Junior Urias brought the modern Texas BBQ style to Midland when he opened Up in Smoke BBQ in 2018. This location, a victim of the COVID-related oil and gas industry collapse, closed in late 2020. Urias l did it again in the Hill Country town of Early, just north of Brownwood, where he and his wife Jennifer resurrected Up in Smoke BBQ. In a town known for the seventy-six-year-old Underwood cafeteria and bar-bq and its unique barbecue beef steak, Urias produces brisket slices and sausages better than he did in Midland in the new brick and mortar that opened five months ago. . This one also comes with a retail meat market.
While living in Midland, Junior and Jennifer drove three and a half hours to spend their weekends on Brownwood Lake. Their restaurant in Midland was only open on Fridays and Saturdays, as most of their business was supplying the oilfields during the week. Those jobs disappeared in March 2020. The restaurant’s takeout business was strong, but it was difficult to predict the couple’s future in Midland, so they closed in September 2020, trading the oilfields for the life of the lake.
When Up in Smoke BBQ first came to Early, it was operated from a food trailer. Slowly, a building rose behind the trailer, and this building would eventually become the Seal’s permanent home in February 2022.
The offerings at the new location are similar to those at Midland, although prime rib and smoked chicken have yet to make an appearance, but the menu is confusing. Early’s customers were asking for combo plates rather than just ordering meat by the pound. The plate options were written on a butcher paper menu with the prices hastily scribbled. When I asked for two different two meat plates I was served about two pounds of BBQ in total and charged by the pound. “We’re working on a new menu, but it’ll be better worded and easier to understand,” Urias promised, but in the meantime, ordering by the pound will likely give you a more predictable portion and price.
The smoked brisket, which was previously pale with muted flavors, has improved immensely. Urias brought a thousand-gallon compensated bison smoker just for his briskets (the rest of the meats are smoked in a Myron Mixon water smoker). It wraps nearly finished breasts in plastic wrap rather than aluminum foil or butcher paper, as it prefers moisture retention. Urias also adds more salt and a fresh layer of cracked black pepper just before packing. The meat was juicy as expected, and the rub was bold enough for black pepper fiends.
The sweet glaze is gone from the peppery pork chops, which are tender and flavorful. But the most impressive meat was the smoked turkey. The slices were incredibly juicy and took on the flavor of the smoke better than the rest of the barbecue. Smoked turkey also pairs well with homemade pickled onions and dill pickle slices.
Cowboy Potato Salad is a new side to go with the classic Mustard Potato Salad. Skin-on potato chunks are tossed with bacon and mayo dressing for baked potato flavor. The hatching chili mac and cheese was well done and slightly spicy. A cup of pinto beans included several slices of smoked sausage, but the beans needed more seasoning to cover the flavor of the can they came out of.
Sausage was a challenge for Urias at the Midland site, and he worked to improve it here. The grind is thankfully coarser and the case has a nice snap. I also loved the pairing of Oaxaca cheese with serrano peppers. At Midland, the carefully smoked slices of pork belly were outstanding. This time, the same haircut was hours away from being done. Urias was embarrassed when he saw it, and he refunded the cost. “I have several guys in practice, and they just pulled the wrong pork belly,” he admitted.
His attention was on stocking the newly opened meat market next door. “It’s a bit difficult for me to run both right now,” he said. You can buy Wagyu breasts and the same premium 1855 breasts he uses in the restaurant. The meat crate is also full of raw steaks and the sausages Urias makes for Up in Smoke. And if you can’t stick around for a hot meal locally, there are also sous vide barbecues for sale at the market.
I was impressed with the first iteration of Up in Smoke BBQ at Midland. Urias built on that success in Early and, for the most part, serves up a better version of his barbecue in his new home. The people of Brownwood would be doing themselves a favor by checking out the new kid in town.
Correction: The original version of this story misidentified Urias as a pitmaster at the Underwood Cafeteria.
Barbecue in smoke
231 Parkway Drive, Suite 100, Early
Hours: Thursday 11–3, Friday 11–3 and 6–9, Saturday 11-3
Pit Master: Urias Junior
Method: Pecans and oak in an offbeat smokehouse
Opening year: 2022