Drive south, down Mission Road just past the historic Mission Concepción, and you’ll find one of San Antonio’s newest barbecue joints. You may have to look closely to spot South BBQ and Kitchen: The sign is obscured by some trees, the building sits back off the road, and the name and hours on the door are written on strips of painter’s tape. To co-owner and pitmaster Andrew Samia, all of those issues are secondary to what’s going on in the pit room. For now, he’s focused on serving up impressive barbecue. The rest can come later.
Samia feels like he got lucky finding a building with a large brick pit already gracing the kitchen. “I’ve always really enjoyed cooking with smoke in some way or another, so the opportunity to do it the old-fashioned way was intriguing,” he said. Samia isn’t new to working with smoked meats—before opening South BBQ and Kitchen, he ran a food truck that served smoked turkey sandwiches. For those, he built a small cabinet smoker from an Alton Brown design and smoked turkey breasts on his apartment balcony. Afterwards, at Dignowity Meats, he used an electric smoker for items like the pastrami and pit beef sandwiches. Now, he finally has a pit to smoke meat in.
The real deal comes with its own challenges. “Some mornings the logs won’t start,” Samia said, lamenting his wood supply issues. He’d like to smoke with mesquite and oak, but the last load of mesquite came in green, and the oak was water-logged. He’s making do with what he gets and putting out some good brisket regardless. The fatty slice was smoky and tender, and was best enjoyed with alternating bites of the whole, roasted, and pickled jalapeño. Chef Manuel Nava does all the pickling in-house, including pickled onions flavored with oregano and the house “tangy” pickles, each of which costs 50 cents. You should also spring for the $1.50 green onions which are fire-roasted, then finished in foil with some garlic butter. When I ate there, the combination of one of those onions and a fistful of pulled pork cried for a tortilla, but I had to settle for white bread. “We didn’t want to do Tex-Mex barbecue,” Samia said, explaining that he stayed away from tortillas because he didn’t want to be accused of copying other local spots. With every bite of impeccably fluffy Mexican rice (Nava’s mother’s recipe) and cilantro-spiked borracho beans, the “no Tex-Mex” statement confused me even more.
For now, the menu features only four smoked meats. Samia wisely wants to build the menu slowly as he masters each protein. Thin ribs were well-cooked with a salt and pepper rub. The chicken leg quarter was remarkable given how juicy it still was at 2:30 p.m. The thigh was particularly good, especially with a bite of those pickled onions.
The sauce on the tables is syrupy sweet. Samia said it’s made with apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, and ketchup, with some black pepper and garlic thrown in. It reminds me of the sauce at 2M Smokehouse, another sauce that I don’t like on its own—but add some smoked meat and pickled jalapeño, and the trio sings. (Imagine how good it would be on a tortilla!)
No pitmaster likes to hear that the sides are the star, but Nava’s recipes at South BBQ are too good for second billing. In addition to those rice and beans, potato salad is a San Antonio backyard barbecue staple. This one is simple, with a little mustard and big chunks of potatoes. Some palate relief is provided by the crunch of the cold green bean and tomato salad, topped with almond slivers and cotija—perfect for a San Antonio summer. “We wanted something lighter,” Samia said, acknowledging that the creamed corn dressed like elote and the tater tot casserole were on the rich side.
Samia said the menu will continue to evolve, as will the space. He hopes to add outdoor seating, and maybe even a sign on the door, but for now the barbecue proceeds are going directly back into what fills the big brick pit. For now, the place is BYOB, and you can try the whole menu for about $40. You won’t go broke at South BBQ, even if the pickles aren’t free.
2011 Mission Rd., San Antonio, TX, 78214
Pitmaster: Andrew Samia
Method: Oak and mesquite in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2018