This is the final installment of our three-week "The Pit Masters" segment of Chef Chat. We started with CorkScrew BBQ in Spring, visited Rogels Barbecue Co. off of San Felipe and Voss and are wrapping up with a visit to Trent Brooks of Brooks' Place in Cypress. Thanks to everyone who has kept up with our series on the masters of smoked meats.
On the day of our interview with Brooks' Place owner Trent Brooks, it was 40 degrees outside. A trailer is a particularly unforgiving environment for making barbecue when the weather doesn't cooperate. Rain, sleet, cold -- well, it doesn't matter. The meats must smoke. Business must go on.
In Part One we talked about how Brooks, despite some initial reluctance, got started in the barbecue business. Here in Part Two of our Chef Chat, Brooks talks about the ins and outs of making barbecue, the 15 sides they rotate through their menu and the number one quality a pit master must have.
EOW: Does your whole family help you out here at the trailer?
TB: They have. When I started out, they were helping me out. But once we got to the point where our business really took off and everything, I had to start hiring employees because my mom works and my dad had just retired. So, I had to get my own crew to continue and to get the help that I needed.
EOW: Are there other pit masters in the industry that you admire or feel like you've learned something from?
TB: Well, I consider myself still a newbie in this game. There are a lot of people out there that have been doing this a lot longer than I have. I really don't know their techniques, but I have tasted several of their products and was very pleased with some of it. Everybody has their own way of doing things. One thing, if I could take from another pit master, is to learn patience. In doing this, you have to have a lot of patience. It's not something that you can rush and turn out a quick product, because it will show. Don't be so concerned with making money as much as being consistent with the product that you turn out to the people every day. If the product is good and you stand behind the product, then the income would take care of itself.
EOW: Speaking of patience, there are some things like brisket that have to smoke overnight, right?
TB: Brisket is the most challenging piece of meat. I thought it was chicken. I used to tell myself if you could cook a good chicken, you could cook anything. But brisket is a very challenging piece of meat.
EOW: Do you have to stay out here overnight?
TB: I don't stay out here overnight. I usually put my briskets on and I let them cook and I come back here every couple of hours or so to check my fire and make sure everything is okay -- build my fire back up if need be. Then I'll lock everything up and go back to the house.
EOW: When was the last time you got a full night's sleep?
TB: It's been six years.
EOW: Oh, man, that's dedication right there. It doesn't matter the weather, the rain, the cold, you're just like the U.S. Post Office -- rain or shine.
TB: Rain or shine, I have to be out here.
EOW: Sleet or snow.
TB: Yes ma'am. That's right.
EOW: Oh man, that's rough. Thank you for doing this.
TB: It's a rough life. I would tell anybody, it is rough. Especially when you're doing it in the food truck industry out of a trailer because you only have so much space to work with. You only have so much capacity versus if you were in a restaurant where you have walk-in coolers and you have space where you can do more and store more. But being in the food truck, you're fighting a number of things on a daily basis.
EOW: Yes, you are. Let's talk a little bit about your participation in the Houston Barbecue Festival. Are y'all going again this year?
TB: We are going again this year. We went out there the first two years. We had a good time. We enjoyed it. So we're really looking forward to going back this year.
EOW: Does this thing move? (motions at the trailer) Does the trailer go to the festival?
TB: The trailer goes to the festival with me, yes.
EOW: Okay. So on that particular Sunday, Brooks' [Place] barbecue will be closed.
TB: That weekend.
EOW: The whole weekend?
TB: The whole weekend we'll be closed.
EOW: Okay. Good to know, that way people don't come out here looking for you. Tell me all of the meats that you cook.
TB: We have brisket -- the main seller in Texas--ribs, pulled pork, we do chicken every Saturday, hot deer sausage, and every Saturday we do kind of like what we call a specialty. We'll do a smoked hamburger, we'll do baby back ribs, we'll do stuffed pork tenderloin. We always try to make a special meat or a special product on Saturdays.
EOW: Okay. What time do you normally close?
TB: We normally close when we start running out of food. Here lately, we've been able to stay here until about 4:30, 5 o'clock. With daylight saving time coming up, we're going to try and extend our hours a little bit until about 6 or 6:30 [p.m.], or until the product is gone. If the product is gone first, then we'll shut down and then start for the next day.
EOW: How long did it take until you really got a feel for how much meat to prepare for a day?
TB: You never get that feeling. I always said to myself I'd rather bring enough and run out than to have extra and have to dispose of it. So, every day is a numbers game depending on the weather. You don't know how many people are going to show up in the rain. You don't know how many people are going to show up when it's cold. You got to be the judge as to how much of a product you're going to bring out. Like I said, it's better to bring out enough and run out than to bring out too much and then you have to throw it away.
EOW: Are there meats that you prepare while you're open? Like sausage, are you able to prepare more of those?
TB: Sausage, ribs and chicken usually gets put on that day. The briskets are cooked overnight; the sausage, chicken and pulled pork get put on about 3 o'clock in the morning and be ready for us to open up at 11 [a.m.].
EOW: What are your sides?
TB: The sides -- we actually have about 15 to 20 different sides.
EOW: My goodness!
TB: We rotate the sides as much as we can. The main sides that we carry on a daily basis are the baked beans, the bacon-onion-garlic potatoes and the cranberry-almond coleslaw. The potato salad we do on the weekends. We have a cucumber salad. We have red beans and rice. We have collard greens, we have broccoli cheese casserole and broccoli cheese and rice. We have spinach and strawberry salad, macaroni salad. We try to keep not getting everybody burned out on just the same sides on a regular basis.
EOW: And they all sound delicious! In Texas, barbecue is a religion. Are there any particular beliefs that you subscribe to or really go against?
TB: I only have one. Cook it until it's done, then take it off. It's that simple. That's the only belief that I have. Another belief that I have is once you put it the pit, keep the doors closed.
EOW: No peeking!
TB: I see people peeking in and letting the heat out and everything, then they wonder why it's taking so long. Put it on the pit and leave the doors closed. When it's done, take it off.
EOW: You're just letting all that good, hot air out every time.
TB: Yes, that's right.
EOW: So the secret is "cook it until it's done." That's the easy thing and it's the hard thing.
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EOW: My last question for you -- is there anything else that you really like for people to know about Brooks' Barbecue?
TB: I'd like them to just come and experience it for themselves. Find out what's going on in Cypress. We are just about the only one out here, and I want to see the people come out here and give us a shot. Taste our product, get the Brooks' Place experience and go tell somebody.
EOW: Fair enough. Thank you for the interview.
TB: You're welcome.