Patrick and Erin Smith Feges of Feges BBQ in Houston deal with a lot of fat. They trim it from briskets before smoking them, and they drain it from whole hogs after it renders out during cooking. When the Fegeses first opened their restaurant inside Greenway Plaza in 2018, all that fat was a burden. They used as much as they could in their dishes and threw the rest out. It seemed like a lost opportunity, so they started rendering it all down in the smoker and packaging it for sale. It soon caught on at local restaurants: Georgia James wanted Feges BBQ smoked beef tallow to replace butter in its bread service, and La Lucha thought its fries tasted better with a dose of beef fat. Customers at the restaurant can now buy both smoked beef tallow and whole hog leaf lard by the quart.
Feges BBQ’s location inside Greenway Plaza was perfect until the pandemic hit. Being inside an office tower’s food court provided a captive breakfast and lunch audience. Those office workers are mostly gone now, as is the restaurant’s breakfast service, but Feges BBQ is still serving lunch there Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Though business has been slow, things could be worse, Erin says.
On the weekends the Fegeses are bringing their barbecue to the people. Every Saturday you can get their barbecue, tallow, and lard at Urban Harvest Farmers Market from 8 a.m. to noon, and they’re at the Heights Mercantile Farmers Market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the second and fourth Sundays of the month. Vendors at both markets will sell only to people with face coverings, and the market owners discourage eating on-site, so all food must be sold chilled.
The couple had been operating a barbecue pickup operation at their upcoming second location in Spring Branch. They had to hit pause on the pickup arrangement once construction began earlier this month, but the pandemic hasn’t changed expansion plans: “We’re still on target for a March 2021 opening,” Erin says. They’re installing a deli case to hold chilled barbecue at the new location, and they’ll continue the online ordering system currently in place.
Erin admits that she and Patrick never envisioned selling chilled barbecue at all, let alone planning for it at the new location. One-pound bags of smoked and pulled chicken have become their top seller. That leaves a lot of chicken bones and skin behind, which Patrick recently cooked down to collect the fat, a.k.a. schmaltz. The smoked schmaltz is still a work in progress, but the Fegeses hope to offer it for sale soon, even though Patrick admits, “We’re not really making money on it. We’re just mitigating what we throw away.” That goes for the smoked beef tallow and the leaf lard, too.
Erin said the best thing about the fats they sell is that unlike the barbecue, fats last in the refrigerator for months. “I’ve never seen it go bad,” Patrick added, while reminding me that before refrigeration was widespread, people would preserve meat under a layer of fat. Duck confit sounds fancy, but it was originally just a preservation method. Feges confits its smoked beef cheeks in beef tallow to get them incredibly tender. The whole hog fat goes into the cornbread. The Fegeses love to deep-fry in the beef tallow, and Erin was kind enough to share a recipe for her smoked hasselback sweet potatoes crisped in beef fat.
Recipe: Smoked Hasselback Sweet Potatoes in Beef Fat
2–3 pounds sweet potatoes (long, skinny sweet potatoes work best with this recipe because they are the easiest to hasselback)
3 quarts smoked beef tallow
½ cup fresh grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- Smoke the sweet potatoes directly on the smoker grates for two hours at 250 degrees. You are looking for the sweet potatoes to be tender enough to cut with the knife, but not cooked all the way through and mushy.
- To hasselback the sweet potatoes, keep the peel on and make knife cuts every eighth of an inch. The cuts should go three quarters of the way through the sweet potato. Be careful not to cut all the way through.
- In a thick-bottomed pan at least 6–8 inches deep, or in a deep fryer, heat your beef tallow to 325 degrees. Then slowly lower the potatoes in, careful not to splash the hot oil.
- Fry for 5–7 minutes or until the edges become crispy.
- Remove from the oil onto a tray lined with paper towels, and season with salt immediately. Let the potatoes cool a bit, garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and fresh thyme leaves, and serve.