Neil "Bigmista" Strawder Returns to Texas for a Good Cause

"My momma told me the church was gonna have a celebrity barbecue," recalled Neil "Bigmista" Strawder as he stood heads and shoulders above everyone else in the St. Augustine Episcopal Church's sunny kitchen on Saturday afternoon.

"I said, 'Oh, yeah? Who?' And she said, 'You!'" Strawder roared with laughter.

"'I'm no celebrity!' I told her. And she said, 'Baby, you've been on TV and it wasn't COPS,'" he finished. Everyone in the kitchen was now laughing, clearly happy to welcome back their local boy done good.

Strawder, now best known as the Long Beach, California pitmaster who impressed LA Weekly's Jonathan Gold enough to be included on Gold's list of 99 Essential LA Restaurants and as a contestant on TLC's BBQ Pitmasters, returned to his home on Galveston this weekend for a good cause and some good 'cue.

By 1 p.m., Strawder had already been serving barbecue for two hours, although his friends and family -- as well as members of the congregation at St. Augustine -- had been in the kitchen since 9 a.m. "We cooked 48 briskets and a little over 220 chicken halves. And they're just going out!" he smiled.

The barbecue -- and Strawder's "celebrity" status -- was all to raise money for a new community garden that St. Augustine is planting in the once vacant lot behind its church. It's not the first time that the St. Augustine, the oldest African-American Episcopal church in Texas, has built something amazing for its community, however.

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Katharine Shilcutt