An Oasis Rises in a North Texas Barbecue Desert—but Only on Saturdays

When Dustin Treviño purchased a massive smoker from Austin Smoke Works in 2019, it was only as a backup plan. He co-owned an oil-and-gas company in Midland at the time, but thought it might be useful to hone another skill outside the notoriously boom-and-bust petroleum economy. “I had no clue how to use it,” Treviño admits now. The first time he fired up the new smoker was for a barbecue competition in Midland. He didn’t run the smoker hot enough and the brisket took 22 hours to smoke, completely missing the turn-in time. Over the next few months, Treviño learned to harness the power of his thousand-gallon smoker, and began offering up his barbecue catering services. As a joke, he chose Downturns as the name of the fledgling barbecue business.

Then the pandemic wreaked havoc on the West Texas oil fields, and brought about a personal downturn for Treviño. After a falling-out with his business partners and a subsequent buyout, Treviño and his wife Sara packed up their kids, their belongings, and the smoker and left Midland for a change of scenery at Possum Kingdom Lake, about ninety minutes west of Fort Worth. Treviño figured he could cook barbecue while he and Sara worked out plans for their future, but now barbecue seems to be their future. They traded a rebuilt Jeep for an old ice cream truck, turned it into a barbecue truck, and Treviño’s Craft Smokehouse opened in April. The Saturday-only operation has quickly become a local favorite.

Trevinos BBQ

Trevinos BBQ

The tray at Treviño’s, including a thick avocado salsa perfect for brisket dipping.Photograph by Daniel Vaughn

Treviño had planned to open earlier, but the pandemic handed him one more obstacle: he caught COVID-19 during the recipe-development stage and lost his sense of taste. He indefinitely delayed the opening until he could taste the food again. After a month, he was able to taste a few strongly flavored items like mustard and vinegar. With every meal, he would compare what he tasted with how his friends and family perceived their food.“You ask a lot of people if things are too salty or not,” he says. Even after Treviño thought his sense of taste had returned, he wasn’t fully confident. “I had to have my wife check salt content because I didn’t trust my taste buds for the longest time,” he says. To help, he recorded exact ingredient amounts for the final recipes. They needed to be accurate.

Judging from what I ate on a recent Saturday, Treviño’s palate has fully recovered. Take the Chori-Queso Flameado Mac, which would be superb even without the pasta. It starts with a butter-heavy roux and milk, then a mix of melted asadero, Oaxaca, and jack cheese. Treviño adds chili powder, cumin, a raw jalapeño, and some chorizo, then blends it all together until smooth. The pasta is rigatoni from Pappardelle’s, a pasta company from Colorado, and it’s boiled until just under al dente. The pasta finishes cooking once it’s mixed with the warm queso. Topped with red pepper flakes and cotija, the finished dish has a hint of smokiness from the chorizo, and some jalapeño heat, but with all the comfort of a well-made mac and cheese.

The barbecue truck was only on its ninth Saturday of serving when I visited, and it’s already so popular that the pan-fried potato salad was sold out within fifteen minutes. Treviño fries potatoes with onions and bell peppers that are cooled, then mixed with a mayo-based potato salad dressing. I didn’t get to try it, but I do appreciate the effort to create something unique. The same goes for the barbecue sauce, which is savory and buttery without being too sweet. The base of the recipe comes from Sara’s grandmother, but the not-so-secret ingredient is the umami-rich Lizano sauce, which the couple fell in love with during a vacation in Costa Rica. It’s excellent, especially on the juicy smoked turkey.

The pork spareribs already come with a coating of the sauce, which is sweetened up with a glaze of corn syrup. The sweetness plays well with the peppery rub and the tender, smoky bark. The bark on the brisket is just as impressive. Treviño is paying a premium for Prime-grade brisket, which explains the $28-per-pound price on the menu. A fatty slice had some pleasantly crisp fat on the edges, and was smoked to the perfect tenderness.

You can get any of the meats in a taco, which I highly recommend. Each one comes with rice, which is best when paired with the sausage-laden pinto beans. Treviño collects all of his brisket trim, and renders the fat into tallow for the flour tortillas. Sara makes the dough and presses out the tortillas fresh for every service. They’re fluffy with just a little chew. The rest of the brisket trim goes into the handmade sausage. Treviño calls it picadillo sausage because he seasons it with everything his mom used to make the dish when he was growing up, like cumin, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper. In the taco, sausage slices get topped with a lightly dressed red-cabbage slaw and pickled jalapeño slices. The dish comes with a side of thick avocado salsa, which I recommend saving as a dip for your brisket. Commenting on the sauces and tortillas, which also appear on the combo plates, Treviño jokes, “All the free stuff is what takes us the longest.”

Lettering on the side of the truck spells out Treviño’s nickname, Polvoso, literally “dusty” in Spanish. It also describes the menu as “Texican BBQ.” The descriptor is an homage to Treviño’s San Antonio upbringing in two ways. “My buddies would always call me a Texican because I was a white-looking Mexican,” he says. More pertinently to his offerings, “[the food] incorporates everything that I grew up eating into a barbecue menu.”

I asked Treviño if he still saw his family’s new home, and his new business venture, as temporary. “For the last sixteen years I’ve been in Wyoming, Oklahoma, Montana, and Midland doing what we thought we were good at, but not really enjoying it,” he says. Now he’s finally enjoying his work, despite the challenges brought by wood shortages, staggering beef prices, and months of rainy weather. He and his family feel at home at Possum Kingdom Lake, and as long as the locals and weekend tourists keep buying it, he’s happy to keep cooking his brand of Texican barbecue.

Treviño’s Craft Smokehouse

1706 Park Road 36, Graford
Phone: 972-505-0433
Hours: Saturday 11–4
Pitmaster: Dustin Treviño
Method: Oak in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2021

Texas Monthly