The Mel-Man sandwich is the product of a barbecue epiphany. The East Texas specialty, which consists of brisket and sausage chopped together instead of layered on top of each other, is named after a man who once hated barbecue. It’s big, hard to eat, and best with plenty of barbecue sauce. It’s also addictive.
Mel Garcia started working for Bodacious Bar-B-Que back in 1984, and he didn’t think much of the cuisine when he got the job at the now-closed Longview location along Highway 80. “When I was nine years old my momma bought some barbecue from a gas station,” the Mathis native says. “She ordered some chopped beef and they chopped up everything, fat and all. It was greasy, nasty, and disgusting, and it made me sick. I didn’t want to eat barbecue again after that.” When Garcia arrived in East Texas, his boss at Bodacious wasn’t having it, and he made him a chopped beef sandwich one day. “He told me, ‘If it’s nasty, there’s a trash can right there.'” The sandwich changed his opinion. “It was the best barbecue I ever ate.”
Garcia was hooked. Soon he added a slice of hot link to the sandwich, but it wasn’t quite a Mel-Man yet: “I kinda got lazy and I chopped it all together one day.” It was a special that Garcia made only for himself until Micheal Leboeuf started working with him. And it’s Leboeuf who gets the credit for naming it, since he would always ask Garcia for a “Mel man special” when break time arrived. It was shortened to “Mel-Man” when it hit the menu at the barbecue chain.
Not every Bodacious has it, but I’ve had one at the Marshall location, and in Gladewater where Mel Garcia now runs his own Bodacious Bar-B-Q. Tthe best I’ve eaten (pictured at top) was at the original Bodacious in Longview, where Jordan Jackson carries the sandwich on his slight menu. “It’s famous at LaTourneau University,” Jackson says, referencing the campus just across from the location on Mobberly Avenue. “I swear it was mentioned in the freshman orientation. I used to make 90 or 100 a day when I worked here in 2009 and ’10.”
The Mel-Man can also be found at other East Texas joints like Crazy Bob’s in Kilgore. Owner Bob Moore is a Bodacious alum who says it’s one of his best sellers. Others may not use the name, but chopping brisket and sausage together and serving it on a po-boy isn’t out of the ordinary. (Mike’s Barbecue House in Nacogdoches is where my friend James Wise first introduced me to it.) And I’m sure any joint that chops its brisket on the block would be happy to throw in a link too. Joseph’s Riverport Bar-B-Que in Jefferson doesn’t have it on the menu, but they’ll make a Mel-Man if you request it. Owner Stephen Joseph says they get about a dozen requests a week. “Some folks even ask us to chop up the jalapeños, pickles, and onions in there too. I guess that’s a different spin on it,” Joseph says.
Garcia has to savor each bite of his creation these days. “The doctor took me off a red meat. I have to eat a lot of turkey now, but I sneak in a Mel-Man every now and then,” he says. But he still has some tips on the proper way to tackle the messy sandwich. He suggests taking the top bun off so you can get to the filling with a fork. Then, take a bite of the barbecue and a bite of the bun. Once the filling is down to a manageable level, fold the remainder into the bottom bun and finish it off. If this is the favorite of a former barbecue skeptic, you know it has to be worth it.