If barbecue reigns king in Texas, brisket is its queen. What was once deemed the throwaway cut, today has garnered a cult following with a reputation that precedes itself. We sat down with two local pitmasters, Ian Timmons of Tom & Bingo’s Hickory Pit Bar-B-Q and Arnis Robbins of Evie Mae’s Pit Barbeque, which have both been recognized by Texas Monthly in the Top BBQ Joints in Texas, to find out the secret to smoking award-winning meats.
To fully understand the popularity of Texas barbecue, we are taking it back to the mid-nineteenth century. In Central Texas, German and Czech immigrants who owned butcher shops and grocery stores would often smoke meat that was nearing its expiration date. After offering smoked meats to its customers, the popularity began to rise – especially with cuts like shoulder clod. Because briskets present a challenge when being smoked due to the hardness of the connective tissue and the size of muscle, these cuts were ironically the cheapest. Today, brisket is a luxury fan favorite and often synonymous with the idea of Texas Barbecue itself.
With evolving techniques and some trial and error, pitmasters like Timmons and Robbins consistently smoke crowd-pleasing briskets that leave their customer base coming back for more. From Arizona to Colorado, these two West Texas pitmasters brought their passion for barbecue back to Lubbock where they believe the local market challenges them to rise to the occasion.
“Doing barbecue in Texas just makes sense. To be held accountable and expected to perform at the level we strive for is much easier in Texas where people expect it,” Robbins said.
For over 70 years, the legacy of Tom & Bingo’s led the West Texas barbecue scene. What started in the late 1940s by Tom Clanton and his cousin G. R. “Bingo” Mills as a means to an end turned into a Lubbock icon that would be passed down for generations. Today, Ian Timmons and his wife Kristi Clanton Timmons carry on the tradition.
A Lubbock native and Texas Tech University grad, Timmons’ grew up with close ties to the Clanton family, eventually dating and later marrying the granddaughter of Tom Canton. During his college years, he worked at Tom & Bingo’s for Dwayne Clanton, son of Tom, who took ownership in the late 80s. After graduating, Timmon’s followed Kristi to Denver, Colorado in 2014 as she pursued a career in oil and gas and he worked for Denver Biscuit Company while also following his dream of working at a ski resort.
Just three years later in 2017 Lubbock was calling the now married couple home when the time came for Timmon’s to take over the family business. Today, he continues to smoke meat in the original pits built in 1952 when the location on 34th Street was constructed in what was then the outskirts of town. Along with the smoke pits, Timmons jumped headfirst into business with the philosophy of respecting the history of Tom & Bingo’s while also evolving to stay relevant.
“Tom & Bingo’s is tied to Lubbock’s history. The legacy of what this is means something to the community and means everything to my family. In order to preserve its history, I have to keep up with the times to keep it alive for people to be able to experience Tom & Bingo’s for generations after me,” Timmons said.
Staying relevant to him looks like creating a menu he is proud of which features original items like Bingo’s, which is a small portion of smoked hamburger patty, while also adding newer options like the brisket cheeseburger. What was once known as a barbecue sandwich shop, today offers full spreads of meat and other menu items that Timmons’ team has developed.
“People will say that Tom & Bingo’s is the sandwich or it’s the location, or it’s the person, but it’s really the idea of cherishing history and building on that,” Timmons said.
When it comes to smoking brisket, the line out the door confirms he knows exactly what he is doing. Every day, his crew smokes between five to seven briskets on the original pits. He starts by trimming the meat and letting it smoke at 250 – 275 degrees for ten hours. Then, he wraps the meat in foil and cooks it for about two more hours, allowing for it to soften more. After it has softened, he will let it rest on what he calls the last fire. Once it is finished, customers can order the meat on a plate or in a sandwich. No matter the preference, a piece of Lubbock history is smoked into every order.
On the outskirts of Lubbock in Wolfforth, Texas, Arnis and Mallory Robbins found their calling smoking meats. What started as a hobby turned into a roadside operation in an old corn roasting truck outside of Tucson, Arizona ranks as the No. 8 Best BBQ Joint in Texas by Texas Monthly.
Originally from Portalles, New Mexico, Robbins grew up on a peanut farm with his family. Having limited resources to premium protein, he describes his meat growing up being “grilled to oblivion.” It wasn’t until 2010 while living in Tucson, Arizona, where he was diagnosed with Celiac Disease that he would begin to dabble with smoking meats. At the time, Robbins owned a landscaping business and began smoking on his Craigslist electric smoker on the weekends. This being in the pre-barbeque boom, Robbins taught himself how to smoke meats using limited resources like YouTube and PBS.
As his hobby began to take off, so did his ambitions for what this could become. Robbins set out to build his own wood-fire smoker in 2014. In March of that year while returning home from a bachelor’s weekend where his smoker was the focal point of the event, he decided to turn this hobby into a money-making endeavor. One day per week, Arnisand Mallory took their newly acquired barbecue truck to Vail, Arizona to sell roadside barbecue as what we know today to be Evie Mae’s.
Knowing Texas was where they should be if they were to take their barbecue business to the next level, the pair decided to sell the landscaping business and take Evie Mae’s to West Texas to pursue their barbecue dream.
Today, we know Evie Mae’s to be the popular spot with free beer and a line that wraps around the building. Robbins explained as a way to show appreciation to the community for their support, they started giving free beer to those standing in line, knowing they may not get to the front of the line before they sell out.
The secret to their success? Robbins attributes it to hard work and fulfilling his life’s calling.
“Everything that happened was so organic and so perfect that you just know you are doing what you were put on this earth to do because things are working out the way they only could if you were doing what you are supposed to be doing,” he said.
The team at Evie Mae’s consists of individuals who have one job and they each do it perfectly. From seasoning to smoking to cutting the meat and plating it, each detail consistently serves guests with a delicious, tender piece of brisket.
Smoked on White Post Oak, Robbins smokes anywhere from 45 – 60 briskets depending on the day. His method includes sourcing quality meat from a region where the summers are short and the quality of meat remains precise. He then smokes the cuts of brisket at 205 degrees for 14 hours, a technique he has found to break down the connective tissues without drying out the meat.
Having a number of independent variables, Robbins explains why barbecue is a challenging endeavor.
“From the quality of wood being used changing weekly and different sizes of meat being delivered daily, I’ve learned that the way to continue cooking the best barbecue you’ve ever cooked is to learn to control the variables you can. Barbecue keeps you on your toes. It’s a daily challenge to try to repeat a consistent product. That is why I am into it,” he said.
Both Robbins and Timmons attribute the success of their business to the barbecue culture, specifically in West Texas. Timmons believes the culture of the people who are known for their humble roots and million dollar handshake deals is showcased on the culinary palate throughout the area.
“Each region reflects its population which defines its culture. In Lubbock, we are down-to-earth, traditional people. This culture influences our food and can be experienced in the way we barbecue,” he said.
When asked the secret to being a pitmaster in Texas, Robbins believes that it all comes down to humility and never believing he has perfected his technique.
“Knowing that every brisket we serve today could be terrible – there is no autonomy with the process. It all has to do with how willing a person is to try their best to make it great. You can’t fake brisket. The final product has everything to do with how much you put into it. I am proud to say the barbecue we made today is the best it has ever been, and tomorrow we will work to make it even better,” he said.
Timmons answers by sharing his experience of when he took his job, as he says, too seriously.
“I learned the hard way, but we get to do full time what people look forward to doing on the weekends. I try not to take barbecue too seriously and always continue to challenge myself. The coolest part of what we do is the impact we have on Texas culture and where we sit in Texas barbecue history,” he said.