Monday, May 19, 2008

INTERVIEW: Gregg Meyer: Meyer's Smokehouse




Sadly, great BBQ isn’t available everywhere. If you are in one of those areas without great BBQ joints and you aren’t inclined to make your own, your options are limited. We wanted to take a look at some of the premier mail-order BBQ companies and get a ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse at how they got started and how they operate.

We were lucky enough to start out with Gregg Meyer of Meyer’s Smokehouse. The Meyer family also owns and operates Meyer’s Elgin Sausage, a giant in the field of sausages and a Texas landmark.

Enjoy the interview!

Q. Can you give us a little background on Meyer’s Smokehouse?

Meyer's Smokehouse opened on Feb 13, 1998. The original business was called Biggers BBQ and had been open in Elgin since the mid 60s. Mr. Biggers passed away in 94 and his sister ran the business until we purchased it from her in 98. Mr. Biggers worked for a local brick company for over 30 years, which is evidenced by the glazed tiles and large custom brick used in the restaurant interior.

P.S. - Meyer's Smokehouse was almost never opened, as we tried to burn the place down the night before.

We were trying to open on Thurs, Feb 12, but could not get everything prepared, so we had to open on Fri the 13th. We were using some old family branding irons to burn emblems into the rough cedar above the serving line. The cedar was obviously very old and dry, because after coming down the ladder after burning into the wood, my wife said "the wood is on fire"! I turned around and saw the cedar catching on fire, looking like the burning map at the start of the old tv show Bonanza. The only thing I had available to put out the flames with was a stack of plastic to go sacks sitting on the counter, but they did the trick.

Q. For those that can’t make it to you, you offer mail-order. Do you find that you are serving customers that have heard of you from Meyer’s Smokehouse or are you creating brand new customers?

When we opened Meyer's Smokehouse, we found many of the customers were familiar with us through our other business, Meyer's Elgin sausage. We have been making sausage since my grandfather started the company in 1949, and sell sausage throughout the state of Texas and beyond, so many folks were familiar with the sausage and the brand name. Over the years, we have created many new customers due to our location on hwy 290 between Austin and Houston. many of our mail order customers are shipping our sausage and brisket after they moved away from the central Texas area and can't find good bbq in California, New York or wherever.

Q. How are people finding you? Are word-of-mouth and personal recommendations a key to your success?

Word of mouth is always the most trusted form of advertising, and from the e-mails we get from our customers, they like to spread the bbq gospel by telling friends and family about the sausage capital of Texas. Our new web site has also been a great help.

Q. How did you decide what items you would include on your mail-order menu?

In order to do mail order outside your state, you have to ship from a federally inspected plant. Our sausage manufacturing plant, Meyer's Elgin sausage, is federally inspected, so all items are smoked and shipped from that location. Sausage is our biggest selling item, so we started with that. We later added the smoked briskets, smoked turkey breasts, and this year we will have our pork ribs ready to ship.

Q. What do you do to separate yourself from your competitors?


As far as I know, we are the only ones in the bbq business in Texas to season our meats using the vacuum tumbling method. Most bbq is either seasoned by hand with a dry rub or marinated in a seasoned liquid. Vacuum tumbling uses a piece of equipment (vacuum tumbler) where the meat, such as brisket, ribs, turkey or chicken is placed in a stainless steel drum, along with the spices and water. The drum is sealed and a vacuum is pulled on the interior of the drum. The drum is positioned horizontally and rotated, so the meat is picked up and dropped inside the rotating drum. The fibers of the meat are also pulled apart while under vacuum, allowing the spices and water to penetrate the meat. This process produces and evenly seasoned meat every time, and the water added to the meat adds juciness.

Consistency on our smoked meats combined with consistency on our sausage(ingredients and meat formulation has not changed since the 70s.

Q. Do you prepare your foods on site?

All of our meats, with the exception on the sausage, is seasoned by vacuum tumbling, at our restaurant. This allows us to serve the same flavor in our meats every day. We go through 3-4 20 gal drums of our bbq sauce weekly, so we have it made at a private labeler who also bottles our bbq sauce for the grocery stores.

Q. Do you plan on expanding your menu in the future?

We added bbq pork steaks to our menu about 18 months ago and baked potatoes last spring. We have a few items that the research and development department (ME) is working on, but nothing we are talking about yet.

Q. Do you do any special advertising or marketing for events, such as turkeys for Thanksgiving, brisket for Passover or ribs for the Superbowl?

We offer turkey dinner packs at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The meals include whole smoked turkeys or turkey breasts, Grandma Meyer's dressing and gravy, seasoned green beans, cranberry sauce and rolls. I usually stay up all night the Monday before thanksgiving to fix the dressing, gravy and green beans.

Q. If someone was going to tell a friend about Meyer’s Smokehouse, what would you hope that they discuss?

We get notes and e-mails from our customers all the time, telling about how a friend of theirs usually goes to BBQ X OR Y, but they finally talked them into trying Meyer's and now we have a new customer, since they liked our food better. OUR CUSTOMERS ARE OUR BEST CHEERLEADERS.

Q. How did you personally get started in BBQ?


My brother and I had grown up in the sausage business. We both did other things after we got out of school, but when our father died, we came back to help our mother run the business. We always talked about how a bbq restaurant would be a natural extension of the sausage business, a place to sell our sausage. It has become much more than that and is now sending our bbq customers home to look for Meyer's sausage in their local grocery stores or ship it via the internet.

Q. If you were ordering BBQ from a region of the country other than your own, what food would you order?

I have ordered ribs from Memphis and they were pretty good, although I think ours are as good, naturally. I would like to try some pulled pork from the Carolina based bbqs.

Q. If you ship internationally do you have to adhere to the food regulations of the recipient nation? How do you find out what those are?


Because of the perishable nature of our bbq meats, we do not ship internationally.

Q. If our readers wanted to learn more about Meyer’s Smokehouse, where could they go?


Our website, www.cuetopiatexas.com, is a great place to learn about Meyer's smokehouse. My sister-in law Becky runs the restaurant, and is a good source of information, or you can e-mail me directly at greggm@elginsausage.com .

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