Siblings Francisco “Paco” Carmona and Paola Buentello grew up of their household’s barbecue enterprise in Eagle Go, an hour south of Del Rio and instantly throughout the border from Piedras Negras, Mexico. He was two years outdated and he or she was one when their late grandfather Hugo Buentello and their mom, Selena Buentello Worth, opened the Wagon Wheel in 1994. They bought barbecue and different items from a drive-through constructing. “You grabbed your beer, your deer corn, your brisket sandwich, and also you had been off to the ranch,” Carmona stated. I first visited the joint ten years in the past, and once I returned to attempt it once more final month, a lot had modified—together with the situation—that I didn’t even notice it was the identical enterprise.
Hugo handed away in 2015, however Buentello Worth stated the household by no means thought of closing the place. “That’s all we knew,” she stated of the restaurant. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the take-out enterprise stored the Wagon Wheel afloat, but it surely was a battle. By the top of 2021, the household sought a brand new, smaller location. Buentello Worth stated additionally they needed to maneuver farther from a facility the place migrants launched from U.S. custody had been delivered by the busload to hunt transportation out of city. (Mission: Border Hope, an area nonprofit, took over the power in April 2022 and was serving 5 hundred migrants a day as of September.) The household moved into a brand new spot two miles south a 12 months in the past.
“Our purpose for 2022 was bringing one thing to Eagle Go that individuals stay up for visiting,” Carmona stated. That meant reinventing the essential barbecue menu he’d grown up with. The members of the family purchased a brand new five-hundred-gallon smoker from Jesse James Customized Pits, in Poteet, and one other is being constructed. They added new sides and specials like ribeyes, burgers, and chicken-fried steak. In addition they switched to Prime-grade briskets, they usually’re now cooking twenty per day as a substitute of the six they used to do within the outdated location. “We by no means thought we’d be the place we’re,” Buentello Worth stated.
The thick slices of brisket had been smoky, tender, and juicy, and the black pepper–heavy rub was completely savory. “The tradition down right here is that individuals like salty meals,” Carmona stated. He provides a bit extra spice to the rub on the turkey breast, which is his favourite. He stated it’s so moist as a result of they begin it off at a excessive temperature to essentially set the bark earlier than decreasing it again down. Massive half chickens get the identical rub and are available out dripping with juices. They had been by no means robust, as I assumed such giant birds could be. The one trace of sweetness is discovered on the sparerib glaze. Carmona stated it’s elective, however he prefers a bit sauce on his pork.
Whereas we dined, pitmaster Freddy Reyes tended the firebox of the smoker, which is located like a show piece on the again patio. He and Carmona just lately developed a house-made sausage recipe. I attempted a hyperlink simply two weeks after they began making it, and it was a valiant effort. I joked with my eating associate that it tasted an entire lot just like the beef-and-pork V&V smoked sausage, out of Cistern. It was solely later that I realized V&V was the sausage model Carmona and Reyes had served within the restaurant beforehand, they usually had been making an attempt to copy it with these heavy garlic and paprika flavors.
A couple of of the edges are worthy holdovers from Hugo’s outdated recipes, just like the fluffy Mexican rice and the favored charro beans. The latter have distinct chunks of pork chicharrón floating in them moderately than the usual bits of bacon or smoked sausage. Crushed chicharrón offers a crunchy topping to the creamy mac and cheese. I beloved the contemporary inexperienced beans sautéed with loads of butter and onions, which had been much better than the canned inexperienced beans extra generally present in barbecue joints. “Every thing is made contemporary on daily basis,” Carmona stated, minus the beforehand frozen onion rings. And that goes for the barbecue, too. The meat sells out on daily basis, which hasn’t been straightforward for locals to get accustomed to.
Clients are generally offended when their favourite proteins aren’t obtainable close to closing time, like they had been within the outdated location, however cooking restricted portions of meat is the one method to make sure freshness. It’s the principle purpose the Wagon Wheel’s barbecue is so a lot better now than it was a decade in the past. “We lastly received the group, within the final 12 months, to grasp that idea,” Buentello Worth stated. The Wagon Wheel is aiming to be totally different from different barbecue joints within the space, and from what it’s been prior to now, she continued. Carmona agreed. “We needed to change it up for a brand new period,” he stated. They usually have, fortunately for the higher.
The Wagon Wheel
1824 Del Rio Boulevard, Eagle Go
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 11–7, Sunday 11–6
Pitmasters: Francisco Carmona, Freddy Reyes, and Otto Rodriguez
Technique: Pecan in an offset smoker
12 months opened: 1994