Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 2: The Pit Masters Russell and Misty Roegels of Roegels Barbecue Co.

Why change from an easy-to-pronounce franchise name like "Baker's Ribs" to an independent place called Roegels Barbecue Co.? In the case of Russell and Misty Roegels, it was a desire to connect their name and hard work to the quality barbecue and sides they produce day in and day out.

We pick up where we left off in Part 1, after Russell Roegels explained how to pronounce that Germanic surname (it's "Ray-guls"). Here, he reminds us of the German and Czechoslovakian connections to Texas barbecue heritage. Later, we'll get into some specifics about the many meats Roegels Barbecue Co. is cooking as well as the wide range of sides that go alongside.

RR: Barbecue, traditionally, that's a German and Czech thing. Years ago, they would smoke meat to preserve it, and a lot of those immigrants are German and Czech. That's where my great-grandparents emigrated here from, Germany. My grandparents lived in San Marcos, which has a big German population. So, if I open this in San Marcos, maybe people would know how to pronounce my name. Here in Houston -- not happening. (laughs)

EOW: How has the food, especially the meats, changed since you were Baker's [Ribs]? Has there been a change?

MR: I would say it started changing even before we got out of Baker's. It started changing right around Houston Barbecue Festival time last year.

RR: About a year ago, I started looking around and I met the guys from the Texas A&M Meat Science department. Dr. Savel, Dr. Griffin, Ray Riley, they were all over here. I had a customer who told me they do this brisket camp -- this barbecue summer camp -- so I start researching this.

I met them at the festival. We talked for a little while. I told them, "I'd love to get involved with what y'all are doing. I think it's a great cause."

In that time, I'd say maybe a little bit before. I start hearing about these people in Austin and how the barbecue is there.

MR: How it's changed so much from what it traditionally was.

RR: The name that keeps popping up is Aaron Franklin. Franklin Barbecue in Austin. Everybody knows who he is. So, he's got this 3,000-mile-long line [waiting to buy his barbecue] and I'm like, "What makes his product so good?"

I start looking. Baker's Ribs came from Bodacious. Joe [the owner] started with Bodacious and went to Baker's Ribs. So it's not really the same product, but kind of. I really knew one way how to cook barbecue, and I thought that that was just the only way in the world to do it and everybody else was wrong.

I come to find out, in my opinion now, I was wrong, because I saw the way these guys were doing it in Central Texas and I give it a shot. "We're going to cook it this way just to see how good it is," and the first time I did it, I was like, "Wow, I like that a lot better."

So we just gradually changed things. Before, our ribs were more of a sugar base in the rub. Now, I'm going to more of a salt and pepper. On our briskets with Baker's Ribs and with Bodacious, we didn't season them at all. No seasoning on a brisket and we would take it and rake all the fat off of it to where you're just getting solid meat and no bark, no fat, no nothing.

EOW: Oh. That doesn't sound good.

RR: We still have some people that want us to do that for them now.

MR: They ask for the inside only.

RR: No fat.

EOW: No crust?

RR: No crust and no fat.

EOW: No bark?

RR: No bark. We still get some people who do that. We went to where we were trimming the brisket down a little bit before and I watched a YouTube video on how Louie Mueller does it in Taylor with their brisket. We went to straight salt and pepper and we're coating it real good. We smoke it about 250 degrees. Typically, they take about 12 to 13 hours. It leaves a real good crust on there. I like it a lot better.

EOW: What are all of your meats? You have brisket, you have ribs --

RR: We have brisket, we have St. Louis-cut pork ribs, we have a pork butt. We have a sausage -- barbecue-seasoned -- and we have a jalapeño sausage.

MR: That's made specifically for us.

RR: Yeah, it's made for us through Ruffino Meats in College Station. We have a turkey breast, which is probably my favorite meat here. It's a boneless turkey breast. We salt and pepper it and smoke it.

MR: It's not processed.

RR: It's not a processed meat. Everything we get here is just a straight, whole-muscle meat. And then we do have chickens.

EOW: That's a lot of different kinds of meats to keep up with.

RR: We're in the melting pot here; you got to try to please everybody. We do carry all those meats. We do sell more ribs and brisket than we do the others. We're going to cook more of those each day. It's not like we cook 500 pounds of chicken a day. We cook how many we think we're going to sell.

EOW: Start up with about four or five and see where it goes.

MR: Yeah, when we're out, we're out.

EOW: What are your sides?

MR: We have potato salad. It's a mayonnaise/dill potato salad. Then we have a Texas Caviar, which is black-eyed peas, white beans and corn. Coleslaw -- we make our own coleslaw dressing. Pasta salad and marinated tomatoes, loaded mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green beans, dirty rice and pinto beans.

EOW: Sounds marvelous.

RR: It's a lot. You can come in here and just fill up on side orders if you don't like meat, which I don't understand why anybody wouldn't like meat. But there are a few people out there who don't, and we do have people who come in here and just get side orders.

MR: We have our baked potatoes and we have one that's loaded that you can get with meat.

EOW: So, a barbecue-stuffed baked potato?

RR: Right.

EOW: Can you predict what you're going to run out of first?

MR: That's the question of the day.

RR: Yeah. If we could figure out -- I'd say typically the first thing we run out of are ribs. It's one of those things. You hate to run out, but you always want to carry fresh product. Barbecue done right is not something that if you know you're going to run out and you only have a certain amount of time left in the day that you're open, you can't say, "Let's go cook another slab of ribs; it only takes 20 minutes." Our ribs cook for about four hours, brisket about 12-13 hours.

MR: Even the half-chickens take an hour and a half.

RR: Right. The quickest thing you can fix is the sausage.

EOW: What are your hours here?

RR: Sunday through Wednesday we're open 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Thursday, Friday, Saturday 11 a.m. until 8 p.m.

EOW: That's a pretty long day to maintain because most barbecue places are done around 3 p.m. It's when they really run out of a lot of stuff. You all really have to prepare a lot of meat to make it through the day.

RR: We don't just prepare it. Our briskets we smoke overnight, [and] the ribs we cook twice a day. I get here right about 6 o'clock in the morning, and then we'll see how many we sell at lunch and figure out what we're going to probably need for the rest of the day. We'll cook ribs twice a day, sausage is quick, you can get through that. Chicken's an hour and a half. The only thing your brisket and your pork, those are the two things that if you run out at one o'clock, that's it for the day. That's just all there is to it.

MR: We ran out of ribs about 12:45 the other day just because we had people back-to-back. One person came in and had two slabs, and another person came and got one slab. It would seem like ribs were on a roll that day, and you just never know what people are going to want more of.

RR: When you're out of one thing, you just try to encourage people to get the other.

EOW: Are there other people in the barbecue industry that you admire?

RR: I'd say the person I admire the most in this business is Gary Adams. He was with Bodacious first and then Adam's Ribs. He's the guy who got me into the business. Joe Duncan, Baker's Ribs. I admire him. I admire what he built in a franchise. Those two go from my start [in the business].

Today, with being Roegels Barbecue, who do I admire? I'd say probably the two guys that I admire the most would be Aaron Franklin and Wayne Muller. I think they're both great guys. I met Wayne last year at the Houston Barbecue Festival, and [he's] just an all-around great guy. He's one of these guys where just because we do the same thing for a living, we're not competitors. Everybody gets along and it's great for the whole industry.

Aaron [Franklin] and I met for the first time at Camp Brisket over at Texas A&M. He's a great guy. Aaron's on top right now in the barbecue world and willing to share knowledge. Just for the excitement, really, that Aaron has brought into the barbecue world, how could you not admire that? Personally, I don't know a whole lot about his operation or anything, but when you got a six-hour waiting line, how can you not admire that? When people are coming from all over the world to eat his product, that's something to be admired.

EOW: What else would you like for our readers to know about you?

RR: I would just like them to know that I come here every day and I give it a hundred percent of what I got every single day to put out the best product that we can for everybody to enjoy.

EOW: So, they need to come see you.

RR: They need to come see us. We're here. I've been doing this for a long time. I'm not going to say I know everything about barbecue because when you stop learning, you think you know it all and there's nobody that knows everything. Everybody in this learns a little bit more every day, or at least they should. That's how you evolve.

MR: Yeah, he's constantly like, "I'm going to try to cook this piece of meat that way and see how it comes out." Sometimes it comes out and he's like, "It's great" and sometimes, "It's not so good."

RR: There's been a lot of stuff that I just thought was awesome and then there's been a lot of stuff that went straight to the trash can.

MR: Trial and error, you know.

RR: Yeah, you got to figure it out. Barbecue is evolving. And with the high cost of meat these days, brisket especially, we're all in the industry looking for something else to cook to offset that cost. If it can be smoked, I'll cook it. That's all there is to it. I've tried cooking a whole lot of stuff and like I said, some of it's good and some of it went straight to the trash can. Until it gets right, I'm not going to put it out for our customers to eat.

EOW: My very last question is if Texas barbecue is a religion, are there any particular beliefs that you espouse or really don't believe in?

RR: I would say --

MR: The whole low and slow thing.

RR: Yeah, we do the low and slow thing. There are some people that do it hot and fast that put out great products.

MR: And he's adopted that for his beef ribs.

RR: Yeah, on certain things. We cook some stuff low and slow and some of it hot and fast. There's more than one way to skin a cat. Can you say that really without people getting pissed off?

(laughter all around)

EOW: You've now upset all the cat owners in Houston.

RR: There's some other saying that's sort of like that but I don't know what it is.

EOW: We'll let it go.

RR: But we're not smoking any cats here, I can promise you.

MR: Thank God.

RR: There's more than one way to do it. Who am I to say that the guy down the road doing it his way is wrong? He believes that his way's the right way, if he's putting as much heart and soul into his product as I am into mine, I'm not there to criticize him. That's his product, it's not mine. It's sort of like us being with Baker's Ribs; we did it the way they wanted to because that's their product. Now we're doing it the way we want to because it's our product. I'm not saying their way is wrong, I'm not saying our way is right, but it's our product, it's the way we want to do it and all we can do is hope that people like it and want to come eat it.

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Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook