Mike Havens was done being an electrician. He had a lot more fun making barbecue for his crew, so he got a bigger smoker. That steel offset smoker sits out front by the road, but it’s mainly for show unless Havens has a catering gig. The workhouse now is a hand-me-down. After he purchased the business from the previous owner, Butch Testerman, Haven was surprised to find a Smoke-Master cabinet smoker by J&R Manufacturing still sitting in the kitchen after everything had been cleared out. Testerman said he’d never even fired it up, but had no use for it. Havens immediately starting learning the ins and outs this new piece of equipment before opening in late-2012.
Havens also inherited the decor. The full name of the previous joint was Butch’s Bar-B-Que Joint and Cattle Equipment Museum. The walls are covered in equipment, advertisements, and instructions for using the myriad pieces of cattle rearing memorabilia. I sat in the corner next to the calf castrating rings. As Havens tells it, that corner table was one of two in this tiny dining room that was considered the non-smoking section. He said it was hard to come in for even a to-go order and not smell like a smoky bar for the rest of the day. Today the only thing smoking is the Smoke-Master in the back.
You might not find the meats you’d expect here. No sense in asking for fatty brisket because he only smokes the flats. The line of fat running the length of each slice isn’t from a delicate fat cap, but from the tougher deckle fat that is usually removed from this cut. It’s tough to get that for done enough to be enjoyable, and this one wasn’t there yet. The lean meat alone was more impressive. Amarillo isn’t known as an area with lots of great sliced brisket, so this one stood out. It was smoky, well seasoned and moist despite being from the flat. Best of all it was served with sauce on the side which usually has to be specified in this part of Texas if you don’t want a plate full of barbecue sauce.
A great bark on the pork ribs brought a good smokiness to every bite, and each of those bites came away cleanly from the bone. These were some solid pork ribs, if a bit too heavy on the smoke (and I’m a smoke fiend). A few bites of pulled pork lacked the zip of seasoning and smoke found in the other meats. A side of spicy mac & cheese wasn’t to be toyed with. He roasts jalapeños and green chiles before blending them with Rotel and sautéing it all together. The finished puree gets mixed right into the mac & cheese. It’s one of those dishes that you just have to keep eating lest it burn your tongue off. As the joint’s name would suggest, that isn’t the only thing with spice around here.
Haven worked with a local sausage maker to concoct a large diameter jalapeño sausage. The size means it must have a synthetic casing which has an odd texture. The flavor of the sausage was good, and you could definitely taste the peppers, but I’d rather enjoy a smaller link in a natural casing.
Green chiles are roasted, diced, and kept in a warmer in the kitchen. A scoop can be added to nearly anything to kick up the heat, but it’s the Taos sandwich on which they work best. It starts with chopped beef, but it isn’t brisket. Haven chooses to smoke the leaner bottom round to use for his chopped. It has a better yield than brisket due to less fat content, and he prefers the flavor. It is certainly beefier tasting, but the drier meat really needs the added moisture of the green chiles that are chopped right into the meat. Top it off with some of their spicy sauce and you have a reason to dine in if only for unlimited refills.
Mike Havens is new to commercial barbecue, but is learning fast. His attitude toward his craft is that of someone seeking constant improvement. He has a good foundation here at this tiny barbecue joint/cattle equipment museum. They’re already serving some of the better barbecue in the Pandhandle along with Tyler’s Barbeque just a couple miles up the road, and my guess is it will just keep getting better.