One of the best burgers in Austin is forged in the firebox of a smoker on wheels. LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue is known for pushing the boundaries of Texas barbecue with a menu heavier on smoked beef cheeks than brisket. Some days bring fried rice boudin or smoked avocados, but once 5 p.m. rolls around, it’s burger night at the food truck.
Pitmaster Evan LeRoy runs the truck during the day, and co-owner Sawyer Lewis takes over in the evenings. Even with so much great barbecue around, it’s the burger that has become part of her routine. “I eat too many burgers now,” she said, “but most of the time I work it off.” It’s a hefty helping of smoked beef. Co-pitmaster Brad Robinson grinds brisket trimmings into a roughly 80/20 beef-to-fat mix. He then forms it into half-pound patties, but does so carefully. “You don’t want it to emulsify,” he says. The burgers smoke at 225 degree for about 45 minutes. They’re pulled off the smoker just a few degrees south of rare, but they’re not done yet.
Before the smoked burgers hit the bun, they need to be seared. Robinson gets to work in the smoker’s firebox and pulls the hot coals into a smooth pile. He then places a cast iron skillet onto the coals to get it screaming hot. After getting a generous shake of salt and pepper, the patties are seared in the skillet. I mentioned to Robinson that the situation seemed ripe for a grease fire. He laughed and said, “I’ve lost a lot of arm hair.” As the burgers sear, they lose a lot of fat into the pan, which is used to sauté slivered onions after the meat is removed. Instead of it being gone for good, slivered onions are sautéed in the fat once the burgers are removed. Those onions top the burger for a full fat experience.
The patty, covered with a slice of barely melted American cheese, spills just over the edge of a squishy Martin’s potato roll. A slather of house-made thousand island dressing and pickles made by part-timer Ben Hollander, who also runs Casper Fermentables (he also does a mustard green kimchi that isn’t to be missed), are the only other toppings. The patty is tender, with the beef just barely holding together. Many burger joints overwork their ground beef, and the burger patties get an odd, bouncy texture. This one is yielding beneath the well-defined crust from the heavy sear. The salt from the patty and the cheese is bold, with the sweetness from the bun and dressing playing against it. It’s simply a great burger, and now ranks at the top of my smoked burger list.
Lewis said the burgers generally sell out because it’s hard to gauge demand from night to night, and it takes 45 minutes per batch. Right now, they’re going through fifty to sixty burgers a week, but are seeing the popularity grow. Just remember: don’t bother asking for one until dinner time.
Pitmaster Evan LeRoy will be at the Texas Monthly MeatUp on June 9 in San Antonio. Click here for details!