When Richard and Suzanne Funk opened up the Desert Oak Barbecue truck back in 2015, our barbecue editor, Daniel Vaughn, believed their presence was exactly what the El Paso ‘cue scene was missing. Years later, the Funks have expanded to a brick and mortar, added tons of menu items, and are continuing to impress in far West Texas.
Tell me about the first person who taught you about barbecue.
My wife Suzanne first introduced me to charcoal grilling when we were dating. This sparked my interest in cooking with live fire. I started experimenting with an offset smoker and eventually figured out how to cook a brisket. Throughout my journey, I had tips from other professional pitmasters—especially my friend John Lewis, who shared techniques that improved my skill.
Do you remember a backyard or a barbecue joint that started your barbecue obsession?
One day while looking at random barbecue videos, I came across Aaron Franklin. He seemed just like a regular guy, but he earned a living making barbecue. Although I hadn’t yet visited his restaurant, I immediately began to fantasize about barbecuing for a living.
What message are you trying to share to your customers through your food?
Pursue your passion and place that ahead of profit. The profit will follow, but I believe this is the right order.
As a professional pitmaster, are you a BBQ Freak just like the rest of us?
I am a BBQ Freak.
When is the last time you ate someone else’s barbecue besides your own?
My wife and I try and visit other barbecue joints frequently. We enjoy visiting other establishments and being part of the total experience, beginning with the line. We travel to Central Texas at least once a year, where we try to find new barbecue joints and visit a few of our favorite spots at the same time. We usually coincide this trip with the annual Texas A&M University barbecue town hall meeting.
What’s the most surprising BBQ dish you’ve eaten?
I would have to say the meatball sausage at LeRoy and Lewis.
What’s the best beverage to wash down BBQ?
What’s a tool you use in cooking that might not seem like an obvious barbecue tool?
At first, I was going to say a shovel or log splitter, but then I realized every barbecue joint uses these, which makes them obvious tools. So I would have to say that a five-gallon plastic bucket is a crucial part of our operation. We use one to fill the water pan in the smokers, two under each pit to collect rendered fat, and several to brine all of our poultry. I don’t think we could function without them.
What recommendations do you have for someone new to Texas ’cue?
Get used to being hot and tired all the time. Texas barbecue is a labor of love.
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