Burnet has a hard time holding onto its barbecue joints. Even the ones that have enjoyed accolades in the small town northwest of Austin have gone by the wayside. Burnet County Barbeque was in our Top 50 BBQ list in 1997 and 2003. It was replaced by Payne’s Bar-B-Q Shak, which made our 2017 list, but the Paynes retired and closed the place last year. A long while back, I enjoyed meals at Post Mountain BBQ and Burnet County Feed Store, and appreciated the strange tiki atmosphere at Bird’s BBQ. They’re all gone, but there’s a new joint in town that might have some staying power.
Danny Lester and his business partner, Jonny Simons, opened Warehouse BBQ and Meetery in an old Coca-Cola warehouse in October 2020. In preparation, Lester took an old tractor gifted from a friend and had a local welder turn it into a smoker. The engine was replaced with a firebox, but Lester doesn’t cook barbecue there. It sits out front to send smoke signals. The joint’s motto is: “We’re open if the tractor’s smokin’.”
Lester and his brother-in-law Junior Morris smoke all the barbecue behind the restaurant in a 21-foot-long steel offset smoker. Rather than using the post-oak wood common in the area, Lester prefers to cook with live oak. “It burns cleaner,” he said. The method is a far cry from the way Lester’s barbecue career began decades ago. While attending Bertram High School (Lester graduated in the school’s final class in 1970), he would tag along with his grandfather Richard Heine to cater weddings and graduation celebrations. Heine’s specialty was whole goats cooked directly over wood coals in a steel pit he’d haul behind his truck.
Lester moved on to different career paths. He was a police officer in Burnet for 25 years, and retired from his position as public works director in Burnet a few years ago. He was a member of the city council until last year and is running again in this year’s May election. Barbecue has been his lifelong passion and is once again his profession. He opened Warehouse BBQ because he thought his town needed a dependably good barbecue joint. “We take pride in our barbecue and being friendly,” Lester said.
He and Morris cook all the meats fresh every day. The briskets are Braveheart brand, meaning they’re all Angus and are either choice or prime grade. They’re smoked until they get the right color and then wrapped in foil. That wrap does more for the juiciness than the smoke flavor, but it was enjoyable brisket. I also liked the tender pork ribs, but wished I’d gotten there sooner for the smoked turkey that was already sold out at 12:40 p.m. Lester said they’re normally finished serving barbecue at 1:30 p.m. on Fridays and Sundays, and last an hour longer on a typical Saturday.
They’ve added a few new items as well. Their regular and jalapeño sausages come from Opa’s in Fredericksburg. I was drawn to the far less common chicken sausage, which is flecked with poblanos and jack cheese. It was smoky, with a good snap. Unlike other poultry sausages I’ve tried, this one wasn’t dry—probably because it’s made with chicken thighs instead of white meat. There are also some bits of green chile in the mac and cheese along with chopped brisket. Lester came up with the recipe, and it’s plenty comforting. You could make a meal out if it alone.
Lester’s mother, Pauline, inherited some of her father’s cooking genes. She was known for her generosity and skill in the kitchen. Her 2014 obituary reported that her home’s nickname was “Pauline’s Diner.” Lester said she made pinto beans nearly every day, and her recipe lives on in the barbecue joint. Those beans go onto the Frito pie, which also gets topped with chopped barbecue, sauce, sour cream, and jalapeños, along with the usual cheese and raw onion. For dessert, sheet cake studded with pecans is made by a local woman, and was just as moist the next day when I finished it.
Warehouse BBQ is open just three days a week, but Lester wasn’t looking for a heavy workload when he opened. He did add breakfast service on a trial basis a few weeks ago. On Saturday mornings only, 7:30 to 9:30 a.m., look for brisket huevos rancheros, waffles stuffed with bacon, and brisket and sausage tacos. I joked with Lester that a barbecue joint that opened in late 2020 wasn’t exactly a breeze of a retirement plan. He said visiting with the locals and the travelers up and down State Highway 281 provides the reward he was hoping for. “It’s something that keeps me going,” he said.
Warehouse BBQ and Meetery
305 N. Water, Burnet
Hours: Friday, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.; Saturday, 7:30–9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.–3 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.–1:30 p.m.
Pitmasters: Danny Lester and Junior Morris
Method: Live oak in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2020