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#ThrowbackThursday: The best barbecue this side of, well, anywhere

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Article by The Rockwall Times, dated October 17, 2018

Until last week, I was not aware you could physically FEEL flavor. But Smoke Sessions Barbecue made me a believer. Owner and Pitmaster, Chad Sessions has been cooking with his grandfather since he was a kid, but it was barbecue that really made an impact on him.

“I really took a shine to barbecue probably eight or nine years ago after my wife and I moved to San Marcos. We had lived in Central Texas and everybody was like ‘You have to go to Lockhart for barbecue’,” Chad said. “I really wasn’t interested in driving to Lockhart for barbecue, but it turns out the closest gun range was in Lockhart, so we took a trip out there to go shooting one day…so, [while we were there] we went to Smitty’s Market and it really just changed my life. Being in a smoke filled pit-room with the fire-burning on the floor, with their big offset brick pits. It just really got my attention. That’s when I started to try to learn how to do it and it took me a good eight years to get good at it and it snowballed from there.”

Chad grew up in DFW area. His parents have lived in Rockwall since 2001. He and his wife, Jessica spent their 20s in San Marcos, but then their priorities changed a little bit.

“Family started getting more and more important to us, particularly after my little sister passed away about four or five years ago. We wanted to get back; closer to family. I had worked in the restaurant business already and was kind of sick working for other folks. I took my knowledge of the restaurant business and love of barbecue and kind of smashed it together,” Chad said.

So Jessica and Chad started building the trailer. Once the trailer was finished and their lease was up in their apartment, they moved to Rockwall.

“We could have ended up anywhere in DFW really, but at the time Rockwall was like a desert for barbecue. There weren’t any good, stand-out barbecue places. Obviously, the local chains were here, but other than that there wasn’t much. We knew we had a good product and we knew Rockwall was under-served in the barbecue, so we thought we could make a big splash here and it turns out that paid off,” Chad said.

When they first moved back, they decided to test the waters. They went to find somewhere that they would not be in too close of proximity to any competition.

“I didn’t want to set up in somebody’s back yard. That wouldn’t be advantageous to either one of us. Also had to gauge the competition. I felt pretty confident that we had a good product out here to bring to the table that people would enjoy,” Chad said.

And boy, was he right! Everything on the plate speaks for itself! What sets them apart from every other barbecue place in Rockwall County though? According to Chad, it’s the passion; the time they take to cook and prepare the meat and everything else on the menu.

“We make all of our sides from scratch. We make two different types of sausage in house, we make our own sauce, we make all our own rubs. Basically, nothing comes from a can. A lot of barbecue places you’ll go to, and they might have good meat, but you can tell that the potato salad or coleslaw, it just comes straight out of a can, or it’s something you buy at the grocery store that’s pre-made. Out of the gate, we decided that we didn’t want to be that barbecue place. We wanted to be the people that put just as much effort into the sides and into everything as we would the meat,” Chad said.

Chad also credits the type of cookers they use. Their setup, by Big Phil’s Smokers & Metal Works includes a horizontal offset with a propane tank with the firebox on one end and a smoke stack on the other.

“To me, that’s the only way to get real Texas barbecue. There’s a lot of other different barbecue pits out there, but all of them generally use natural gas or electricity or some sort of supplemental heat source, where this is wood-fired. So, you’re getting all of that smoke flavor,” Chad said.

When it comes to the sauce, originally, Chad did not want to have sauce. But Jessica wasn’t having it. She insisted that they had sauce. He thought he could get away with buying sauce in gallons and again, Jessica shut him down. She was not going to let him put pre-made barbecue sauce on a recipe that he spent years perfecting. Despite not having any prior experience with barbecue sauce, Chad started playing with recipes and after a few tries found the one that stuck after passing it around to family and friends. The barbecue sauce that is served today is their own recipe; not from a grocery store.

Chad gets to the trailer between 10pm and midnight and begins preparing the meat for the following day. He stays until after lunch time when his wife Jessica takes over.

“It’s a very hectic schedule. Both my wife and I work over 100 hours each and then my brother Anthony, he’s here 60 hours a week. Between the three of us, we ‘re working about 6 or 7 full time jobs to keep up. It’s a rough schedule, but our product speaks for itself as far as the results. We’re taking the time to do it right,” Chad said.

They are not settling for what they have and where they are. They want to expand and grow and have space for more Rockwallians to come and enjoy what they are bringing to the table, literally.

Speaking of Rockwallians, Chad credits the Rockwallian group for helping boost their business in the very beginning. They were gaining traction on their own, but it was the group that now boasts more than 22,000 people that he credits for the exponential growth that Smoke Sessions experienced.

“At the infancy of Rockwallian, it was probably only a week or so old, last November Jared came out with his wife and some buddies and I made him a big plate of barbecue and they loved it. He made a video, as Jared does and put it on the internet and it literally doubled our sales overnight; gave us a lot more recognition and attention. We went from being a business that was operating and slowly gaining traction to where we could pay ourselves a salary and we were sustaining and putting money back into the business. He helped us out a lot there. Rockwallian is a great group of folks,” Chad said.

Rockwallian is a Facebook group founded by Ashley and Jared Guynes. The group was founded to help those that live, work, and do business in Rockwall County to connect, interact and discover what is going on around them.

“What made me want to go out and try it was all of the members who are taking pictures of their barbecue and posting it on the page. There was a lot of talk about this new barbecue stand in Fate at the time and how awesome it was and after seeing dozens of individuals post about it I wanted to go out personally and see what all the hype was about. I didn’t know it until later but that early momentum Chad’s business was getting was powered largely by the group itself which I’m now really proud of. That’s exactly what we had in mind when we created the group, that it could really help out local business owners in a natural, organic way,” Jared said.

With all the growth they have experienced since has put them in a little bit of a bind when it comes to having the space to really grow like they want to

“Since the beginning of this year, we’ve been looking into moving into a brick and mortar spot. There is only so much we can do out of this little trailer. It’s 160 square feet of chaos. Between trying to make all the sides, making sausage, trimming briskets and the ribs and trimming other meats and cooking them, it’s a lot to do in such a small space. As we’ve gotten busier and busier, and it’s gotten harder and harder for us to keep up with. Now, it’s inefficient for us. We need more space. We need to grow. The trailer is outfitted. It’s 100% electric. There’s no propane or anything so we don’t have any appliances in there. Everything is cooked either on a barbecue pit or on a 10-inch induction hot plate. On that one hot plate, we put all our potatoes for our potato salad, our macaroni for the mac and cheese, the cheese sauce, the beans, the barbecue sauce. Everything is done on one 10-inch hot plate. It’s time consuming; it’s tough. The only way to really grow from here is to move to a brick and mortar location. We’re working to get that done,” Chad said. “Every square inch of the trailer is full of ingredients; trying to figure out where to keep ingredients and napkins and forks. It’s hard to do much more than we’re doing right now. We’re trying to find ways to use the ingredients we already have and twist it around and make different things. We’re trying to do some specials. We started doing tacos on Tuesdays. Thursdays are loaded mac day. We take the same stuff we’re using in the tacos and rearranging it onto macaroni and cheese. It works really well; people seem to like it.”

They are diligently looking for room to grow; to have enough space to offer more and maybe they can upgrade from that hot plate!

“I’ve got meetings every week with realtors and different city officials in Rockwall County trying to figure out just where the exact spot is that we want to do it; not only to be successful, but to provide a great place for the Rockwallians to come and enjoy themselves.” Chad said. “It’s a huge investment and it’s a huge step and we want to make sure we do it right. There would be nothing worse than to put that out there and to not be in the right location and to not be the concept that people would embrace. Rockwall County has a lot of restaurants, so we have to make sure that we stand out and not get lost in the crowd. I think our food does most of the work for us but having an awesome spot where you can come and sit down and drink a cold beer and enjoy your barbecue would take it to the next level,” Chad said.

I just don’t know how much farther up you can go from the best barbecue in Rockwall County. When I arrived, there was nothing flashy about their location right on the the corner of FM 548 and Highway 276 in Royse City. I immediately noted the two smokers on the property and oh, the smells. The smells were more than enough to make me want to try it. Despite my allergy to beef, I cannot begin to tell you how bad I wanted to try that brisket purely based on the smells filling the air. It was an atmosphere that I cannot begin to explain. I felt at home. More comfortable than many other restaurants I have been in, despite not being a typical ‘restaurant’. Let’s talk about that turkey though.

That turkey didn’t just melt in my mouth. It disintegrated. It was as if there were flavor explosions going off in my mouth. I got a high dosage of a peppery flavor, but not too much; just the right amount to give some depth to the meat. Based on the quality of the meat, I’m sure it would have tasted good without all of the seasoning, but whatever they put on it took it to a whole other dimension. The macaroni and cheese was delightful. I didn’t venture to try to loaded version, but I will be back, and you better believe that will be on my plate. The pulled pork was the best pulled pork this side of, well, anywhere. It is easy to dry out pork, and I have had my fair share of dry pulled pork, but this was not dry at all. The flavor of the meat to me, said it was a good quality meat and the texture was almost airy it was so tender; I had a hard time keeping it on my fork. The quality of everything on my plate was more than I have ever experienced at any other barbecue joint that I have ever been to; I can’t wait to go back and try those ribs!

Smoke Sessions Barbecue is located at 7126 Farm to Market 548 in Royse City.

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