The contents of a junked-out car’s trunk changed the fortunes of James Jackson overnight. His father had owned a car lot in Lockhart, and several of the old trade-ins hadn’t made it off the property by the time he made a final request of James. While in the hospital just before his passing, James’s father asked him to hold on to the ’71 Mercury. Much to James’s surprise, it had a trunk full of cash stored away in tool boxes, tackle boxes, and glass jars. It was enough to buy a barbecue joint, but James Jackson looked beyond his hometown of Lockhart for a spot to set up shop.

Jackson had some success a few years earlier selling brisket and ribs from a food truck in Lockhart, but the city seemed to come up with new regulations every time he finished dealing with the ones before. His family had a vacation home in the mountains of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, about ninety minutes north of El Paso, and a big restaurant building was for sale. Once the price dropped, he scooped it up. He opened the doors to Mad Jack’s Mountaintop Barbecue in 2015.

Growing up in Lockhart gave Jackson a great palate for barbecue, and the otherwise barbecue-starved populace of this small New Mexico town was ready to be wowed by Texas barbecue. Jackson delivered. Once every six weeks, he brings in a trailer load of post oak wood and sausage links from the famous Kreuz Market. Jackson uses a smoker made in Mesquite, Texas, and the brisket that it churns out would make even the pickiest Texan happy. Folks form lines all the way down the block for a taste. He’s had to teach the locals that, as is common in Texas, he might sell out of barbecue on a given day. Now they know to show up a little earlier the next day for what is probably the best barbecue in the state.