The holiday weekend will offer more of the same weirdness. I mean, barbecue is a communal experience, one that demands to be shared with friends and family, preferably with a can of your favorite beverage fished from a cooler the approximate size of a Winnebago. Who wants to go through all the work of grilling or smoking meats for the limited number of hungry souls who occupy your home? (Okay, I will, but I have a long history of doing things the hard way.)
Fortunately, for folks who have more sense, some pitmasters have made our Memorial Day easier with barbecue designed to reheat and serve at home, as if it came right from your own backyard smoker.
Fernando González is the pitmaster and co-owner of 2Fifty Texas BBQ, a new storefront in Riverdale Park (4700 Riverdale Rd; 323-761-4535). I’ll have much more to say about González and his family business whenever the day comes to revise my best barbecue list in Washington, but for now, let me just say this: He’s a true believer. A native of El Salvador, González began making pilgrimages to Central Texas a few years ago to scout the places that define the style: Snow’s BBQ, Louie Mueller and, naturally, Franklin Barbecue, perhaps the most influential smokehouse on the planet.
One thing González wanted to learn was Aaron Franklin’s techniques for vacuum-sealed barbecue, which is specifically prepared for shipment and reheating at home. Once he developed his own approach to the prepackaged ’cue, González found the products were prized commodities back home. He started serving the meats at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, where they take their security very seriously. When he and his wife and business partner Debby Portillo — she comes from a long line of restaurateurs in El Salvador — moved to the United States in 2018, they again discovered the advantages of presmoked and sealed barbecue: You can sell it at farmers markets.
Then the pandemic hit, just as the couple was opening the doors of 2Fifty, and the vacuum-sealed barbecue proved a straightforward way to ease the minds of customers who might question the food-handling practices of restaurants during the covid-19 pandemic. This was food designed for reheating — or regenerating, as González likes to call it.
Now here’s the important thing to remember about 2Fifty’s vacuum-packed barbecue: You have a limited window each week to order it. You must order online on Wednesdays for pickup the following day at the Riverdale Park Farmers Market, which runs from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursdays. (You can preorder fresh 2Fifty barbecue on Saturdays for pickup on Sunday at the restaurant, too.) Preorders start at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and I’d highly encourage you not to wait till noon or later. These meats go faster than reservations to Minibar — well, than reservations used to go at Minibar, I should say, back in the good old days when we cared about such things.
2Fifty’s vacuum-sealed ’cue reheats (sorry, regenerates) beautifully. González recommends a gentle simmer, not a hard boil. The combination of the vacuum-sealed proteins and the low-and-slow water bath (it takes about 20 minutes if you haven’t frozen the meats first) revives the dormant barbecue, reigniting the post-oak perfume that González has applied with such care with his 500-gallon, offset, indirect-flow Meadow Creek smoker. When I reheated the brisket slices and layered them on white bread, with pickles and sliced raw onions, I felt like I was back at Kreuz Market in Lockhart, a spread of butcher paper and a pile of smoked meats in front of me. For a minute or two, I forgot all about the pandemic.
Barbecue is a fickle creature when trying to reanimate it from the fridge. Smoked meats are not like rib-eyes grilled to medium-rare; barbecue is basically well-done meat, leaving fewer juices than grilled steaks, and precious little wiggle room for reheating. Compound this with the fact that sliced barbecue goes downhill faster than Bode Miller, the air stealing whatever moisture is leftover from a long, dry cook. Which is why reviving day-old barbecue — or even hours-old barbecue — is tricky, though not impossible.
Should you buy bulk barbecue, or meats by the pound, for Memorial Day, take a suggestion from Daniel Vaughn at Texas Monthly and revive them in a steamer basket atop a simmering pot of water. It adds heat and moisture to your leftovers. You can also gently rejuvenate barbecue in a saute pan with sauce, much like they do with the brisket at Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company. I’ve had success resuscitating beef ribs from Pitmasters Back Alley BBQ off Massachusetts Avenue NW as well as thin slices of brisket from Garden District on 14th Street NW. They both made for fine eating, hours after the meats left the smoker.
You could also just order one of BBQ Bus’s Pick 3 Care PACS, which stands for “pork, Angus, chicken plus sides,” says Ché Ruddell-Tabisola, the co-founder of the smokehouse with locations in Brookland (2800 10th St. NE; 202-288-8700) and near Brightwood (5830 Georgia Ave. NW; 202-288-8700). Ruddell-Tabisola and his husband and business partner, Tadd, used to call the barbecue bundles Super PACs, “which we thought was super funny, but nobody got what that meant,” Ché says.
As the name suggests, the “Pick 3” kit comes with your choice of three meats and/or sides. (The Care PACS come in two sizes, one designed to feed two to three people, the other four to five.) I ordered the smaller version one evening, and it was enough to satisfy me and the two hungry dudes who fixed my furnace and water heater (long story, very expensive). The kits come with reheating instructions, but the real key is that every protein includes a generous amount of drippings from the smoker, plus a small portion of gelatinized fat. It helps keep your reheated barbecue moist, rich and smoky.
“That is our trade secret,” Ché says.