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Review: Top brisket, ribs and pulled pork come from Mesquite Shack BBQ

San Antonio Express News logo San Antonio Express News 11/30/2018 By Mike Sutter, Staff writer
a bunch of food on a plate: Barbecue and sides from the Mesquite Shack BBQ trailer. Clockwise from top left: cole slaw, pork spare ribs, brisket, turkey, beans, potato salad, chicken, creamed corn, sausage, barbecue sauce and pulled pork. © Mike Sutter /Staff Barbecue and sides from the Mesquite Shack BBQ trailer. Clockwise from top left: cole slaw, pork spare ribs, brisket, turkey, beans, potato salad, chicken, creamed corn, sausage, barbecue sauce and pulled pork.

Vincent Cervantes makes some of the best brisket, ribs and pulled pork in San Antonio. The fact that he does it all from a trailer pulled by a pickup full of mesquite wood makes it even more remarkable.

The Mesquite Shack BBQ trailer pulls double duty as a sales window and smokehouse. © Mike Sutter /Staff The Mesquite Shack BBQ trailer pulls double duty as a sales window and smokehouse.

The former truck driver and college football player from Poth went full-time with his mobile Mesquite Shack BBQ last year. The trailer’s wrapped in the same kind of rough country wood you’d expect to find in the smoker. It’s not flashy, with a built-in pit that turns small piles of mesquite into fat clouds of smoke that somehow tame the villainous weed’s sour disposition.

a piece of meat on a cutting board: Brisket from the point, or fatty end, of the brisket at the Mesquite Shack BBQ trailer. © Mike Sutter /Staff Brisket from the point, or fatty end, of the brisket at the Mesquite Shack BBQ trailer.

In the same way that oak and pecan define Hill Country barbecue, it could be said that San Antonio runs on mesquite. Vincent Cervantes is the king of mesquite.

a bowl of food on a plate: Pinto beans with brisket, foreground, creamed corn, potato salad and cole slaw from Mesquite Shack BBQ. © Mike Sutter /Staff Pinto beans with brisket, foreground, creamed corn, potato salad and cole slaw from Mesquite Shack BBQ.

Grand champion: Salt, pepper, smoke and skill. That’s all a good Texas brisket needs, and Cervantes knows when to leave it at that. The salt and pepper coalesce with fat to create a uniform black gold bark that preserves the amber vein of fat through the midsection of the brisket point ($18 a pound).

a close up of a piece of cake on a plate: A freshly cut brisket from Mesquite Shack BBQ. © Mike Sutter /Staff A freshly cut brisket from Mesquite Shack BBQ. a man wearing a hat: Vincent Cervantes is the owner and pitmaster of Mesquite Shack BBQ. © Mike Sutter /Staff Vincent Cervantes is the owner and pitmaster of Mesquite Shack BBQ.

The trinity: Cervantes brings a more layered approach to long pork spare ribs ($15 a pound). Brown sugar, sriracha and apple cider vinegar form a rippled glaze over meat that glows pink and white, with a proper fat ratio.

a close up of a rock: A pickup load of mesquite wood for the smoker at the Mesquite Shack BBQ trailer. © Mike Sutter /Staff A pickup load of mesquite wood for the smoker at the Mesquite Shack BBQ trailer.

The beef-and-pork sausage ($3 a link) comes from Pollok’s in Falls City, 40 miles southeast of San Antonio, just down the road from Cervantes’ home town. The spicy, snap-cased links uphold the maxim that if you can’t make your own sausage, get the best you can find. They’d be even better with more time on the pit to pick up more smoke and render the fat more evenly.

a sandwich cut in half: Pork spare ribs from Mesquite Shack BBQ. © Mike Sutter /Staff Pork spare ribs from Mesquite Shack BBQ.

More from the pit: Given that Cervantes told me chicken’s not a big seller ($7 for a half), he still makes it count, with golden-brown skin and meat that pulls apart in glossy petals. Turkey is turkey ($15 a pound), the obligatory breast for the faint of heart.

a plate of food and a cup of coffee: Pulled pork, left, and sausage with beef and pork from Pollok's in Falls City at Mesquite Shack BBQ. © Mike Sutter /Staff Pulled pork, left, and sausage with beef and pork from Pollok's in Falls City at Mesquite Shack BBQ.

Pulled pork’s a showcase here ($14 a pound), practically a shredded candy floss of fat, bark and lean galvanized by brown sugar and red spice.

a close up of text on a white background: Page 1 of the menu at Mesquite Shack BBQ. © Mike Sutter /Staff Page 1 of the menu at Mesquite Shack BBQ.

READ ALSO: Review: Hon Machi Japanese & Korean BBQ scores a zero in Stone Oak 

a close up of text on a white background: Page 2 of the menu at Mesquite Shack BBQ. © Mike Sutter /Staff Page 2 of the menu at Mesquite Shack BBQ.

Sides: All the sides except potato salad are made from scratch ($3 single; $5 pint), including pinto beans steeped in thick, soppy pot liquor that’s not just flavored with brisket, it’s packed with it. Cervantes’ wife and partner Jaycelyn Cervantes deserves credit for the creamed corn, made from her recipe with snap and sweetness and a thick roux spiked with black pepper.

Sauce: Full of black pepper, ketchup, apple cider vinegar and a backbeat of spice, this all-purpose sauce ranks among the city’s best. Best of all, it’s not a closely guarded family secret. Cervantes shared the recipe with the Express-News.

Mavericks: Cervantes is so much of a traditionalist that even his Saturday-only specials are callbacks to barbecue’s time-honored standards, adding barbacoa ($14 a pound), big beef ribs ($22 a pound) and beef shoulder clod ($18 a pound) to the mix. I missed Saturday. You should not.

Mike Sutter is a food and drink reporter and restaurant critic in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read more of his stories on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | msutter@express-news.net | Twitter: @fedmanwalking | Instagram: @fedmanwalking

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