The first time Wade Elkins made money selling barbecue was as a caterer at a golf tournament with a borrowed smoker. The next gig was big enough that he quit his job with a Houston-based imported foods distributor to make a living on smoked meats. Since then, he’s worked at two barbecue places from Texas Monthly‘s 2019 best new barbecue joints list, and late last year, he and his wife Kathy Elkins opened Mimsy’s Craft Barbecue in the small East Texas town of Crockett.
The Elkinses were in the same graduating class at Magnolia High School, north of Houston. They prefer the small-town life, but both started their culinary careers in Houston. Kathy was the executive chef at Harold’s, then at the Woodforest Golf Club in Montgomery, before she left to open Mimsy’s. Wade spent a year at Feges BBQ, then moved back up to Magnolia to partner in Reveille Barbecue. “I was at the end of my rope at Reveille,” Wade said. He left last fall without a clear plan. Then an ice production facility went up for sale in Crockett.
The Elkinses ended up in Crockett thanks to their joint’s namesake, Wade’s late great-grandmother Mimsy. She and her husband moved to Crockett from the Houston area many years ago. Wade’s grandfather followed, eventually opening up a barbershop on the town square. Later, Wade’s mother and stepfather bought K-Hill Ranch in Crockett, then the ice business and its production building that now houses Mimsy’s Craft Barbecue. The Elkinses moved to Crockett last fall, and they had the restaurant open by November.
The menu at Mimsy’s is more vast than the single smoker would suggest. During my visit, Wade opened each door on the thousand-gallon reverse-flow smoker (built by Evie Mae’s in Wolfforth), revealing a different surprise behind every door. Beef sausages and boudin, briskets, pork shoulders and ribs, and turkey breasts competed for their own doses of oak smoke. Another smoker is in the works, but won’t be available for a while. Until then, cook Daniel Robinson will continue to shuffle the meats in and out of the pit. While I admired the smoker, Robinson wrapped pork ribs and checked the temperature of chicken halves. On that particular Thursday, they would only serve five of the chickens—Mimsy’s level of protein diversity doesn’t lend itself to cooking in large quantities. A section of skin-on pork belly no larger than a shirt-box shrank during cooking, while a layer of salt crystals on top of it did not. The salt and pork fat had solidified into a layer of mineral lace, soon to be discarded. Wade caught me admiring it, and said, pointing to the pit-room window, “when the light hits it just right . . . ”
It’s not often you hear of a Texas barbecue joint borrowing tricks from Connecticut, but this pork marvel was Wade’s attempt to emulate the crispy pork belly at Hoodoo Brown BBQ. I’ve eaten them both, and this version is as spectacular as the original. To dry the skin, Wade layers the belly with salt, then lets it rest uncovered in the cooler before smoking until it reaches tenderness. After smoking, he removes the salt, then transfers it to a ripping-hot oven to crisp the skin. Mimsy’s version of the dish is sliced up like brisket and served with a soy dipping sauce. The crunch of the skin, paired with the decadently rich and wobbly, tender pork belly beneath, are enough to make the joint a new Texas barbecue destination.
As I was completing my order at the counter, Wade weighed in. “Our chicken is one of my favorite things,” he said, and for good reason. A simple smoked chicken can rarely compete with a bold slice of fatty brisket or a juicy sausage, but this one did. The chickens are brined for two days with plenty of herbs, and Wade dusts on a layer of lemon-pepper seasoning just before smoking. A bite through the thigh releases juices that hold the flavors from the brine, and then comes the taste of crisp skin with a tang of lemon pepper. When the chicken becomes as popular as it deserves to be, I hope Mimsy’s can replicate the flawless execution of these small batches.
Mimsy’s is getting plenty of business, but it’s not yet overrun. “We really haven’t gotten that barbecue enthusiast punch yet,” Wade said, acknowledging the obvious role of the pandemic. The locals have discovered the place, and in Crockett (population 6,500), “local” also means folks from nearby Lufkin and Palestine. They come for barbecue staples like the juicy smoked turkey breast, St. Louis–cut pork ribs (which could use a bit more zing), and the tender, peppery, Prime-grade brisket from Double R Ranch beef.
The brisket trimmings are put to good use. On Wednesdays they go into the smoked burgers; the rest are used to make an excellent beef-and-cheddar sausage. Get it on a sausage wrap served in a Flores-brisket-fat flour tortilla, loaded with pico de gallo and crema. The smoked boudin starts with leftover beef ribs and brisket, then pork butt and pork liver are added. If you enjoy the offal flavor that comes with traditional Louisiana boudin, you’ll enjoy this one. For an especially satisfying combination, alternate bites of boudin with crunches from Mimsy’s colorful array of pickled vegetables (especially the turmeric cauliflower).
The menu options are more adventurous than I’d expect from a new spot in a small town, and according to Wade, more surprises are coming. “I think we’re starting to gain people’s trust,” he said. Porchetta is a daily option. If you know the classic version made with skin-on pork belly, the only familiar aspect of this version will be the seasoning. The dish starts with a butterflied pork shoulder that is stuffed with herbs and seasonings before getting rolled up and smoked. As an avowed porchetta fan, in choosing between the two versions, I would opt for the one with the pork belly.
Part of the challenge in fitting everything in that single smoker is the massive pan of queso that’s smoked along with the meats. It’s served simply, with chips, but Kathy also folds it into cavatappi pasta along with some shredded cheddar for maybe the best take on “smoked” macaroni and cheese that I’ve tasted. While Wade and Robinson run the pit room, it’s Kathy who runs the kitchen and works the cutting block during service. When I visited, she was trying out a new side of maple-glazed brussels sprouts, which were just as impressive as the fluffy hush puppies. Both dishes are popular in barbecue regions outside of Texas, and it’s nice to see them done well here.
When it comes to dessert, there’s one option: cheesecake. When Kathy was trying to develop a dessert menu, Wade told her, “You literally make the best cheesecake I’ve ever had.” He’s right that it’s a damn fine cheesecake on a pleasantly stout graham-cracker crust. For now, there’s a banana-pudding flavor available every day, which came with a pleasant dollop of fresh whipped cream, a Nilla wafer, and a cherry on top. The other flavors are rotating, and I was lucky enough to also get the banana-split cheesecake with lots of maraschino cherries, caramel, and chocolate mixed in.
Check Mimsy’s social media pages for details on breakfast service, which was only available Wednesdays and Thursdays starting at 7 a.m. when I visited. Those Flores tortillas are heavily featured on the breakfast menu. There are also obvious choices for a barbecue joint, like brisket breakfast tacos, and unexpected ones, like a freshly baked biscuit topped with gravy, crumbled bacon, and green onions.
When the Elkinses were planning their new restaurant, they forecasted an opening date for right about now. That got moved up considerably. “In hindsight, we weren’t ready, but I don’t think anybody’s ready,” said Wade. In choosing a small town, the joint signals a welcome deviation from the big-city barbecue boom. Crockett is lucky to have Mimsy’s, another great addition to Texas barbecue.
1979 S. Fifth Street, Crockett
Hours: Wednesday–Thursday 7–3, Friday–Saturday 11–8, Sunday 11–3
Pitmaster: Wade Elkins
Method: Oak in a reverse-flow smoker
Year opened: 2020