There’s a different story behind each item on the scant menu at Uncle Henry’s Tamales, in Beaumont. Owner Hal Guillory was just 16 when he began working with his uncle Henry Guillory in 1974. They served nothing but tamales at the time. Henry, who had been selling tamales in town since 1937, had moved his small shop from under the Mariposa Street viaduct (since demolished) into a building on Fourth Street and Washington Boulevard. Hal remembers eating the Beaumont-style links from Patillo’s Bar-B-Que just a few doors down way back then, but nowadays he prefers his links.
“You cook them slow, and they won’t turn into a pocket of grease,” Guillory says of the Beaumont delicacy of fatty beef links. The locals sometimes call them “grease balls” because of the hot fat, tinted red with paprika and chile powder, that runs freely once the casing is pierced. Guillory promises his links aren’t as greasy as some others in town (debatable, given the rusty-hued pool that they formed on my car trunk) and that his pork casings are superior to the standard beef casings, even if they’re more prone to rupture. “If they’re careless, they can use a beef casing, but if they’re watching it, they can use pork,” he says.
Guillory’s recipe for links is a relatively new one for the business. He added it in 2001—along with chili from his oldest sister Hedy’s recipe and smoked sausage in the style of Floyd’s, in the LeBleu Settlement of Louisiana—when he moved to the current Uncle Henry’s location on Lucas Drive. I’ve seen pickup trucks longer than the building is wide. A window on either side serves drive-up customers, and pedestrians use the front window. There is no seating, not even a picnic table outside, so you have to savor those links at home—or risk a pesky stain in the car.
Guillory bartered pig fat for the link recipe. “When you make cracklins, one of the by-products is lard. You know you’re gonna make some grease,” he says. So he had plenty of fat to spare when he met Miss Clara at Clara’s Diner. He’d give her a five-gallon bucket of lard for two dinners, and she eventually showed him how to make links. In the giving spirit himself, Guillory sent me a series of texts, unprompted, a few days after our interview. It was a step-by-step recipe for the links, and he granted permission to share it.
He starts with crumbled pieces of sliced wheat bread, right out of the bag. To that he adds ketchup, minced garlic, and a mix of salt, chile powder, red pepper, and cumin. “No black pepper,” Guillory emphasizes. That’s transformed into a puree by an immersion blender. The puree is then mixed into ground chuck and stuffed into pork casings. Those are smoked for six hours at 150 to 175 degrees in a cabinet smoker fueled by red oak and charcoal.
The smoked boudain is cooked the same way, but that recipe came from his cousin Laura May Babino. “She used to make boudain for the zydeco dances and for the bazaars at church,” Guillory says. He makes the smoked version without liver and a fresh version with the liver. I was lucky enough to get a cup of the hot boudain before it went into the casing, and it was magical. The mix of parsley, green and yellow onions, and bell peppers was still vegetal and vibrant.
Maybe you’re wondering about those cracklins. In 1989 Hal was just coming back into the business after ten years at a steel mill. (“I got fired on the graveyard shift for sleeping,” he says.) The shop had moved to Fifth Street and Blanchard, where his wife, Adell, had been in charge after Henry Guillory passed away in 1980. Hal wanted to serve cracklins, and his father, Rifford, shared the recipe with him. “He’s the one that told me about putting the vinegar on them,” Hal says. The vinegar goes on with the seasoning right when the cracklins come out of the fryer. “You season them, and they’re purging that grease out and sucking the vinegar in.” He fries a half-ton of them every week, and they’re the best-selling item at Uncle Henry’s Tamales.
Joseph Trahan, a native of Abbeville, Louisiana, brought his tamale recipe to Beaumont and shared it with Henry Guillory. Maybe that’s why they’re still referred to as “creole-style” tamales. Anyone growing up along the Mississippi River might know them as Delta-style tamales. Rather than a meat filling surrounded by fluffy masa that takes the shape of its corn husk, these tamales use cornmeal. The filling is ground chuck and a spice mixture from TexJoy, a Beaumont spice company. “Uncle Henry has been using TexJoy since 1937,” Hal says, and they have the TexJoy logo on the side of the building to prove it.
The TexJoy plant is where I heard about Uncle Henry’s. I thought I’d eaten all the links to be had in Beaumont until I learned about Hal Guillory during a tour of TexJoy. Company president Joe Fertitta, after learning of my love for links, asked if I’d been to Uncle Henry’s Tamales. Given the name of the place, I would have never stopped in looking for links. Thankfully I did, because they’re some of the best in Beaumont. While I’m not well versed in the city’s boudain options, I’d be surprised if Guillory’s weren’t near the top in that department too.
Uncle Henry’s Tamales may be housed in a tiny building, but Guillory offers an impressive array of Southeast Texas specialties, and all of it is made in-house. “At my place, I cook everything,” Guillory says, surmising that’s the reason business remains good. “I done put my kids through college” with the restaurant’s profits, he says. “I‘ve got four kids. Only one of them didn’t go to college, but the rest of them did. I also paid my child support in two states and three counties selling tamales,” he adds, laughing. As we were finishing our phone interview, Guillory wanted to know if I had any questions about the pork ribs. I hadn’t even noticed them on the menu. “I’m not baking these ribs,” he told me. “These ribs are on the pit for four hours, slow smoked.” Just one more reason to get back to Beaumont.