Brent Morrow was essentially living a double life in 2017. He’d spend weeks at a time in the oil fields near Gonzales and Cuero, far from his home and family in Hico. When Morrow returned home for a couple weeks at a time, he ran a barbecue truck on some land he owned in his small town, which is about an hour and a half southwest of Fort Worth. “I spent so much time away in the oil field, I felt like I was wasting my life away,” he said, so he and his wife, Breanna, devised a plan to make the barbecue operation more than a part-time gig. They sold the land and bought a small building on the other end of town. Morrow quit his job last July, and the permanent home for Po Campo BBQ opened a month later.
“I quit my job two weeks before I’m supposed to have my fourth kid to start a barbecue restaurant in a tiny town,” Morrow said, reflecting on his decision to leave his excellent salary and benefits behind. The books he read about opening restaurants didn’t do much to ease his mind. They offered far more warnings than encouragement. “I just chose to ignore parts of them and do it anyway,” he said. He found a couple of used offset smokers and a local wood guy who could get him a steady supply of oak.
To make running a barbecue joint even more difficult, Morrow also decided to bake his own bread. A fresh loaf he made at home two weeks before opening the food truck gave him the idea to make all the bread from scratch. After seeing how much of it ended up in the trash, he now reserves homemade bread for sandwich buns, or sells one for 75 cents apiece with a barbecue plate. These days the kitchen cranks out about forty buns per day. They’re basically buttery yeast rolls and are served warm. I slid some of the juicy pulled pork into one of the freshly split rolls, and added pickles, onions, and barbecue sauce for a hearty sandwich.
The tomato-based sauce is reminiscent of older sauce recipes that aren’t so thick and sweet, which Morrow said has caused some complaints. “It’s not Sweet Baby Ray’s,” he said. He thought he was making a down-the-middle sauce, but it became polarizing. It hovers between sweet and acidic, thick and thin. I loved the stewed onion flavor and was impressed by how well it paired with all the smoked meats, especially the brisket, which is simply seasoned with salt and pepper. The dry, lean portion still attached to the otherwise good slice from the fatty side needed the sauce. Morrow said he’s having a hard time getting a consistent supply of quality briskets, and isn’t currently using his first choice.
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A rub with a little more spice goes on the ribs and turkey breast. They both take it well, but it really shines on the moist slices of turkey. Maybe the rub is muted on the ribs because they require more time in the smoker, but I still enjoyed the flavor and tenderness of the ribs. The basic sausage from Miller’s was passable. Morrow said he tries to make everything from scratch, so “I feel like a hack that we’re not making our own sausage.” He tried a batch, but without a freezer on-site to get the meat cold, it turned to a paste in the grinder. Then the seasoning wasn’t right, but he didn’t figure that out until the whole batch had been stuffed and smoked. “It was terrible,” he said, but vowed to keep trying.
Morrow hired his sister Madison Morrow to run the register and Indira Rico to work the cutting block. Rico also helps in the kitchen and in the pits, which gives Morrow extra time to prep stuffed jalapeños, as he was doing when I visited on a recent Friday. I didn’t get to try many of the specialty items offered on Saturdays at Po Campo BBQ, like beef ribs and smoked mac and cheese. “I just want to do a few things and master them before we start adding more stuff” to the daily menu, Morrow said. He’s also looking to add more desserts, but the classic banana pudding on offer was plenty satisfying.
The new restaurant hasn’t exactly lightened Morrow’s workload. He spends about ninety hours a week at a restaurant that’s open five days a week. The difference, he said, is “I wanted to be doing this.” Most of Po Campo’s customers are travelers coming in Friday through Sunday, but even on a slow Wednesday, Morrow feels like he made the right decision for both him and his family. “There was one year where I missed every single holiday. I missed their birthdays. I missed Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter. I was gone,” he said of his time in the oil field. The salary he’s missing out on is easier to quantify than what it’s worth being in Hico with his family. “More or less [the restaurant] was an answer to that,” Morrow said, adding, “where, like, if I can do something I love to do that would put me home, I’m at least gonna try that.”