North Texas Daily

Bet the House Barbeque and pitmaster extraordinaire smoke up a storm

Bet the House Barbeque and pitmaster extraordinaire smoke up a storm

February 11
02:14 2016

Kyle Martin | Staff Writer

@Kyle_Martin35

Nestled in the same center as Twisted Bodies Pilates and Yoga, the North Texas African Food Market and Jack’s Tavern is a place where locals will find a friendly, personable staff, a simple, enticing menu and Jessica Swann—Denton’s own seasoned and skilled female pitmaster.

In the South, specifically Texas, barbecue rules the land. Native Texans know what they like: brisket, ribs, pulled pork, sausage, chicken, beans, potato salad, mac and cheese and coleslaw are not only demanded, but considered tradition. Bet The House Barbeque, located on South Elm Street, brings pounds upon pounds of favorites to the table every day.

“The first thing I do in the morning is drink a beer because I use the other half of it for the watering pan beneath the smoker,” Swann said. “I’m not a coffee drinker in the morning, I’m a beer drinker.”

Jessica Swann takes her time smoking meat at Bet the House Barbeque. She claims the slower the smoke, the better it tastes. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Jessica Swann takes her time smoking meat at Bet the House Barbeque. She claims the slower the smoke, the better it tastes. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Behind the restaurant is a modest, homemade shed containing an oak-and-pecan-fed cabinet smoker. A second wood-fed horizontal smoker sits next the hut, to be used on particularly busy days when the first smoker is stocked full of wholesome product.

The setup for the restaurant is efficient, but even more economical is what sits behind the restaurant: the smokers, the trucks and the crew. Roughly a year ago, Swann moved to a prime new location.

Her house is perched atop an incline, directly behind the restaurant.

“I just wanted to smoke meat and drink beer all day,” Swann said.

Early in the mornings before the sun comes up, the pitmaster wakes up and walks out her back door past an assortment of hobbies—bonsai trees, pallet furniture, a newly purchased motorcycle project. She swings down into the smoking room by a rope and begins turning and rotating 15-plus pound briskets to be smoked and served the next day.

Smoking meat, particularly brisket, is a lengthy and drawn-out process that can take up to 12 hours, depending on the temperature of the smoker, which must be steadily maintained between 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Both the weather and the wood being used affect the temperature. But when it’s done right, most Texans agree there are few things that taste as incredible as Texas smoked barbecue.

Technique and patience are not to be disregarded or ignored for risk of ruining the product and, in turn, the profit.

“It’s low and slow, and that’s how Cody and I were taught,” Swann said. “It’s all in the smoke, baby.”

Cody Smithers, 36, is co-owner of the Bet The House and older brother to Swann. The two work closely and have been barbecuing since they were young, growing up in Krum, Texas. At their restaurant, Smithers takes a backseat as his sister works the smokers.

“Jessica pretty much does 80 to 90 percent of the smoking,” Smithers said.

The windows inside the smoker shed remain burned after a grease fire a couple months ago set the smokehouse on fire. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

The windows inside the smoker shed remain burned after a grease fire a couple months ago set the smokehouse on fire. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

The siblings learned the tricks of the trade from their father while he smoked meat in their backyard. Barbecuing was a family hobby. The two used to be contenders in neighborhood “smoke-offs” and have since developed their own style for how to cook their meat. The pitmaster herself said she works better with her blood by her side.

“I kind of hate it when he’s not here,” Swann said. “He and I think exactly alike, and we want the same things. We know what needs to be done. It’s always good to have that person with you that you can trust. I can walk in there and I know s–t’s not gonna be f—ed up.”

Quality is a big deal for the crew, and they don’t let the price for it get in their way. The restaurant buys the same Creekstone Farms USDA Prime Brisket as the esteemed Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, which has been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” “Bon Appetit,” in the Huffington Post and other various media.

Prices for the slabs of beef-flavored heaven cost anywhere from $2 – $4 per pound, and Bet The House averages $3,000 – $4,000 per week spent on brisket alone, its best seller.

“We probably go through about 700 pounds, just in brisket, a week,” Smithers said. “If you look at some of the other places, it’s really not that much. Franklin’s might do 700 pounds a day, but he’s one of the biggest names in barbecue.”

Chris Washington, 42, is at the point of the knife, working in the kitchen slicing assorted meats to be served to some of the restaurant’s regulars. Having worked in a steakhouse for several years prior to Bet The House, Washington is at home behind the chop block. There is a style and finesse that comes with portioning out the product that, if done the wrong way, could ruin an entire day’s worth of work.

Working in such close proximity to such a small group of people develops relationships that last, and the word ‘family’ is often used to describe one such motley crew. Washington always speaks positively about the restaurant business and those he works with.

“They all want to be here,” Washington said. “They all want to work hard.”

Rebekah Benton, 19, and UNT kinesiology sophomore Baylie Taylor are the two main personalities that can be seen behind the front counter or running around the front of the House. At the restaurant they are neither waitresses nor cashiers, but more so neighbors that welcome customers into the barbeque haven that is Bet The House.

“I feel like part of their family; they’re all really close-knit,” Taylor said. “The customers are great, and we have a lot of regulars.”

Jessica Swann begins cutting the fat off of meat before the long smoking process at Bet the House Barbeque. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Jessica Swann begins cutting the fat off of meat before the long smoking process at Bet the House Barbeque. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Both workers cater to the hungry patrons that walk through their doors and are key players in making sure business goes the way it should. Benton said she enjoys the people she works with and respects the work ethic that shines throughout.

“Jessica is a hoot. She’s not like anyone else you have ever met,” Benton said. “She’s 90-to-nothing all the time but does a damn good job of what she does. She’s scatter-brained, but everything comes back to place when it needs to. She’s a hard worker, and she knows what she’s doing.”

Those who step into the House most often are looking for one thing: good, home-style comfort food made with a little bit of love. They find themselves coming back again and again.

Regulars are often Denton locals and barbecue-ers alike, whether they’re retired couples, college professors and students or, in one specific case, the Honorable David Garcia of Denton County Criminal Court No. 3. Garcia has been coming to the House since its conception in a smaller suite located two doors over from the current location.

In a smaller location, the restaurant used to sell out of product daily and closed its doors in the early afternoons. Now, with a more fitting place of business, the barbecue pit is able to keep its doors open longer and feed more carnivorous patrons. They also have a mobile crew and trailer that cater private and public events.

“They’ve got a bigger place so they can stay open longer,” Garcia said while enjoying a heaping brisket sandwich and some traditional house-made sides. “I think it’s some of the best barbecue we have in Denton.”

Featured Image: Jessica Swann places a cut of meat on the middle rack at Bet the House Barbeque. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

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