years back. “I burnt thirty briskets for catering, and it was a really tough deal,” he said.
After wrapping the briskets, Gonzales seasoned the pork ribs, checked emails, took a shower, and left for Big Spring, where his workday began at 7 a.m. That’s his normal schedule, except on Fridays and Saturdays, when he spends his time at Luchi’s. Gonzales said he loves seeing his customers and searing strip steaks over mesquite coals for the dinner special that starts at 5:30 p.m.
I wasn’t there on a steak night, but I did enjoy the pork ribs at Luchi’s during lunch. They’re not available on the combo plate, but they come by the half or whole rack. They’re smoked low and slow until they’re nearly done, then Gonzales turns up the heat to give the bark some crunch. They could’ve been more tender, but I liked the textural variation. After hours wrapped in foil, the sliced brisket could’ve been cut with a spoon, but I’d have preferred it in a sandwich or in one of the popular stuffed baked potatoes. The side of pinto beans was stewed with chopped barbecue and plenty of black pepper, and the eggy potato salad was rich, with a hint of mustard.
The Brownie-a-la-Luchi dessert had too good of a name to pass up. I asked at the counter what to expect, and I was told it’s a brownie that comes with ice cream, “and cherries, if we have them.” Mine took a while to arrive, and the server explained someone had to run to the store to grab some ice cream (but they forgot the cherries). The brownie isn’t made in-house, but it was still gooey and chocolaty. I also appreciated the effort for the a la mode. “Customer service is a thing of the past, it feels like,” Gonzales said, so he was happy to hear his staff went the extra mile.
Gonzales started his job with Oncor as a lineman 38 years ago. When power lines would go down during a storm, he’d be on the crew that went out to make repairs. He said being on call for those emergencies got him used to being up at all hours. Three years ago he was promoted to office supervisor, though he still goes out on emergency calls. I asked if the promotion—or maybe his 55-year-old body—had convinced him to ease up and let the barbecue joint go. Not a chance, he told me. “I enjoy what I’m doing,” Gonzales said emphatically. “I’m blessed. I enjoy life.”
1309 N. Lamesa Highway, Stanton
Hours: Tuesday–Thursday 11–2; Friday 11–2 and 5:30–8:30; Saturday 11–8:30
Pitmaster: Luis Gonzales
Method: Mesquite in a gas-fired rotisserie
Year opened: 2017