There’s a long stretch of East Texas interstate between Dallas and Texarkana that’s light on good barbecue. But on Saturday mornings, a barbecue oasis appears in the parking lot of the Sulphur Springs Fix & Feed just a half mile detour off I-30. That’s where two buddies from the barbecue competition circuit open the window on the Slaughter’s BBQ Oasis food truck.
David Slaughter and Jeremy Edwards work together for food distributor Ben E. Keith during the week, but they race each other to the Fix & Feed every Friday evening to light the smoker. They also painstakingly set up plastic palm trees, surf shop signs, and umbrellas. The pitmasters take the “oasis” concept seriously, which is fitting as their set-up is surrounded by pallets of fencing materials in a feed store parking lot.
Slaughter and Edwards started the business last year by setting up a tent and selling chopped brisket sandwiches. After six months, they had enough profit to buy a trailer and expand the menu. Now they start selling breakfast tacos at 7am before switching to the barbecue menu at 10am. “We sell out every Saturday,” Slaughter said, sometimes by 1:30pm.
When I arrived just after 10am, folks were already waiting on their lunch orders. One gentleman said he buys enough to last for a few days because it’s the only barbecue he likes in the area. I ordered a little of everything, then surveyed the hot sauce options. Bottles of about twenty varieties fill a wood box next to the ordering window. There are also three barbecue sauces: spicy, regular, and mustard. The mustard was great with the excellent smoked turkey and chicken. The pulled pork was already covered with the regular sauce, and luckily, the combination worked.
The brisket was the most impressive item on the tray. They use Choice grade briskets. “We did prime, and for the money and the final product, we didn’t notice a big difference,” Slaughter said. The slices were plenty juicy, and maybe a bit too tender. I could tell from the texture that they wrap their briskets, but there was still plenty of good pecan and oak smoke. The beef rib was the only letdown. It needed a couple more hours on the smoker. Slaughter confessed these chuck ribs were bigger than normal, and with just one pit, he has to do a lot of meat shuffling throughout the night to get it all done.
The ribs were straightforward competition-style baby backs. They were candy-sweet without much smoke and perfectly done. I quickly ate two bones worth. (The ribs are offered in a trio for $5 or a full rack for $25.) All that sweetness tasted like a barbecue guilty pleasure, but you can always add a few splashes of hot sauce to balance things out.
Having both smoked turkey breast and huge, smoked chicken breasts seemed redundant, but Slaughter and Edwards said there’s a definite demand for both. The chicken was the latest addition to the menu. Several months back, “we had a massive grease fire break out at 2am,” Edwards said. “We lost every one of sixteen briskets.” They had to come up with something to cook quickly, so Slaughter ran to the grocery store and bought some chicken breasts. They’ve never left the menu.
Slaughter is originally from the Houston area, so when he came to East Texas, he was confused by all the cheap Eckrich sausage served at barbecue joints. “I was raised on Chappell Hill sausage,” he said, so that’s what they’re smoking at the BBQ Oasis. It’s a well-smoked mild variety. I also liked the smoked boudin, which they get from Zummo’s in Beaumont. Sides of potato salad and slaw are basic Texas staples, and the pinto beans are livened up by a pico de gallo treatment. There’s also a very good banana pudding available for dessert.
Slaughter’s BBQ Oasis is certainly popular, and even the pitmasters are surprised by how quickly the business has grown. They’re not sure about future expansion plans. The only rent they pay to the Fix & Feed is a catered lunch for their fifteen employees every Saturday, but running the barbecue truck once a week takes up most of their free time. “Jeremy sleeps from 11pm-2am, and I sleep from 2am-5am,” Slaughter said of their Friday nights. After selling out, both of them spend the rest of their Saturday recovering. For now at least, folks in East Texas know that they can head to Slaughter’s on Saturdays for the best barbecue along this stretch of interstate.