2990 Hwy. 290 West
FB: “Truth Barbeque”
Thursday – Sunday
11 a.m. – sold out (usually by 2:30 p.m.)
Truth Barbeque in Brenham, Texas, is the subject of the Spring 2017 edition of our series Stirring the Pot.
by Lorie A. Woodward
photos courtesy of Robert Jacob Lerma Photography
Even though it was a cold drizzly day in December, the Botellos—Leonard IV, his parents Leonard III, Janel, and his brother 17-year-old Brandon, who will attend the Culinary Institute of America this fall—had sold out of everything but a single link of jalapeno, cheddar sausage. They graciously sliced it up and served it to me with a splash of sauce that should be slurped through a straw along with sides of corn pudding (prepared by Brandon aka “The Corn Pudding King”), signature slaw and house-made dill pickles. When my first bite, which just happened to be dill pickle, blew my mind, I knew I was in for a treat—and that was before Janel cut me a slab of her chocolate cake.
I put my fork down only because my momma taught me it is rude to talk with my mouth full—and I had a deadline. Although it was 3 in the afternoon and Leonard IV had already put in an 18-hour day, he had about an hour to visit before it was time to re-stoke the pits with post oak and prepare the briskets that would be cooked over indirect heat all night and served the next day.
The Recipe for a Restaurant
Leonard IV graduated from Texas A&M with a biology degree and intended to go into pharmaceutical sales, but his plans changed when he encountered the long lines of passionate aficionados who characterize the current Texas barbecue scene.
“Barbecue in Texas has gotten to be like wine in Napa,” Leonard IV said, noting that people trek to Giddings, Lockhart, Elgin, Taylor and Lexington as travelers on the Barbecue Trail. “There’s nothing else like it in the restaurant world, and I wanted to be part of it. Of course, I didn’t want to be just one of the 4,000 barbecue joints in Texas; I wanted to be one of the few that really cause a buzz.”
He knows of what he speaks because the Botellos are a restaurant family, owning and operating Café Annice in Lake Jackson for 36 years.
“The restaurant business seeps into your blood,” Janel said. “You live it. You breathe it. It’s satisfying to watch people get so much enjoyment out of your work.”
After Leonard IV inhaled the post oak smoke, he was determined to act on the dream he shared with his dad of owning a barbecue restaurant. Initially, they planned to open a barbecue trailer in either Austin or Houston.
The first step for Truth Barbecue? Finding a smoker.
Located on the western outskirts of Brenham, Truth Barbeque is becoming a stop on the famed Central Texas Barbecue Trail. Leonard Botello IV, who comes from a family of restaurateurs, opened the restaurant in 2015 with the goal of expanding the definition and dining experience of a traditional barbecue joint.
First come, first served. Eat in or take out. Pre-orders of 10 pounds or more can be placed by phone. All other orders must be placed in person.
Free ice cold beer is a perk for standing in line.
A second pit is under construction to help pit master Leonard IV and crew meet the demand for their slow-smoked meat.
A Craigslist ad for a “Klose pit,” originally built in Houston, took him all the way to Cleveland, Ohio. After a successful negotiation, and a 1,300 mile drive that included two blow outs, the Leonard IV got the pit back to Lake Jackson where he began perfecting his technique for smoking briskets. They also made a trip to Tennessee to purchase a 1965 Airstream to use as a food trailer.
Then the family, who has a farmhouse near Kenney, saw the for sale sign in the “perfect location” just west of Brenham. They called immediately and were first in line. Things quickly fell into place.
“By this time, we had decided it would be better to open a barbecue restaurant in smaller town than Houston or Austin,” Leonard IV said. “A smaller town would give people a more authentic barbecue experience and would validate our product if people were willing to come find it.
“Frankly, I want my food to earn Brenham a place on the Barbecue Trail.”
To stand out in the crowded field, the Truth Barbeque team is committed to excellence across the board from the meat and sides to the condiments and desserts.
“A lot of barbecue restaurants have awesome meat or a specialty meat or two, but that’s all they do,” Leonard IV said. “We wanted everything in the restaurant to be worth the trip.”
To that end, the family put their collective palates to work perfecting recipes for everything on the menu. Meats include: brisket, pork, pork ribs, pulled pork, smoked turkey, beef ribs (Saturday and Sunday only), sausage and a variety of sandwiches. Sides include: bacon mac and cheese, corn pudding, collard greens, pinto beans, baked beans, potato salad and coleslaw. Condiments consist of: house made dill pickles, pickled onions and pickled jalapenos and a vinegar-based barbecue sauce that is completely optional for meat lovers.
Desserts are a variety of three-story cakes: triple chocolate, German chocolate, strawberry, Italian Cream, Hummingbird, banana carmel, carrot and red velvet are regulars on the menu. The cakes, all made by Janel, are the only holdovers from the previous restaurant, and the family sells more at three-table Truth Barbeque than they did at the bigger space that employed 50 people.
“One of our favorite things to do is find cool, out-of-the-way places to eat,” Janel said. “Truth is what happened when we decided to build our own.”
Q&A with the Truth Barbeque Team
RTR: Who taught you to barbecue? A pit is whole different beast than an oven or a flat top.
IV: I read everything I could. Watched all the best pit masters that I could. Figured out what I liked and what I didn’t. And I cooked a lot of bad briskets before I learned to consistently cook good ones. For the record, when you put 16 hours into something and it doesn’t turn out the way you want, it can get to be discouraging.
III: But Leonard now has a way with a brisket. We’ve all had to tell him to stop trying to tweak things.
RTR: Super secret rub? Inquiring minds of the barbecue world want to know.
IV: Salt and pepper . . . three kinds. Everything else just burns off.
RTR: What’s your take on “build it and they will come?”
IV: We chose Brenham to be a little off the beaten path. We don’t have a website. We advertise minimally. We wanted our growth to be organic, driven by people finding us and sharing their discovery in the word-of-mouth way . . . on social media.
IV: We figured it would take two to two and a half years to establish ourselves. Texas Monthly found us and reported favorably on what we were doing after we’d been open six months. We’re just over a year in, and we’re being talked about in the same breath with established restaurants with reputations as barbecue meccas. That’s pretty humbling and heady stuff.
RTR: Knowing that social media was going to be integral to your success, did you do anything differently?
IV: Everything here has to look as good as it tastes because people are going to take pictures. Our big dino [beef] ribs are particularly photogenic. I’m a fiend about quality control. You can’t take the risk of someone having a bad experience—and it going viral.
RTR: What cooking show would you like to be on?
IV: I want to teach Martha Stewart how to cook barbecue. I’d be the Snoop Dogg of pit masters.