Originally produced on July 17, 2014 for Marfa Public Radio.
Tim Stone has known Israel "Pody" Campos since he became Reeves County Chief Deputy Sheriff, but there was one little important detail Campos seemed to have forgotten to tell him.
“He has never once told me that he owned a restaurant. Never once, until today,” said Stone.
That day was August 23, 2013. Natalie and I took a day trip through West Texas as a final hurrah to our Marfa Public Radio summer internship. I had been talking about doing a story about Pody's BBQ all summer, and we finally had the time to make it happen.
After stops in Alpine for Natalie's story on smart meters and in Fort Stockton for a back-to-school story with an original Freedom Writer, our last destination was Pecos to interview Campos.
When we arrived, we lingered a little longer than what constitutes as a complete stop to take a photo of the restaurant. We noticed a sheriff's truck on the other side of the road waiting for us to cross. The deputy waved us over, and covering the stories I've covered about the local sheriff's department, Natalie and I were a little nervous when the deputy that waved us over seemed to follow us to Pody's BBQ.
Turns out, it was Pody himself, the owner.
Just another example of how West Texans wear many hats. Cowboy hats that is.
Campos has owned the establishment for two years. Two years before Daniel Vaughn needed to stop for gas. Vaughn, the Texas Monthly BBQ Editor, was driving towards El Paso when he took a detour into Pecos. From the highway, his eye caught the words “Pody's BBQ” written in large white letters on the side of a building.
“Well, if I see a barbecue sign, I gotta stop,” said Vaughn.
“And it was really fantastic stuff. I was really surprised to find it out there and not have anybody talking about it,” said Vaughn.
That's because word hadn't gotten out just yet.
BBQ has always been a part of Campos' life. It's his favorite food. When he wasn't spending time training future law enforcement officers around the state, he would BBQ with his brother. After Campos was laid off from his job in Austin, he returned to Pecos, where he grew up. He drove by an old laundromat for sale and decided to start a restaurant as a way to invest in his retirement.
Since he's been on the list, there's always a line about 30 people deep waiting to try Campos' central Texas-style BBQ in West Texas.
“I've had folks from Houston. Folks from California. There's surprisingly a lot of folks from California. Just spread by word of mouth,” said Campos.
He said the restaurant usually sell out by 1:30pm on most days they are open.
“Every day. Tuesday through Friday,” said Campos.
It slows down on Saturday. When it comes to cooking his meat, he slow cooks it overnight. His brisket is wrapped in foil and smokes for 13 to 14 hours at very low heat.
“It's all slow and low as the BBQ experts call it,” said Campos. “That's the best way to do it.”
When he works as a chief deputy sheriff in Reeves County, his wife and mom run the place. Sometimes he gets recognized as the BBQ guy when he fulfills his badge-wearing duties.
“It kinda intertwines,” said Campos. “Either way, folks know me from BBQ or being a sheriff's deputy.”
His friends certainly call him when they head his establishment, usually to get a free dish.
“I don't know if they're coming for the free BBQ or to have lunch with me,” Campos joked.
Perks of being on the Top 50 list is that Campos got to participated in last year's BBQ Fest where he met the other pit masters he shares the honor with and will also participate this year. As part of BBQ Week that ends Saturday, he's offering the Three Little Pigs plate that includes three soft tacos with pull pork.
Vaughn said the proceeds from each restaurant’s specials offers during BBQ week will benefit Foodways Texas.
“Great organization here in Texas. It's entire goal is to promote Texas cuisine. BBQ being a big part of that,” said Vaughn.
Vaughn reflected on Campos’ participation at last year's BBQ Fest as Vaughn introduced his BBQ to a lot of people who wouldn't otherwise make the trip to Pecos. Campos' business has since changed.
“Anytime I'm on a big road trip like that, I like to stop at any decent size town along the way to at least snoop around a little bit for BBQ, even when I don't have someone particular on my list,” said Vaughn. “So that just happened to be a great day to stop in Pecos.”
All because he was running low on gas.