JOY & BARBECUE – THEY’RE KIND OF THE SAME THING
“Barbecue is celebration. It’s being outdoors, running through a sprinkler, and playing volleyball with the kids. It’s like no other food. It’s festive. It’s family. You’re going to get your shirt dirty if you’re eating it right,” says Stanley Shropshire, the friendly owner/founder of Big Bib Barbecue on Austin Highway; “You’re going to need a big bib.”
“Fire up a barbecue pit, and people start gathering. What other food is so communal and fun? Barbecue is joy. It’s a lifestyle,” says Shropshire. He should know: he has been living the barbecue life for two-plus decades.
“Even as a kid, I wanted to barbecue. My family didn’t cook out, but I heard about it from kids at school whose families would have backyard barbecues on weekends and holidays. I’d see people grilling burgers, hotdogs, or brisket in Brackenridge Park, and they didn’t have a care in the world. I wanted to be a part of that,” the big-hearted Big Bib BBQ owner recalls.
So in late 1999, Shropshire went to H-E-B, bought a barrel-style barbecue grill, some beef, a few bags of charcoal, and far too much lighter fluid. Then he set up his grill by an East Side car wash and began teaching himself to barbecue.
“I didn’t know what I was doing—didn’t know anything about grades or cuts of meat, didn’t know what wood to use. I couldn’t even get the grill lit; I used up six fans of lighter fluid and then squirted on some more! Ha! The meat smelled and tasted like fuel. I messed up a lot of meat, but I ate it, and I learned,” he grinned. “A friend named Kenny Palmer knew about barbecue and taught me a lot. With tons of trial and error, I learned and honed my skills. I catered for nine years before I opened Big Bib BBQ a decade ago. I put my heart into it, and it just got better and better,” says Shropshire with a winning smile. Heart and hard work paid off: Today, he not only owns one of San Antonio’s most popular barbecue joints, but he also opened a Big Bib BBQ in New Braunfels last October and boasts Big Bib BBQ stands at the Alamodome.
An enticing aroma greets guests at the door, as does a family-like team. The friendly staff had me smiling as I stepped up to the sparkling-clean front counter. “We all just love, love, love, love barbecue,” says Shropshire, who wants customers to “leave with a side order of joy.”
Barbecue has long been a male-dominated business, but just notice the number of women behind the scenes at Big Bib. General Manager and professional pit-master Tamu Gonzales is their 4′ 11″ female hand that rocks the cradle, bringing a high level of excellence and skill to the table.
“When she set out to learn barbecue, Gonzales took the thing, grabbed it, embraced it, and ran away with it. I’m so proud of her,” remarks Shropshire. Not many women, especially women of color, are pro pit masters in Texas, but Gonzales doesn’t think about that. Her fiery focus is on mastering meat with consistency, quality, patience, and love.
Big Bib’s menu offers smoked meats, including prime brisket, both mild and jalapeño sausage, pulled pork, chicken, baby-back ribs, rib tips, turkey legs (on Saturdays and Sundays only), turkey breast, and more. Enjoy the many sides, like sweet potato and baked potato casseroles, pinto beans, hot mac-n-cheese, green beans, and collard greens. Try loaded spuds and fried catfish. Then get a dessert, like cake and banana pudding. Big Bib has a full liquor license and serves margaritas and more.
It’s remarkable how sparkling clean Big Bibb restaurants are. In fact, they’ve been named “San Antonio’s Cleanest Kitchen” and thrice won WOAI News4 SA’s “Blue Plate” award.
Big Bib’s adjacent covered patio offers live jazz every month.
Yesterday I was wearing a silk blouse as I greedily grabbed a slice of brisket with my fingers. Reaching for more napkins, I thought, “I’m gonna need a bigger bib!”
After a warm goodbye from Shropshire and the ladies behind the counter, I left with a big barbeque plate for my husband, a little sauce on my sleeve, and, yes, a generous side of joy.
IF YOU GO: BIG BIB BBQ is located in the North Hills Shopping Center at 104 Lanark Drive, San Antonio (210) 654-8400. The SA location is closed on Mondays & Tuesdays, while the New Braunfels location, at 508 Landa Street, is closed only on Mondays. www.thebigbib.com