Armando “Mando” Vera is the king of barbacoa in Texas’s Lower Rio Grande Valley. He runs Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que in Brownsville, which is the only restaurant in Texas cooking barbacoa in the ground with wood. So when he recommended a visit to another barbacoa operation in the area, I was compelled to change my plans the following day to try T-Ghost BBQ in Weslaco.
Business has been good for Joshua and Myra Guerrero since they moved their T-Ghost BBQ trailer to its current spot in mid-2019, especially on barbacoa Sundays. It took a leap of faith from the couple to get to this point. “I just woke up one night, and I told my wife, ‘I think I’m going to quit my job and just barbecue,'” Joshua said, recalling his epiphany that came shortly after New Year’s in 2018. He was making a decent living loading dairy trucks, but he’d caught the barbecue bug after selling some backyard brisket and barbacoa. Myra called him crazy and pointed out they had $100 in their bank account. He quit two weeks later.
Margo’s Corner, a stand selling raspas (shaved ice) in Weslaco, agreed to let him share their food permit and smoke meat in their parking lot (Joshua now proudly sports a tattoo of the Margo’s logo on his forearm in appreciation). The Guerreros made $300 on their first day selling barbacoa tacos. Joshua got an immediate rush. “I was like, babe, let’s spend another $150. Let’s go big,” he said, for the following day. They brought in just $20 on day two.
Joshua didn’t want to use his own name for the business name. In his younger days, he had worked as a DJ under the name DJ Ghost Kid. Texas Ghost BBQ was already taken as a business name, so he shortened it to T-Ghost BBQ. The irony is that now many of his customers call him T-Ghost. After the rocky start, business eventually stabilized. They bought a bigger pit and had a friend design a logo of a pig’s head with a fork and spatula as the crossbones. They slapped the logo on a food truck they were able to purchase in their first year and ventured out on their own.
The menu varies at T-Ghost BBQ from day to day. It’s just Joshua and Myra who operate the truck, so they only open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Lines form early on Sunday morning for the smoked barbacoa, which they start serving at 8 a.m. It has become a signature T-Ghost item. He’s now making 150 pounds on Sundays, and still selling out, so they no longer limit it to Sundays. Thankfully he had just made a fresh batch of barbacoa on a recent Thursday when I visited.
Joshua doesn’t use the whole beef head like Vera’s. He seasons beef cheeks with salt and pepper and smokes them with mesquite wood for two to three hours. “I get a nice crust, then wrap them up in traditional banana leaves and foil and let them steam for about eight hours,” he said. The result is silky, tender shredded barbacoa with a nice dose of smoke flavor that survives the steaming portion of the cook. Their barbacoa tacos come topped with cilantro and onion, along with a cup of excellent salsa made with jalapeños and serranos roasted over mesquite by his friend at Texas Campfire Salsa. The dry corn tortillas were the only downside of the tacos. Joshua said he brings in handmade tortillas from a local tortillería on Sundays, but I wish he would source equally good tortillas every day.
On a Sunday at T-Ghost you might also find smoked carnitas, pulled pork pozole, and “Texas twinkies” (bacon-wrapped jalapeños popularized by Hutchins BBQ in McKinney) stuffed with breakfast sausage. I also tried their version of brisket-topped elotes, which would’ve looked familiar to customers of Panther City BBQ in Fort Worth. A cup of roasted corn with plenty of chopped brisket was garnished with cotija, onion, and cilantro. It was even better with a drizzle of the excellent house-made barbecue sauce. It’s interesting to see just how easily these barbecue ideas are now shared across the state and even more interesting to find a version of barbacoa made with smoked beef cheeks that I first saw in Austin and San Antonio make its way to where barbacoa originated in Texas. That’s why T-Ghost is going to fit in well with a new generation of Texas barbecue being smoked in the Valley.
702 S. Pleasantview Drive
Open Tue 11-4, Thu 11-4, Sun 8-2