Guess Family Barbecue has been a Texas Monthly favorite since shortly after Reid Guess opened the trailer in Waco in early 2017. An impressive visit in May was too late to get them on the 2017 Top 50 BBQ list, so we did the next best thing and invited Guess Family Barbecue to be our barbecue newcomer at this year’s Texas Monthly BBQ Fest. On November 4, Guess will join 29 of the best pitmasters in Texas at the festival. (He previously served barbecue at the event as a chef at Lambert’s when the restaurant was on the Top 50 list, but this will be his first chance under the banner of his own joint.)
After moving to Waco in 2016, Guess has wanted to make a mark on the statewide barbecue scene. He sees his city as a bit of barbecue underdog, and along with a few other new joints in town, he’s trying to change that. By the time the next Top 50 BBQ list rolls around in 2021, Waco might just be a bonafide barbecue destination.
A bright red food truck has been the home base of Guess Family Barbecue since it opened, but that’s about to change. They’ve made plans for a brick-and-mortar just up the street from the trailer, where they can get out of the Waco heat and expand their menu. As a Lambert’s alum, Guess knows his way around a wood-fired grill as well as a smoker, so the new place will feature plenty of grilled meats along with the barbecue. Read more about Guess’s plan for the spot in our recent interview.
Texas Monthly: How’s the barbecue business in Waco?
Reid Guess: It’s been raining every day this week, so it’s nice and cool. I’ve been in the shop next to our barbecue trailer building a smoker. I do the rib shift at night, so I weld and cook ribs at the same time. It’s a garage with doors on only one side, so it’s been super hot in there until this week. I’m trying to finish it up.
TM: What are you planning to use that smoker for?
RG: I’m building this for a customer, which is something I’ve never done before. The project is funding three smokers for my next restaurant, which we’re really excited about.
TM: What’s the next restaurant?
RG: It’ll also be called Guess Family Barbecue. It’ll be in a 7,000-square-foot building at Sixth and Columbus, about three blocks down Sixth Street from where we are now. We’re gunning for an opening around the first of the year.
TM: What do we have to look forward to on the menu at the new restaurant?
RG: We’re definitely going to have the classic barbecue menu and the classic sides. We’re also going to offer steaks—we’re working with 44 Farms. We’re also going to have seafood like shrimp and grits. We’re trying to get stuff to Waco that hasn’t been here before.
TM: You worked at Lambert’s in Austin. It sounds like the menu is going to be set up similarly with classic barbecue along with a whole lot of grilled meats.
RG: Exactly. Our entire kitchen is wood fired. I don’t know if you know Grills by Demant, but they’re doing our whole range. If a sauté pan goes down, it’s going over fire, but we’re used to that. I still don’t have a commissary kitchen for the trailer, so everything we make is over fire. It’s serious cowboy cooking out here. I have grills and setups for everything we need to cook. We’re staying all-the-way true to wood-fired cooking.
TM: That’s got to make it harder to train newly hired cooks who might not be used to that.
RG: It is, because the skill level isn’t there, but the good part is that it’s something different. It adds a bit of interest and hopefully will draw people who are excited about cooking here. We’re building a kitchen for cooks, not just to serve the diners in the restaurant. I think in this town, the cooks are gonna need a little more. They’re gonna need another reason to be excited about their job. We want to cultivate something here and hopefully the wood-fired kitchen and that pretty smoke room is going to help us do that.
TM: Didn’t I just see that you announced a new trailer in the line up?
RG: Yes, we’re up to four now. The new one is full-sized with every cooking apparatus in it. We’re able to offer a bigger menu for fall festivals and stuff coming up.
TM: What’s going to happen to all those food trucks you’ve got once the restaurant opens?
RG: We’re going to have a big sale or something. We’ll keep the big one we just bought for catering, and may keep the original one for catering as well. As for Koko Ramen, we’ll finally have a proper commissary kitchen for it inside Guess Family Barbecue, so that will become a lot easier to operate.
TM: You’ll be coming to the barbecue festival this year in the midst of ongoing construction at the restaurant. That’ll be a challenge, but can you give us some hint at what you plan to serve at the festival?
RG: Cade [Mercer, the chef at Koko Ramen] and I have talked extensively about what we’re going to bring. I told him I want it to be special and something people will remember. We need to bring something that proves to everyone that we deserve to be there. We don’t know exactly what we’re going to do, but we’ve already started testing things. I went to Hot Luck this year, to the Saturday night Al Fuego event. That night really got something going for me. I loved how some of those cookers were specifically designed for the item that was being cooked. We’ve got a lot of ideas, but we know it’s coming. It’s about time to decide.
TM: You have cooked at the festival before, correct?
RG: I have. I went to two as a sous chef at Lambert’s, and I went to one with my name up there on the banner for Lambert’s.
TM: You’ve cooked at the festival at Lambert’s, but now you’re coming with our own business. What does it feel like to be recognized for your work this early on at Guess Family Barbecue?
RG: It feels incredible. It feels like we’re doing it right. We had a goal to get on [the Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ list], and hopefully we’re still on track for that. For any barbecue cook to be invited to that festival, it’s incredible, and I still can’t believe it. I’ve said it to my business partner and my wife—that November 4 date will be the pinnacle of my career so far.
Get your tickets to try Guess Family Barbecue along with 29 more of the best barbecue joints in Texas at this year’s Texas Monthly BBQ Fest held on November 4 in Austin.