Brendyn’s BBQ enjoys support from its East Texas community

When I first visited Brendyn’s BBQ, in Nacogdoches, six years ago, owner Brendyn Todd offered me a sample of coffee-rubbed brisket alongside a conventionally seasoned brisket. I loved the flavor of the coffee so much that I urged him to ditch the other one. He did, but it took me way too long to come back and see how far he had come since the food truck days. Todd opened a permanent location in 2020 in a building he now owns, and his barbecue has become beloved locally.

“We had a surplus of loyal customers on a daily basis,” Todd said of his motivation to expand. His timing gave him a reason to take a break when the COVID-19 pandemic hit right after his move. Todd was worried about her business, but residents assured her they would support her. “They made sure we stayed afloat,” he said.

Since then, Todd has been perfecting his chest. The first step was to get it right. He kept adding coffee grounds until they were half the problem. The other half is equal parts coarsely ground black pepper and kosher salt. The original drip coffee used freshly ground artisan coffee, but as the popularity of the brew increased, so did the cost of the coffee. Todd did a blind taste test for employees and customers whose chests had been rubbed with expensive coffee or Folgers. “No one could tell the difference,” Todd said. He doesn’t use Folgers, but he now stocks large quantities of pre-ground coffee at an affordable price.

When Todd cracked the top of his chafing pot, the aroma of coffee filled the air and the mixture looked like crumbled Oreo cookies. Todd said he wraps the breasts in foil for the last part of cooking, and the liquid that collects on the bottom further seasons the meat. I loved the bold flavor of the bark and the coarse texture helped bring out a more pronounced smoky flavor. The juiciness has also improved a bit since my last visit.

The Pig and Apple sandwich. Photography by Daniel Vaughn

Brendyn's BBQ
Brendan Todd. Photography by Daniel Vaughn

With the restaurant expanding, Todd needed more smoking capacity. He took a large steel tank from his grandfather’s property and dropped it off at the welding class at Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches. The students spent six months welding it into a reverse-flow smoker that is now the workhorse in the pit room.

There is also a Smoking Pitmaker Vault there. The kitchen inside is small and has no room for a stove or oven (hence the commercially made white cheddar macaroni), so cooks use the Vault to bake cookies and buns at cinnamon for the monthly breakfast menu. No matter what is cooked, it is smoked with a blend of white oak, red oak, and oak from East Texas.

Brendyn’s BBQ does not do combo plates. His barbecue is sold by the pound and Todd assured me I could get as little or as much of anything as I wanted. “We’re a one-rib restaurant,” is how he described it. After eating many barbecue meals recently with a half-pound or half-square minimum, this was a welcome relief. You can enjoy a wide variety of meats on the menu, but when it comes to chicken, you have to commit to half a bird. Luckily it was smoky, salty and juicy.

You’ll probably want more than one rib. They have a dark, smoky bark that sparkles. Rather than using sugar in the glaze, Todd mixes his barbecue sauce with mayonnaise. “I like the shine it gives them,” he says, and the mayonnaise doesn’t add any extra sweetness. This puts the ribs at odds with the sweeter ribs I normally find in East Texas, but Todd said he hasn’t heard any complaints.

The Pig Apple sandwich, featuring pulled pork, coleslaw and green apple slices, elicits no complaints either. I called it one of my favorite barbecue bites of 2018, and it’s still a great combination with a refreshing crunch of tangy fruit. “I don’t think there’s anything that needs to change,” Todd said. One thing he changed from back then was adding beans to the menu, and they’re good, but his best-selling side dish is jalapeño creamed corn. The first bite will be a surprise if you are expecting the flavor of a sweet cream. Instead, Todd mixes cream cheese, pickled jalapeños, and jalapeño juice. The result is tangy with a hint of spice, and it’s unlike any other creamed corn I’ve had. I would order it again.

It’s ironic that I’m writing this week about how Brendyn’s BBQ was able to leave the food truck behind. The restaurant building needed roof repairs and Todd decided it was time to renovate the restrooms. He is therefore temporarily back at food truck service, with shortened hours. The truck is parked next to the building so it’s easy to find. If you miss it, just follow the scent of East Texas oak smoke tinged with roasted coffee.

Brendyn’s BBQ
601 E. Main, Nacogdoches
Phone: 936-585-1030
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Pit Master: Brenda Todd
Method: Oak in a reverse flow smoker
Year of opening: 2018

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