A sign reading “post oak smoked Texas BBQ” wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary at a barbecue joint in Austin. But down in South Texas, the land of mesquite-smoked barbecue, it’s a statement of purpose. At the new Teddy’s BBQ in Weslaco, just east of McAllen, owners Joel and Jesse Garcia want you to know that they’re serving Central Texas-style barbecue. They aren’t some big-city interlopers, though. “I used to live right down the road from here, in the projects,” Joel Garcia told me as we sat at a table in the restaurant’s dining room, but he went to Austin for his barbecue education.
Actually, Garcia went to Austin for a government job. He graduated from Texas A&M University with an environmental science degree in 2013 and found work in the state capital with our junior U.S. senator. For Ted Cruz’s office, Garcia did what’s called constituent services, which mainly meant answering phones. “I was dealing with people’s tax problems all day, and I hated it,” Garcia said. So he sought an outlet. Café Mueller had just opened inside an H-E-B in Austin, and he put in an application. They hired him to help cook barbecue, and he was hooked.
A year later, he sent an email to Evan LeRoy, who was then the pitmaster at Freedmen’s Bar in Austin. LeRoy brought him on to join Chris McGhee and Brad Robinson in the kitchen. It was quite the collection of barbecue talent, but LeRoy left six months later, in August 2016, to start LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue (Robinson joined him a year later), and McGhee moved on to Stiles Switch before the year was out. Robinson and Garcia held down the fort long enough to see the now closed Freedmen’s make our list of Texas’s Top 50 BBQ Joints in 2017, but Garcia saw the writing on the wall and was growing weary of working two jobs. Barbecue was fulfilling, but his Senate office job was still paying the bills. “I was at the senator’s office nine to five. Five to midnight, I would work at Freedmen’s,” he said.
Garcia took a break from both jobs when his son was born. He quit Freedmen’s and took paternity leave from his Senate job in the summer of 2017. Bored without a pit to tend, Garcia began selling barbecue out of his driveway in Manor under the name Teddy’s Barbecue. It wasn’t an homage to his former boss, but rather a take on his middle name, Eduardo. When his paternity leave was over, he was done with government work, and he went full time in the pit room of Terry Black’s Barbecue in Austin. But that didn’t put a dent in his hustle.
Garcia worked nights Fridays through Mondays at Terry Black’s. On Tuesdays he’d load up his pit and drive down to his hometown of Weslaco. He’d smoke meat all day Wednesday for a Thursday night event called Alfresco Weslaco, then pack up that night and drive back to Austin on Friday morning to be back at Terry Black’s for work. The pace was running him and his family ragged, and he longed to return home. “I wanted my son to grow up around his cousins,” he said, so he took a job working the smokers at the new Smokin’ Moon BBQ in Pharr in late 2018. In May of the following year it made our list of the 25 best new barbecue joints in Texas. That’s all a very long-winded way to say that barbecue success seems to follow Garcia around.
Yet it didn’t seem like success when Joel was fired from Smokin’ Moon last July after he and his brother Jesse had publicly shared the news that they’d closed on the purchase of a restaurant building. The former Mesquite Pete’s barbecue joint in Weslaco was going to become Teddy’s Barbecue. Joel’s bosses at Smokin’ Moon weren’t happy, and his plan for a slow renovation swiftly shifted when he found himself out of a job. Teddy’s Barbecue opened two months later.
Jesse Garcia is no slouch himself. The culinary school grad worked with his brother at Smokin’ Moon and then under chef Larry Delgado at the celebrated Salomé restaurant in McAllen. He makes all the sides and runs the more experimental side of the Teddy’s Barbecue kitchen. During my visit, he brought out a sample of a pork belly chashu that he’d been toying with for an upcoming ramen special. The sides are limited to the basics, but they’re all well executed. The meaty pinto beans have a hint of spice and sweetness. The cream corn is thick, and the mac and cheese has an extra topping of shredded cheese. Most impressive was the simple potato salad. It’s not quite whipped, but there aren’t any chunks. It was so creamy and rich I was sure it had eggs, but the yellow tint was just from the mustard.
Because this is Central Texas-style barbecue, much attention is paid to the quality of the brisket ($21 per pound). They start with 1855 Prime grade briskets and smoke them with post oak wood in one of two offset smokers from El Cucaracho smokers in Saginaw. This being mesquite country, they drive up to Luling once a month to load up on post oak. Thick slices from the fatty end were incredibly rich. I preferred the perfectly tender and juicy slices from the lean side. They had a genius amount of fat cap remaining, but every bit of fat had reached a melt-on-the-tongue level of softness. The sweet oak smoke also emanated from peppery slices of moist smoked turkey. Thick yet tender pork spare ribs get a sweet glaze to go with all that black pepper.
Even better than the brisket and ribs was the array of house-made sausages. Even the basic version is a bit kicked up with more than merely salt and pepper. It’s seasoned with cumin, garlic, cayenne, black pepper, and crushed red pepper, which they use as a base seasoning for all the sausages. Three other sausages the day I visited all had cheese in them. The standard jalapeño cheddar had a finer grind than the garlic pepper jack sausage and the special of chile piquin cheddar. Beef and pork are ground together for every link, and after stuffing, they’re cold smoked before they go in the cooler. They’re then hot smoked for service, and it’s that two-step smoking process that gives them their excellent snap. I enjoyed them all, but the chile piquin, using the only truly native Texas chile, was especially good.
Don’t bother with white bread here. Spring for the flour tortillas, which are two for a dollar. They’re made by Joel and Jesse’s mother, and rather than lard, she uses beef fat that has been rendered inside the smokers at Teddy’s (they also use it in their cookies, which weren’t available the day I visited). Like a paper bag full of good, greasy burgers, these tortillas are tantalizingly translucent. Make a sausage wrap with them, and you’ll wish every pitmaster had a tortilla expert in the family.
Hidalgo County has seen a surge of impressive barbecue options since The Smoking Oak opened in Mercedes in 2015. Teddy’s is not a barbecue outlier in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, but it’s serving the best collection of smoked meats I’ve found at any single joint in the area. When Joel Garcia was still working at Smokin’ Moon, and just after it had earned a positive review from Texas Monthly, he told the Monitor newspaper in McAllen last year, “It seems crazy to me that a place down here in the Valley could leave that much of an impression on the publication.” Well, Garcia brothers, you’ve now made an impression of your own, and are helping to turn the Valley into a Texas barbecue destination.