Story and photos by Jennifer Kornegay
At most Alabama barbecue joints, meat of the porcine persuasion is king. But at TexarBama BBQ in Fairhope, beef also has a strong claim to the throne. It’s an evenly matched rivalry that stems naturally from owner and pitmaster Bradley Parmer’s background and inspired the restaurant’s mashup name.
Parmer cut his teeth on Deep South ‘cue while growing up in west Georgia (where pork is also king). He ended up in Austin, Texas, working in architecture and building. There, surrounded by some of the country’s most lauded beef brisket, he learned the ways of Texas ‘cue.
Today, TexarBama combines the two. But what has grown into a popular and routinely crowded eatery (in a place with plenty of good eating options) started as a hobby. Parmer moved to Fairhope in 2015 to be closer to his parents, who’d relocated to the coastal city. “I wanted to be close to my folks and to have a simpler life,” he says. “I was getting a little burnt out on the crowds and busyness of Austin.” He was doing carpentry work on construction projects down at Alabama’s beaches and started playing around with barbecue at his home on the weekends, using a smoker hand-built from old propane tanks.
Soon, a neighbor got involved, and word of the duo’s tender, succulent ‘cue spread like the meat-scented smoke wafting on the wind. Other neighbors started dropping by, begging for a bite. Then, people from outside the neighborhood wanted in on the eating action. Parmer decided to make things more official. “We started hosting a backyard barbecue the first Saturday of the month,” he says. They took donations to help offset their costs, and six months in, they were drawing throngs of more than 100 people. “I thought, well, I might be able to make some real money with this,” Parmer says.
TexarBama BBQ became a business in early 2018 but started as a mobile operation, serving out of a food truck/trailer in Fairhope’s warehouse district. In just a few months, Parmer’s initial hunch was proven right; lines for TexarBama’s food wrapped around the block, and Parmer was selling 200 pounds of meat every day. He knew then that the city would support a stationary spot, so in June 2018, TexarBama opened in its current building on the edge of downtown Fairhope.
“The response to the food truck showed that Fairhope was hungry for some really good barbecue,” Parmer says. He was correct again; right before the COVID-19 shutdowns, the restaurant was up to selling 400 pounds of barbecue a day.
Parmer stressed that “really good barbecue” begins with really good products. “Getting high-quality meat is key,” he said. His pork is from Compart Duroc, and he gets beef from Creekstone Farms, both in the Midwest. Other crucial ingredients in TexarBama’s recipe for success are the right materials and the right technique – in this case, a massive smoker fed by huge stacks of white and red oak logs. “In Texas, they use post oak, but here, red and white oak are plentiful,” he says. “Oak burns hot and clean and adds some nice vanilla notes to its smoke.”
Hovering around 200 degrees, this smoke continually bathes the meat in a process that can’t be rushed. Beef brisket slowly cooks for 13 hours, and pork butts, about 12 hours. And the smoke serves dual purposes: It’s the cooking method but also provides the majority of the flavor. “We use minimal seasoning,” Parmer says. “On the beef, it’s just salt and pepper.”
There are several different barbecue sauces available at TexarBama, including a version of Alabama white sauce, and while they’re all delicious, they’re truly not needed. Parmer is partial to the brisket, but customers seem to be pretty split, opting for pork and beef options in equal measure. While these two proteins are enjoying a joint reign, there’s a less common contender also vying for the crown: smoked turkey. “It’s so moist, it couldn’t even think about being dry,” Parmer says. That’s no hollow boast; the thin slices of breast are so tender and deeply flavored, you could be fooled into thinking it was altogether a bird of different feather.
Most folks flock to barbecue joints for meat, but TexarBama’s other offerings should not be underestimated. Sides like rich and gooey smoked mac ‘n cheese and silky collard greens threaten to upstage the main attractions. And selections like pulled-pork nachos (only available on the weekends); brisket, pulled pork and smoked, shredded chicken tacos; and a variety of tangy margaritas bring a bit of Tex-Mex flair, as does the creamy, sweet-heat Texican corn salad (think cheesy, spicy Mexican street corn served conveniently off the cob) with its punch of pungent fresh cilantro.
With a vast menu (there are burgers, salads and sandwiches in addition to the ‘cue), its blend of barbecue styles, plus some Alabama comfort-food favorites alongside Lone Star state standards, TexarBama BBQ has earned a loyal following, and Parmer finds the repeat customers rewarding. “We’ve got a lot of regulars,” he says, “and this community has been very supportive. It’s fun to know that people really like what we’re doing.”
Not the Last Dance
That original TexarBama BBQ food truck is still getting use; you’ll see it now parked on the restaurant’s patio, and when restaurants were slowly re-opening after COVID-19 shutdowns, it served as a walk-up window to keep diners ordering and eating outside for increased safety. Note its exterior: It’s reclaimed wood from Texas, and according to Parmer, some of the planks were floorboards at dancehalls in their former lives.
212 ½ Fairhope Avenue Fairhope, Alabama 36532
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday