Some people are born with barbecue coursing through their veins, and Isaac Arellano is certainly one of those people. He opened up Pitforks and Smokerings BBQ back in 2018 after being “bit by the barbecue bug” at a cooking competition with a friend, but barbecue has always been a big part of Arellano’s life.
Tell me about the first person who taught you about barbecue.
My dad, Cruz Arellano, was the first person to get me interested in barbecue. Back when I was young, he would smoke briskets for the family and for get-togethers with friends for events, weddings, quinceañeras, and more.
There were times I remember going out to a rancher’s land and chopping mesquite with dad and some of his friends. I was always the kid, holding the .22 rifle, on lookout for rattlesnakes—and on cooler/beer duty! After all the wood gathering and snake killing (just one kill), we would get back home and start prepping for the all-night cook. I remember the smells of mesquite burning and brisket rub, and the sounds of Tejano music and beers cracking open. I would try to make it through the night, but would always fall asleep during the cook.
I’ll always remember the sound of my dad shuffling lightly through the house in the middle of the night, trying not to wake us up, to check the fire. I would always like to sneak a peek, because I thought it was so cool to see him open the lid under the backyard light. The silhouette of him checking and stoking the fire. And the smell too!
Do you remember a backyard or a barbecue joint that started your barbecue obsession?
My first time helping my friend Bryan Hill do a competition cook at Red Raider Meats in August of 2018. There were a lot of big names at that one, like Moe Cason, Tuffy Stone, and Robert Sierra, so it was a long shot to win, but the barbecue bug really bit me from there on. Afterward, I was determined to figure out how to cook a brisket right on slow time, not competition time. Every Friday night for 6 months I would smoke a brisket after work.
Eventually, we went down to Houston, sat around with our cousins, and after a case of beer and a bottle of Maker’s Mark, Pitforks and Smokerings BBQ was born.
What message are you trying to share to your customers through your food?
Barbecue is community food. Barbecue is a way to sit, eat, and have a conversation with the person sitting next to you. Everyone has had a bad day or week, but no matter what a person has gone through, that all goes away when you get to break bread at the table with friends, family, or even a stranger.
Food that is made through a labor of love, and a passion for the craft, can help someone to have at least one little hour to enjoy and forget about the bad things going on.
As a professional pitmaster, are you a BBQ Freak just like the rest of us? When is the last time you ate someone else’s barbecue besides your own?
Oh yeah, I love to try other people’s barbecue. My wife Ashley (the boss) and I haven’t had a chance to try as many places as we would like, due to our work schedule, but we always enjoy it when we do! The last place we had was Rejino Barbeque in Olton. Really great spread! We touch base when we can here in the Panhandle–Evie Mae’s, Hill Barbecue, Tom and Bingo’s—the list goes on, and they are all great!
What’s the most surprising barbecue dish you’ve eaten?
Bacon-wrapped smoked alligator. I was really surprised by how good it was! Had a little bite to it!
What’s the best beverage to wash down barbecue?
Lone Star beer! And Big Red!
What’s a tool you use in cooking that might not seem like an obvious barbecue tool?
The handheld weed sprayer—we use it to spray all of our meats during the smoke process.
What recommendations do you have for someone new to Texas ’cue?
Don’t rush the process. Give yourself enough time to cook. Fire control is a big deal, as well as maintaining your temperature. Most importantly, cook with passion and put your heart in it every time!