Back-to-back storms ripped the roof off Pitforks & Smokerings BBQ, in Slaton, twice in a single week last year. Co-owner Isaac Arellano had just finished trimming briskets and was alone inside the restaurant when the first storm rolled through, on May 17. It was four in the afternoon, but the sky was black as night.

“I started hearing things hitting the window,” Arellano said. Then the breaker box began to spark. Arellano heard the building creak from the wind and worried about the massive awning in front. When the wind died down, he headed outside to survey the damage. The awning was fine, and—strangely—the folding tables and chairs beneath it were mostly upright. The roof over the old service bays (from when the property was a gas and service station owned by Arellano’s late father, Cruz) hadn’t fared as well. It was a crumpled mess lying on the property behind the bays.

Arellano and his wife, Ashley, had used the old service bays (converted to a storage room) mainly to keep boxes full of papers that belonged to Cruz. He passed away in 2020, and Arellano couldn’t bring himself to sift through everything. The room also housed coolers where the meat was stored, and the Arellanos had to throw away the restaurant’s weekly delivery. They secured a tarp to the roof and hoped for the best until they could make permanent repairs. What Arellano thought was a tornado had actually been a sudden updraft. A week later, another strong thunderstorm blew through Slaton, took the tarp with it, and poured rainwater into the space for hours. 

Cruz’s old boxes were waterlogged beyond saving, but the couple realized pretty quickly in their search that the contents were mainly clutter from decades of running the business. Arellano found a $10 IOU along with an old driver’s license left for collateral. Most of the rest the couple threw away, and they got to work rebuilding. Pitforks reopened after a week off. A new roof was installed, and by the end of the year, what had once been the service bays for cars and trucks became a new dining area. 

One side of the room displays the Arellanos’ barbecue path. Framed articles and photos document their journey from when they had just opened to their current success, six years later. On the other side is memorabilia Cruz left behind, like nameplates from the company truck and signs from when the place was a Texaco station. Cruz ended his affiliation with Texaco years ago, choosing to run the station independently. When he did so, he gave away most of the old Texaco signage. As news of the renovation spread, some of the old friends who had acquired the signage returned it to be displayed. 

Another feature in the dining room is a reminder of when Cruz and his friends used the space for after-hours gatherings. Arellano pointed to one of the old hydraulic lifts that once hoisted cars in the air. “Back when he was in his younger days, on Friday nights, his buddies would come over here after work with a case of beer,” he recalled. “They’d have a grill, and they’d lift that thing up and throw some plywood on there, and that was their table.” The Arellanos left the lift in place, at table height, and mounted a permanent tabletop on it for customers to use. “That was a way to pay homage to him,” Arellano said.

Meats, sides, and Ashley’s house-made flour tortillas.
Meats, sides, and Ashley’s house-made flour tortillas. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn

The other way the Arellanos pay tribute to Cruz is with Ashley’s house-made flour tortillas. Cruz ran a breakfast burrito–and–taco shop out of the service station, and now, at Pitforks, you can use one of Ashley’s fresh tortillas to make your own barbecue taco. The couple recently hired pitmaster Emma Mendoza, previously at Evie Mae’s Pit Barbeque, in nearby Wolfforth, and she joked that every morning about a dozen tortillas disappear after the kitchen employees sneak them for their own breakfasts. 

I wrapped a smoky slice of lean brisket in one, along with raw onions, dill pickle chips, and a generous drizzle of the joint’s sweet barbecue sauce on a recent visit. Much has changed since my first trip there, in 2018. There are now a long line of customers to contend with and eight employees instead of just Arellano and Ashley, and the brisket Arellano fretted about raising to $16 per pound is now $29. It’s well worth it, as is the thick and juicy smoked cheeseburger. And thanks to a couple storms, you have some comfortable digs in which to enjoy it all.