Is there a better way to spend a Spring afternoon in Texas than having a chat and chew with a pit boss with over 50 years in the Texas barbecue game?
Not for this ol country hoss.
R&G Bar-B-Que owner Roy Jeffrey is a country classic. I suspect he was old school when they built the school. Starting at City Market when he was just a kid from McMahan in the late 50’s, he’s been at the top of the barbecue world in Texas ever since.
It’s been a half-century since he started learning the trade at City Market in Luling, Texas.
Like most beginners, he started at the bottom; sweeping the floors, lugging the wood and what have you til he slowly worked his way up to butcher. Please note that this was back when the giant primals came in the back door and were broken down with manual saws. I doubt Roy Jeffrey had to hit the nautilus machines when he got off work from this intensely physical job.
Hell, at one time City Market even had their own beef farm where they raised their own steers for meat. Those days have long passed, with the commodification of modern barbecue it’s a damn sight easier to get your cuts from one of the big meat purveyors. The benefits are obvious: low waste, meat comes in ready to go on the smoker, and you don’t have to pay top money for a skill that’s vanishing.
After several years in the meat trade, Roy Jeffrey stepped out of the limelight for awhile and found work with the state of Texas, but once you’ve got brisket, smoke and sausage in your blood, your fate is determined and he eventually went back to the Luling fold.
After awhile though things got a mite tricky.
Scribes the state over have penned thousands of words about when the big city lights of Houston beckoned Roy Jeffrey. Suffice to say that when you’re at the top of your game you’re likely to be recruited to take that game to the big leagues, and that’s what he did.
I’d wager that it took a lot to coax a country man from McMahan to move to one of the biggest metropolitans in the United States.
Luling City Market of Houston is in no way associated with the world famous City Market of Luling. Some big money men from Houston saw a way to capitalize on the name and make some money off it by selling barbecue in the big city. So they hired the lynch pin of the Luling, Texas operation and brought him to the big city
This old world keeps spinning round.
I ask Roy about his time in Houston and all he says is “it was rough”. His demeanor lets me know that’s as far as that conversation is going to go, so I leave it at that.
After 9 years on Richmond Avenue in the USA’s fourth largest community Mr. Jeffrey decided to hang it up and move back to McMahan. Thus was born R&G Barbecue (named for Roy and his beloved Grace). Caldwell County has been fortunate to have this meat haven for the last 21 years.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Roy Jeffrey cracks open a cold beer and has a seat with a stranger in the throes of eating some of the best barbecue he’s ever sampled.
Our conversation leaves few stones unturned as no one else is in the building that housed a mercantile when it was constructed in 1924. The old pit boss weaves a variety of tales of his time spent in the meat game, he’s amused at my questioning but amiably describes the timeline of events that led him back to his hometown.
The outside slice brisket is among the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. I make mention of being glad to see him still practicing his craft, he guffaws “I don’t need no practice”.
Indeed, when you’re this damn good at what you do, you ain’t practicing. You’ve set the bar so high in Central Texas there’s only a handful of outfits that can even come close to your level.
The sausage is lean and beefy, rich with the perfume of hours spent over Texas post oak. I very rarely put sauce on my barbecue but Mr Jeffrey’s mustard base is among the top 3 I’ve ever sampled and actually adds to the flavor.
I ask him if it ever gets busy and he laughs. He did high volume his whole life so his little operation in McMahan is a respite from feeding the crowds in Luling then Houston. On Friday evenings some of his old cronies come in and play dominoes and drink a few cold ones over plates of fresh brisket and sausage.
Perhaps some of these men are descendants of men who played dominoes at the legendary Bloody Bucket Saloon?
I ask him how much longer he’s going to be in the barbecue game. He shakes his head “I just don’t know”. He goes on to mention that the town of McMahan has changed hands and nobody knows what’s going to become of the little village.
With a Formula One racetrack going up a few miles north something tells me radical changes are afoot in the area. As long as they don’t mess with one of the best barbecue houses in the state of Texas I reckon we can hold off on dry gulching a bunch of fancy lads from across the pond.
FM 713 @ Wizzerville Rd.
Open Tues-F 10-7