Photo by Marsha Abrahams

In honor of our annual ‘Cue Awards we're going deep into barbecue culture with The Smokin' Hot List. This new series, in partnership with the Southern Foodways Alliance, will share the story of a pitmaster each week. Check back every Monday for your weekly dose of ‘cue.

Pitmaster of the Week: Vencil Mares

  • Years in the pit: 64 and counting
  • Where: Taylor Café, 101 N. Main Street in Taylor, TX
  • Meat Smoked: Beef brisket (Of course! This is Texas, after all)
  • Sauce stats: Ketchup-based, tempered with butter and a dash of heat
  • Best Supporting Dish: "Bohunk" sausage, a Bohemian-Czech-inspired blend of beef, pork, and spices.

"I like to be my own boss.... But it's a hard game. Sometimes I stayed at the stuffer all evening, making about 2,000 pounds of sausage. But that's the way it went." —Vencil Mares

We don't know of any living pitmaster who's been smoking longer than Texan barbecue stalwart Vencil Mares. A World War II veteran, Mares began working in barbecue when he returned to his native state and took a job at Southside Market in the Central Texas town of Elgin. In 1949 he took over the reins at the Taylor Café in nearby Taylor. Many of the early patrons were migratory cotton workers. More than half a century later, regulars and tourists alike clamor for Mares's brisket and sausage—affectionately referred to in this part of the state as "hot guts." [For the last decade, Mares has also been offering a turkey-pork blend sausage, for those looking to fit into their skinny Wranglers. This November, his fans will no doubt raise a Lone Star longneck in honor of the pitmaster's 90th birthday.

Photo by Marsha Abrahams

If you go: Taylor Café, located at 101 N. Main Street in Taylor, TX, is an easy 45-minute jaunt from Austin. It's open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Unlike their counterparts in the Carolinas and other parts of the Southeast, for whom iced tea is the drink of choice, Texans wash their barbecue down with cold beer. Taylor Café is no exception.

To learn more about Mares, check out his oral history from the Southern Foodways Alliance.