Pappa Charlie’s Buttery Brisket And Smoked Meats Bring Quality ‘Cue To Montrose
Barbecue is a passionate pursuit. It’s also a pursuit that’s full of opinions, tough critics, rainy days, running out of items in the middle of a rush and long hours. Wesley Jurena has been through all of it — and then some — in his first year of running the freestanding Pappa Charlie’s Barbeque trailer professionally, mostly stationed in the parking lot of Jackson’s Watering Hole at 1205 Richmond.
“You watch all these food shows and think, ‘Those guys are idiots, I would never make that mistake,’” says Jurena. “And then you make all of those same mistakes.”
His love of barbecue began after deciding to cook a brisket on a 55-gallon drum that had been cut in half and made into a makeshift grill. It was a piece of equipment he took everywhere, but it wasn’t necessarily the right choice for Texas-style barbecue.
“I burned my first piece of meat when I was 18,” laughs Jurena. “Totally destroyed it. I heard to cook it an hour per pound, which is accurate if you’re going to go really low and really slow, but we didn’t even have an offset smoker. I just used that grill and put a bunch of charcoal in it, threw a brisket on there and woke up the next morning and thought, ’It should be done by now.’ It was done alright. After that I became obsessed with the whole concept.”
Though he’s come a long way from such disasters, Jurena’s only recently joined the ranks of professional pitmasters, thanks to a series of events and life circumstances. He began getting serious about smoking in 2009 by entering the competitive barbecue circuit before moving on to occasional catering jobs. It was a bigger push that led him make Pappa Charlie’s his main gig.
“I was catering barbecue on the side first, and then the contract for my day job ran out,” explains Jurena. “So I started submitting resumes everywhere, but the job offers I was getting, I thought, ‘I could make more money than that selling barbecue.’ So, it made sense at that moment.”
From there, Jurena slowly started picking up regular clientele by offering turkey breast, pork ribs, brisket, pork sausage, jalapeño boudin and occasionally beef ribs and prime rib. He’s even found critical acclaim from local barbecue enthusiasts and food writers like Eric Sandler from CultureMap and J.C. Reid from the Houston Chronicle. Despite his quick public success, he finds that working out of a trailer is much more difficult than anticipated.
“Regardless of what we want to say or how we’re changing, Houston is not a food trailer town,” says Jurena. “This is my hometown and I love it, but I didn’t do enough research when I decided to go this way first.”
Citing contrasts between friendlier food truck cities like Austin and Portland, Jurena thinks growing Pappa Charlie’s here in Houston means he’ll need to move into a brick and mortar location soon. He’s admitted that a search for real estate is underway, but continues to serve lunch out of the trailer on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
“Jackson’s Watering Hole has been a blessing,” he says. “They’ve given me a place to serve, helped me get the name and the brand out there, but I’ve outgrown this trailer. I am a beat man from running this trailer all by myself. I do have a couple friends that help, and I do appreciate it. They just do it out of the goodness of their heart, but otherwise it’s me. I make all my own sides and my sauce and pretty much everything except for my own bread.”
However tough the going gets, Jurena does have a loyal following that includes fellow pit masters and some of those helpful friends he mentions. A recent Friday brought in some of both, with folks lining up outside the trailer before the window opened at noon. Among them were his head brisket slicer and friend Jim Buchanan, as well as Willow Villarreal, the founder and pit master behind Willow’s Texas BBQ (as of now, a Sunday-only pop-up at Grand Prize bar). They all exchange shop talk, theories on how to slice a brisket properly and explain what “butter” means in barbecue terms while they wait on the last few items to come out of the smoker before the lunch shift officially begins.
“When a brisket is ‘butter,’ it’s done,” explains Jurena. “You figure that out by poking it. The theory is that if you were to poke your finger through room temperature butter, it’d feel the same.”
Jurena’s buttery brisket is just one of the items taking Montrose’s barbecue game to a whole new level, and adding one more layer to Houston’s increasingly diverse and dynamic food scene. Only time will tell if his pit will remain a fixture in the neighborhood once he finds a suitable permanent home for those tasty smoked meats. In the meantime, it’s best to get your fix by heading up to Jackson’s Watering Hole starting at noon on Fridays and Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. on Sundays, or checking the Pappa Charlie’s Facebook page for dates, times and details.