Holy smokes

After mysterious departure, noted chef fires up new Austin barbecue truck

After mysterious departure, chef fires up new Austin barbecue truck

Whitfield's ATX
Whitfield's offers traditional Texas smoked meats with unconventional sides. Whitfield's/Facebook

Since Josh Watkins left his executive chef post at The Carillon in 2014, Austin food lovers have been breathlessly speculating on what his next move would be. Four years later, we finally have our answer: Whitfield’s, a South Austin food truck melding Texas culinary traditions with fine dining techniques.

The barbecue truck, which opened May 25, is a joint venture with Kasey Studdard, a name familiar to locals for his stints on the Longhorn football team (including the 2005 championship) and on NFL teams the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans. The truck is named after Studdard’s son.

Located at 9001 Brodie Ln., right across the street from the upcoming Vincent’s Sports Pub, the food truck hopes to capitalize on a heavily trafficked corner that Watkins says is underserved.

The truck may seem like a departure for the chef, who first made a name for himself locally for his work at Driskill Grill. But he has been playing with smoked flavors for years and in 2013, a crew of barbecue experts handed him Grand Champion award at the Smoke@ICC competition at the StarChefs International Chefs Congress.

And Whitfield’s isn’t a typical roadside barbecue joint. Although Watkins and pitmaster Scott Fogle are currently serving up brisket, pork ribs, and sausage, the accompaniments are far from the simple beans and raw onions you’d find in Lockhart. “I’m trying to do upscale techniques applied to the realm of smoke,” he tells CultureMap.

Pickling is a big part of that. Watkins says they are brining a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables including strawberries, grapes, red onions, and cauliflower, as well as making their own kimchi. “We wanted to pair [the mains] with brighter ingredients that cut through the heaviness,” he says.

Instead of traditional potato salad, Watkins is making beef fat fried potatoes, a process he says involves boiling the spuds until they are almost cooked, then crushing and smoking them before they hit the oil. The process gives the finished dish extra crispy edges while still keeping a soft center.

Although the meats are served in the Central Texas tradition without any sauce, Whitfield’s does offer two on the side: a black and a white. More unconventional eaters can also try the smoked meats with a pickled beet puree.

In coming weeks, Whitfield’s is aiming to introduce even more to the roster, including cold smoked shrimp ceviche and beer tartare, as well as house made shrubs to drink.

For now, guests will have to make do with sodas and water, as well as complimentary Lone Stars and Mighty Swell cocktails.

But Watkins advises customers get there early. Although they are getting another pit to help with the volume, the meats are selling out fast. On opening day, the truck served up six whole briskets in only an hour.