Zaid and Mallory Al-Jazrawi have gotten used to delayed gratification. They were married this August, after twice rescheduling a ceremony originally planned for March 2020. While waiting to wed, they also watched for months as their food truck sat idle. Smokin’ Z’s BBQ finally reopened in November 2020 after a thirteen-month hiatus. With their nuptials behind them (the planned honeymoon to Thailand will, again, have to wait), Zaid says, “We’re just excited to be back.”
The deferrals began in October 2019, when the truck was shut down by Galveston County’s health department. The Al-Jazrawis parked a new trailer-mounted smoker under a carport on the lot they lease in Bayou Vista. An anonymous complainant filed photos of their setup, which should have been fully enclosed. The county provided a new stricter checklist of requirements on a handwritten note after the complaint. Mainly, the smoker needed a structure built around it before the truck could reopen. After five meetings with the health department, the couple addressed the items, including a demand to tow the smoker off the property to make sure they didn’t fire it up. With a smoker clogging up their driveway at home, they were never far from a reminder that their barbecue dream was on hold.
The Al-Jazrawis were given the green light to reopen last April, just as many other restaurants were closing down because of COVID-19. They fulfilled the few catering jobs they could find in the area, but didn’t feel it was safe to ask customers to return until the fall. They reopened quietly, without an announcement, but Zaid says they “had a bigger line than ever before.” With the smoker now enclosed in its own trailer, they placed picnic tables under the carport for a bit of dining space, though most customers order their barbecue to-go.
The couple’s most time-consuming menu item to prep is also their most popular: the Cheese Champion. The Al-Jazrawis joked that they could sell only that brisket grilled cheese and keep the locals happy. Unaware of the grilled cheese’s championship status, I skipped it in favor of the daily special PBLT. Perfectly griddled slices of buttered bread envelop peppery slices of smoked pork belly, plus lettuce, tomato, and garlic aioli. It’s a well-constructed sandwich that’s not overstuffed, but it took a while to catch on. The first weekend it was on the special board, Zaid didn’t even cut into the pork belly. Nobody ordered it. Now it’s rightfully gaining popularity.
Customers also haven’t yet caught on to the sliced brisket. “Every other order is a chopped beef sandwich,” he says. I asked for some lean brisket. I got the first serving from the first brisket of the day, and it had an unusual off taste, like they had gotten a bad brisket delivered. It was an unusual situation for both of us, but Zaid tried a bite, agreed, and tossed the brisket before anyone else received a slice. He cut into a new brisket, and brought out two beautiful slices, glistening with juice. After a bite, I could understand why chopping so much of that tender brisket is painful. Then again, he cuts up an entire brisket just for the breakfast service.
Breakfast is served starting at 9:30. Blueberry donuts from nearby Snowflake Donuts are there for anyone with a sweet tooth, but the signature is the brisket kolache. Zaid chops the brisket, mixes it with sauce, and delivers it to Snowflake, where it’s wrapped in sweet kolache dough. The finished kolaches, golden brown with a buttery sheen, come straight from the warmer in the food truck. There’s just enough sauce in the mix to keep the filling moist, while allowing the smoky flavor of the brisket to come through.
That same sauce is used as a glaze on the pork ribs. Of all the meats on the menu (all available starting at 11 a.m.), the ribs are the most well executed. Their texture was spot-on, just this side of falling off the bone. While the glaze was sweet, it was balanced by the smoke, the pepper, and the pure pork flavor of the ribs.
Zaid prides himself on his sausage-making, and for good reason. The Loco Link with pepper jack and cheddar cheeses was coarsely ground with plenty of spice, fat, and a good snap to the casing. The same can be said for the brisket boudin, which has a richness unlike other versions I’ve tried. Zaid prefers grinding chuck meat for sausage-making instead of using the trim from his briskets. The trim is instead smoked, cubed, and cooled for use on the boudin. He uses basmati rice in the mix, a nod to his Iraqi heritage. His father Bassam, who immigrated from Baghdad, also works on the food truck, where he’s known as “Papa Z.” Zaid would like to offer smoked brisket pitas with his dad’s shawarma sauce, but he’s not sure his customers will order it.
It was Mallory’s job as an architectural consultant that kept the couple afloat while the trailer was idle. She joked that the time off from barbecue gave her the opportunity to retire from sausage-making. She still helps with the boudin and makes most of the sides, like the fluffy corn pudding and the fresh broccoli salad. The mac and cheese is creamy, with loads of hand-shredded cheddar.
Between her day job and barbecue, Mallory works seven days a week, but she doesn’t mind. “It’s so much fun to work with Zaid,” she says. Smokin’ Z’s BBQ also fulfills a plan that began back in college. “I actually went to school for business and my minor was entrepreneurship,” she said. “My senior project, that Zaid and I put together, was to open a food truck.” It wasn’t easy to open, and it hasn’t been easy to keep it operating, but this newly married couple is looking forward to a bright barbecue future on the Texas coast.
6 Herring Drive, Hitchcock
Hours: Saturday–Sunday breakfast 9:30–sold out, lunch 11–5
Pitmaster: Zaid Al-Jazrawi
Method: Oak in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2018