How San Antonio pitmasters and grill cooks deal with smoke smell, because living that BBQ life means always smelling like smoke Leave a comment


It takes about one second for anybody who enters the pit area at Pollos Asados Los Norteños to get coated in the mingled scents of burning mesquite and charred chicken — an earthy perfume that will last all day until washed off.

“There’s no going back,” said Frank Garcia, owner of the lauded San Antonio chicken restaurant, which serves nearly 1,300 chickens every day between its two locations. “Once you walk in, it’s like being showered in it.”

Many area pitmasters and cooks who work around charcoal or wood-fired smokers wear their work on them wherever they go.

“When I was a kid, they would call me ‘Brisket Boy,’ at school,” said Adrian Davila, a third-generation pitmaster at Davila’s BBQ in Seguin. “Everywhere I went, they would call me that. It has always been a part of my life that I had to accept.”

Acceptance is key because the pros I talked to said there’s no way to fully get rid of the smoke smell.

David Kirkland, co-owner and fire tamer of Seguin’s Burn Bean Co., said his wife Michelle has ordered him to keep his oak smoke-scented clothes so separated, he has his own work truck, a 1988 Chevrolet Silverado. There is also a hamper at the house dedicated solely to barbecue clothes.

Kirkland even shaved his head for the job because he couldn’t keep the smoky smell out of his locks.

“I would go to a friend’s house thinking that I was all cleaned up, and they would tell me I smell like a barbecue pit,” Kirkland said. “It’s part of who I am. I like to think of it more as the Texas perfume.”

Emilio Soliz has been in the barbecue business for more than 15 years with stints at Two Bros. BBQ Market, King’s Highway Brew & Q and now as the acting executive chef and pitmaster at Skywalk Sports Bar BBQ and Grill. His wife Christi has a firm edict that his work clothes are never to touch hers.

“A single shirt or a pair of pants will ruin everything else it comes into contact with,” Christi Soliz said. “Even after (Emilio) showers, he smells like wet wood. I’ve just come to accept it. Our closets, though, are totally separated.”

As he was tending to the lunchtime crush at Los Norteños, José Morales and his pit partner, Francisco Martinez, laughed it all off as a small price to pay.

“You could smell worse than grilled chicken,” Morales said.

Still, pitmasters seem to have designated smoke clothes. The crew at Los Norteños has their signature black work T-shirts and Kirkland and Soliz wear the same shirt and pants combinations of outfits to work.

And at the end of the day, though, there is no getting around the fact that a life in the pits has a way of sticking with you.

Davila said that his grandfather Raul, who started the restaurant in 1959, was around mesquite smoke so long, his hair eventually turned yellow from the constant exposure to it.

“I guess you could say that he cured and smoked himself like a ham,” Davila said.

cblount@express-news.net | Twitter: @chuck_blount | Instagram: @bbqdiver



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