The first thing you see in the pit room at 2M Smokehouse in San Antonio is, of course, the giant smoker. Built by Texas barbecue legend John Lewis, it is named El Mexicano.
Next, you notice the big-screen TV, hanging on one wall. Not far away are two outdoor chairs, and a mattress propped against the wall behind.
“Our landlord owns a mattress store next door so he gave us a good deal,” Esaul Ramos said.
2M Smokehouse is open Thursday through Sunday, so Ramos and his partner, Joe Melig, literally make the pit room their home beginning Wednesday night.
As they monitor their long cooks, they sleep in shifts, text their pitmaster friends on duty elsewhere, sometimes as far away as Toronto, and watch Hip Hop videos and TV shows.
“Right now, we’re binge-watching ‘The Sopranos,’” Ramos said during a recent Posse visit to his joint. Drake’s “Worst Behavior” also gets steady play.
Such is the life of two guys — long-time friends — who just might be putting out the best barbecue in Texas.
In the near-decade-long history of the Texas BBQ Posse, we have ranked two experiences far above all others: Our first visit to Snow’s in Lexington and our first visit to Aaron Franklin’s original trailer in Austin. Great food and great atmosphere at both places.
Now, we’re adding a third experience to that select group, our first trip to 2M Smokehouse, which has been open just since December.
From a little advance scouting, we had a good idea it would be good.
“Transformational,” San Antonio Current critic Ron Bechtol wrote of 2M’s brisket early this year. “Phenomenal,” tweeted Texas Monthly’s Daniel Vaughn.
“It could be San Antonio’s turn” to become the BBQ destination of the state, speculated the Express-News’ Mike Sutter.
“This is the kind of full-fat, velveteen, salt-and-pepper brisket with bark and bite that made Franklin Barbecue, Snow’s BBQ, Kreuz Market and Louie Mueller Barbecue famous, with a twist of garlic and cumin.”
After visiting and tasting, we agree completely. And the rest of 2M’s meat lineup — pork ribs, turkey, Serrano pepper/Oaxaca cheese sausage — is also outstanding.
“I don’t think you can cook a rib better than that,” Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins said as we ate.
On Posse tours, when we hit several joints in one day, we are very careful about the amounts we eat at each place. Wilkins and I broke our rule at 2M because the food was so good.
“We broke our rule times four,” Wilkins said.
The burnt end brisket sample we had while standing in line was the best single bite of barbecue that I’ve personally had in a long, long time.
It was meat candy that melted in my mouth.
Texas Monthly’s new list of the Top 50 joints comes out soon and we wouldn’t be surprised to see 2M Smokehouse among the Top 5, maybe even No. 1.
Yes, there are legitimate questions about a new operation that should lend caution to any rankings. Can Ramos, 32, and Melig, 29, maintain their quality and consistency over a long period, years not just months? How will they handle growth, which can be both a business blessing and a potential curse, if not managed well?
We can’t answer those questions with any certainty yet. But Ramos’ cooking pedigree and track record is strong. He learned from John Lewis who learned from Aaron Franklin. And Ramos cooked at La Barbecue in Austin when, in the Posse’s opinion, the joint was putting out some of the best, if not the best barbecue in the state.
“It was a fun two years, but I hate working for other people,” Ramos said of his time at La Barbecue.
So he quit and didn’t work for a about year as he and Melig, planned their own operation and did regular pop-up cooks using El Mexicano.
2M is named after the founders’ families — Melig and Marquez. Ramos’ fiancee, Grecia Contreras, and Melig’s wife, Selah, also work at the restaurant.
“Everything you see in there, we did ourselves,” Ramos said.
Melig added: “In the process we became a little bit of everything, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, anything to get the place up and running.”
There are hand painted scenes (a cowboy and a seniorita) on the restroom doors, a hand lettered chalkboard with words defining their business: “Love is the secret ingredient in our food.” And, “2 best friends became brothers. . .partners . ..and finally — 2M Smokehouse and Catering.”
At one end of the dining room, there’s a large, framed American flag, with an armor piercing shell mounted on the top support. Before 2M, Melig worked at Southwest Research, which does testing for armaments.
Melig described the beginning of the 2M partnership when Ramos called and asked if he were interested.
“Absolutely,” Melig said. “I went for it, stepping off into the unknown.”
As we were finishing our meal, several other customers sat at our table. Their conversations reinforced our judgment of the food we had just eaten.
A small group at the end of the table said they were in town for a music festival and came to the joint on the recommendation of Vaughn.
“Holy s - - -. This turkey is to die for,” one of them said.
Stephanie Matthews said she was a friend of the owners. She quickly added that at one time she didn’t like the bark on brisket and everybody knew it so nobody gave her any.
So, when Ramos did gave her a burnt end sample, she put it in her mouth only as a courtesy, thinking she would quietly dispose of it when no one was looking.
“Oh my god,” she said. “It changed my life. Now, when I come I have to have the bark.”
2M Smokehouse, 2731 S WW White Rd,, San Antonio, (210) 885-9352. Open Thurs-Sun 11am-4pm or when the meat runs out.