Nick and Elliott Reese hadn’t cooked much barbecue when they moved to Marathon to work the pits at Brick Vault Brewery and BBQ in 2018. The brothers previously ran the register and cutting block at La Barbecue in Austin while working toward history degrees at the University of Texas. The seclusion of Marathon presented a challenge, but it worked in their favor. “With a lack of distraction out there, we were really able to buckle down,” Nick said. They credit Brick Vault’s manager, Phillip Moellering, with patiently guiding them. After nearly three years in West Texas, the Reeses were ready to branch out on their own, which they did by opening Reese Bros Barbecue in San Antonio in January.
“We both agree it’s our favorite place in the state,” Nick said of Marathon. But when it came to choosing a spot for their joint, San Antonio felt more like home. The brothers were born in Alamo City but grew up in Austin. While they were in Marathon, their parents remarried each other ten years after their divorce and moved back to San Antonio. Now the whole family comes together to serve barbecue from the food truck every Saturday and Sunday. The truck is parked in front of the business’s future brick-and-mortar in the Denver Heights neighborhood, southeast of downtown.
Jorge Flores and Gabriel Perez, who both recently graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio, also work at the truck. They help produce the barbecue and also cook their own recipes. Jorge thought he could change up the mac and cheese by “imitating a flavor from my youth.” Growing up in Juárez, Mexico, Jorge was accustomed to eating his aunt’s arroz poblano, which consisted of corn and rice in a sauce made from cream cheese and puréed poblano chiles. For the mac and cheese, he traded the rice for pasta, ditched the corn, and fortified the sauce with serranos, jalapeños, spinach, and heavy cream. Even with all the chiles, the final product isn’t spicy, but it does bring a warmth you don’t get with regular mac and cheese. My whole family loved it, and the dish is emblematic of the Reeses’ goal, which is “to give the people of San Antonio familiar side options with flavors they love eating,” Nick explained.
The same philosophy applies to the pinto beans. Chunks of onions, tomatoes, and okra are all added after the beans are cooked so they maintain their freshness. Neither brother is big on creamy potato salad, so they dress theirs lightly with mayo, mustard, black pepper, and granulated garlic and add roasted poblanos and onions to the skin-on smashed potatoes. Their slaw has a mayo dressing as well, but it’s more acidic due to the addition of lime juice. Chopped cilantro and basil are mixed in, and a garnish of fresh pea tendrils is placed atop each order just before it goes out. I know—pea tendrils at a barbecue joint? But they added such a nice burst of freshness I’ll ask for extra next time.
That same slaw (minus the tendrils) goes into the smoked turkey torta that was the day’s special when I visited. Peppery slices of smoked turkey are tucked into buttered and griddled telera bread and topped with guajillo mayo and lime-pickled onions. These aren’t the standard pickled onions you find at many barbecue joints. Raw red onions are sliced paper-thin, and a mix of lime juice and salt is massaged into them. The quick pickling process takes just minutes, but it removes the harshness while maintaining the sweetness. The onions were a refreshing topper to a well-constructed sandwich.
The Reese brothers serve barbecue on a tray, too. They don’t offer standard barbecue sandwiches or tacos, so prepare to order all your smoked meat by the pound. Every tray comes with flour tortillas made by Elliott, who said it took him eight months to perfect them. “One day it kinda clicked, and I ran home with a flour tortilla to show my brother,” he proudly recalled. Use one of those tortillas to build your own taco with pickles, onions, and barbecue sauce—or, better yet, the charred jalapeño and salsa made with chiles de árbol. We found ourselves dunking every type of meat into the salsa, which is especially good with the brisket.
The joint’s trio of brisket, pork ribs, and sausage is already among San Antonio’s best. A hefty, dark bark surrounds each slice of tender brisket. The rib meat pulls easily from the bone. The ribs are slathered with barbecue sauce and wrapped in foil on the smoker, so they come out plenty wet but not too sweet. Nick has been working on several sausage recipes. I tried the queso fundido sausage made with serranos and Oaxaca cheese. The juices ran red from the chili powder, and each flavor-packed bite was fragrant with cumin. You might find a jalapeño-cheese link on your visit, and Nick is putting the finishing touches on an all-pork chile verde sausage and a beef sausage stuffed with puya chiles and dates.
As impressive as Reese Bros Barbecue already is, it’s just getting started. Friday evening service will soon be added, and the brothers are itching to expand the menu once they move their operation indoors, which they expect to happen in June. There’s a long-term plan to add a natural-wine bar with prepared foods in another building on-site. The brothers have big aspirations, but what they already have is reason enough for excitement. The thing that struck me most was that not only do they provide everything one expects from a barbecue joint, but they also add their own twists and San Antonio flavor to each item. I can’t wait to see what they can do when they escape the confines of a food truck.