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When you think of business ventures two Ph.D.s who work at the university might start, “Texas-style barbecue joint” might be pretty far down the list.

That’s what’s slated to open this weekend at 64 Federal Ave., however. González BBQ is a food trailer making its brick-and-mortar debut under co-owners Chris González, a USU English professor, and USU geneticist Dan Prince. The duo hopes to add something unique to Logan’s restaurant scene: real Texas-style brisket.

The niche restaurant’s goal is “making really good food that is not easy to make, but we try to make it look easy,” González said.

Texas tradition

Local diners might wonder at González BBQ’s schedule — opening for dinner on Fridays, then continuing to serve up brisket Saturday and Sunday — but that has its roots in the Texas barbecue tradition. At the end of the week, meat markets would cook up brisket and other tough cuts of unsold meat and sell barbecue on Saturday. González pointed to world-famous eateries like Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, Texas, that still only open on Saturday morning and close when they sell out of meat.

“If you want it, you show up early,” González said of Snow’s. “The the line is (long); it doesn’t matter the weather. They’re getting there at 6 a.m., and they’ll eat barbecue at 8 o’clock, or whenever they open. And there are a lot of places like that.”

If the restaurant does well, González said, they may consider adding days, but smoking brisket takes so much time that adding days is a real challenge.

“It’s not like we can put more beef on the griddle and cook a couple more hamburgers,” González said. “We have to prepare … many hundreds of dollars of brisket per cook.”

To prepare for the brick-and-mortar location’s first opening on Friday, Prince and González were tending to their smokers overnight in the snow.

“It’s not like we don’t want to be open every day,” González said. “It’s just — we have to sleep.”

Like alchemy

Although brisket starts out as a tough cut of beef, the magic of slow cooking transforms the collagen in its connective tissue into gelatin, resulting in very tender, savory beef.

“There’s a little alchemy involved, I would say,” Prince said.

Unlike the automated pellet smokers gaining popularity in recent years, González BBQ’s offset wood smokers require a chef’s attention for several hours to maintain the proper heat and smoke.

“You’re burning wood, so it’s not like you can turn a dial and say ‘I need 237 degrees,’” González said. “We have to manipulate the fire. Add wood, move the wood. Make sure we have a clean-burning fire.”

One of the business’s mantras: Barbecue will be done when it’s done, González said. There have even been times at the food trailer when they’ve had to tell customers via social media that the meat won’t be ready for another couple hours. That shouldn’t be as much of a problem in the new location, Prince said, because the facility’s capability to hold meat at proper temperatures for longer will allow them to start barbecuing earlier to add more of a buffer for variations in cooking time.

“They’re on a fire for 10 to 12 hours, and you never know,” Prince said. “When it’s 10, you’re happy, and sometimes it’s 13 and you’re there for another three hours.”

In addition to the brisket, González BBQ developed one more specialty during its year as a food trailer: the jalapeño popper.

“We take a large jalapeño, we clear it out of seeds, we fill half of it with cream cheese, the other half with brisket,” González said. “And then we wrap it in bacon and smoke them.”

González doesn’t take credit for inventing the poppers, but he’s had some customers say they’re the best food item in the valley.

“These things are very labor-intensive, and we only make so many a cook,” González said. “And when they’re gone, they’re gone. But we’ve had people say this is the best food item in the valley. Two of them are like a meal.”

Rounding out the menu are pulled pork, smoked sausage, sides and the González house barbecue sauce.

From hobby to business

González wears a few hats at Utah State University: in addition to his English professorship, he’s associate dean of the College of Humanities & Social Sciences and director of the Latinx Cultural Center.

So when the coronavirus pandemic hit, he found himself logging long hours in front of his computer and needed a way to fend off cabin fever. His outlet was barbecue.

“It goes back to being passionate about something,” González said. “Being outside for 10 hours managing a fire is kind of cool. … If this wasn’t a business, we’d probably be doing it in our backyard anyway.”

González moved to Utah from Texas, where he loved barbecue and even dabbled in it as a hobby but had less motive to get too serious with it.

“I never really had the need to cook it,” González said, “because where I grew up and even where I was before Utah, I’d drive and I would like stumble over five barbecue joints that were all pretty good.”

That changed in Utah, though, and he slowly expanded his backyard hobby.

“What I had to do was go from the small, backyard-sized smoker to one that can be for catering or for a restaurant,” González said.

González bought a large propane tank retrofitted as a custom-built offset smoker.

“That was a huge risk,” González said. “I saw this (smoker) and I said, ‘Well, if I get this, I’m going to have to be making a lot of meat.’ That’s not for like for a family dinner, right?”

As he started sharing his barbecue with more and more friends, many of them told him they thought he should open up shop to share his cooking with more people.

So he gave it a shot, starting out with his smoker and a trailer at the food truck court by Barker’s Propane in south Logan. Even then, his growing fanbase wanted more.

“People pretty quickly wanted to know when we would have a brick-and-mortar,” González said. “’When are you going to be open more days? When are you always going to have sides?’ And if it was just me, I would’ve said, ‘Look, I’m just going to do meat.’ Because I’m doing this kind of for fun, I have a full-time job.”

Apprentice Prince

That’s where Prince comes in.

Prince fell under the spell of Texas-style barbecue brisket in college, when a friend made it for him.

He “saw that it could be done in the backyard and I didn’t have to fly all the way down to Texas to get real brisket,” Prince said. “I got the taste for it and I wanted to replicate it.”

He moved to Cache Valley when his wife landed a professorship at USU. His experiments here were successful enough that he also had friends tell him he should sell his barbecue, but he wasn’t satisfied.

“I was ruining briskets; I still couldn’t get it,” he said. “So when I got in touch with Chris, he showed me what the technique is. And that was my main goal. At first I was like, ‘I’m going to work for free but I want you to teach me to cook brisket.’”

“My answer to that,” González added, “was ‘I’ll show you how to do it, as long as you don’t leave.’”

With Prince on board to help handle the time-intensive process, González BBQ could sell brisket on more days, and their location became the limiting factor.

“This is a tough time for restaurants, so we wanted the right kind of place and the right kind of situation,” González said. “And we got lucky to be able to come into this space, and now we can start doing the kind of food that we really want to do with the concept that we wanted to do, but we were kind of limited with the equipment that we had before.”

González BBQ is open 5:30-9 p.m. Friday and noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Visit gonzalezbbq.com for more info and fb.com/gonzalezbbqlogan for updates on hours and availability.

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