This article is part of a series that spotlights Texas pitmasters in their own words, available exclusively to TM BBQ Club members.

Erin Smith and Patrick Feges are known for serving up creative side dishes, but the meat at Feges BBQ is truly what earned them a spot on the Top 25 New Barbecue Joints in Texas list last year.

Tell me about the first person who taught you about barbecue.

Erin Smith: I didn’t grow up eating a lot of barbecue. My real introduction to barbecue came when I started dating Patrick. Our first date was to a Killen’s Barbecue pop-up at their old steakhouse location over eight years ago. Patrick ignited (get it) my passion for barbecue, and I’ve enjoyed reading, learning, and especially eating barbecue ever since. 

Patrick Feges: Growing up, barbecue was just chicken on the grill with barbecue sauce. I just taught myself how to barbecue through trial and error.  

Do you remember a backyard or a barbecue joint that started your barbecue obsession?

Erin: One experience that really stands out for me was meeting Rodney Scott on a trip to South Carolina. His family’s restaurant had just experienced a fire and they were cleaning out the pit room. Rodney took the time to walk us around and show us his homemade pits. It was my first experience with whole-hog barbecue and one that will be hard to beat. A more recent cause for my barbecue obsession is Tootsie’s episode on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. It’s such an emotional video for me and one that I think really captures the beauty of Tootsie and her cooking. She’s a treasure! 

Patrick: Black’s Barbecue. I went there for the first time around 2007, and it just blew my mind. I had been barbecuing for a couple years already and Black’s showed me just how much more I had to improve.

What message are you trying to share to your customers through your food?

Erin: Food should be fun for those making it and those eating it. If we’re not having fun, we change up our menu and make it fun. Our menu has a lot of fresh, produce-driven sides. Those sides help keep the mood and the atmosphere light and fun.  

Patrick: Barbecue is supposed to be fun. We try and keep our menu fun and interesting while still honoring traditional Texas barbecue. We also want to show people that there is a bigger world outside of Texas barbecue. We try to bring all these other barbecue influences from our travels across the U.S. and the world.

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?

Erin: I’ve had my own barbecue every day for the past month. A decision of convenience, not desire. I highly recommend exploring Houston’s great barbecue scene. Some of my favorites are Truth BBQ, JQ’s Tex Mex BBQ, Gatlin’s BBQ, Blood Brothers BBQ, …. this list could go on forever.

Patrick: The last barbecue I had was JQ’s Tex Mex BBQ. He usually pops up close to our house, so we’ll go get that for lunch on Saturdays. I like to stop by Truth BBQ when I can get away for lunch during the week. I’m always looking for barbecue spots when we travel.

What’s the most surprising barbecue dish you’ve eaten?

Erin: Everything I’ve ever eaten at Hometown Bar-B-Q in Red Hook, New York City. Billy Durney’s menu is creative yet simple, and the execution is flawless. I also love LeRoy and Lewis‘s Barbacado! 

Patrick: The Barbacado from LeRoy and Lewis is one of those dishes that is just so perfectly executed, I have to get it every time I go. And any of the nontraditional smoked meats at Hometown Bar-B-Q. Billy Durney has done an amazing job marrying Texas barbecue with flavors from Red Hook’s ethnic community.

What’s the best beverage to wash down barbecue?

Erin: 50 percent sweet tea plus 50 percent unsweetened tea.

Patrick: Lone Star or Big Red.

What’s a tool you use in cooking that might not seem like an obvious barbecue tool?

Erin: A pen for all the notes I take. 

Patrick: Leaf blowers are great for stoking a stubborn fire.

What recommendations do you have for someone new to Texas ’cue?

Erin: Spandex is the best clothing option, and don’t ignore the sides! 

Patrick: Think outside the box. Everyone knows how to make a good brisket or ribs. Look to do something that helps you stand out.