BY GERALD E. MCLEOD
in The Austin Chronicle, January 26, 2001:
photo by Gerald E.
Joel's Bar-B-Q covers I-10 at Flatonia with a smoky fog that
could only come from a real Texas barbecue pit. You may not immediately smell
the mesquite smoke, but as soon as you see the little barbecue stand on the
north side of the highway between Luling and Schulenburg, you know it's there.
Looking down from the frenzied pace of the interstate, the little shack with
the large Texas flag flapping in the breeze could only be a barbecue joint. With
the big rigs lined up in the dirt parking sometimes three or four deep, you know
that something on the menu has to be great. The long-haul drivers have a couple
of dozen places where they can stop to eat between Houston and San Antonio. They
know where the best places are, and many of them choose Joel's.
"Oh, we get a lot of truckers," says Joycelyn Kubesh, the owner of Joel's.
"They've been real good to us over the years," she says with a slight Southern
accent that belies her Mississippi roots. "They don't like to stop if the food's
not good and the service isn't quick."
At Joel's they get both. "If you start with good meat you'll have good food,"
she says matter-of-factly. The brisket and chopped beef are tasty, the chicken
is juicy without being greasy, the turkey legs have a rich, smoky flavor, and
she makes a really good beef jerky and dry sausage, but it is the smoked sausage
that is outstanding.
"In our area of the state there is a lot of good German sausage," Joycelyn
says. "You find a good one and expand on it." Joel's sausage is a great blend of
spices with a hearty, meaty flavor. Joycelyn doesn't add any fillers or
additives. "I want it to taste like meat," she says.
Joel's Bar-B-Q started as a weekend business on wheels in October 1978.
Joycelyn and her then-husband Joel Kubesh parked their smoker wherever they
thought they could attract a crowd. A year or so later they set up a one-room
temporary building next to the Conoco station at I-10 and FM 609. Twenty years
later that temporary building is the front kitchen of a patchwork building.
"Necessity is the mother of invention," Joycelyn says with a laugh. "We
needed something so we built it." The business didn't have much money, but they
had a large stack of wood. Add a little concrete to the shack and they had the
walls to the dining room. "Then we build a shelter over it to get out of the
rain and moved the pit under the roof," she says.
In some indefinable way the piecemeal construction of the building adds to
the character of the food. The rustic building and the slamming of the old
screen door somehow make the smoked meats a little more flavorful. Several years
ago the insides of the kitchen were nearly destroyed by a fire. Within a few
days the restaurant was up and running again in the Dairy Queen-like building
next door. "It just wasn't the same," Joycelyn says. "This place is just the way
a barbecue place is supposed to be."
After the fire she couldn't wait to get back into the crowded old building
with its drafty windows and multilevel floors. Even though the other building
stands vacant she has no intention of moving back. "If it ain't broke, don't fix
In an occupation dominated by men, this feisty woman takes on the business of
smoking meat with a passion. She closed the gas station next door at the end of
1999, because she "just wanted to be in the barbecue business." She says she
might turn it into a meat market and gift shop, but, right now, she prefers to
concentrate on offering her customers good food.
All of the side dishes, everything except the cookies and pies, are made from
scratch at the restaurant. "The recipes have been a trial-and-error thing," she
says. "We find something we like and stick with it." The desserts are made by
Gladys' Cookie Shop, run by a local lady who Joycelyn is sure everyone has heard
of since Gladys appeared on the Johnny Carson show.
"The people are the best part of a job like this," Joycelyn says with her
trademark laugh that makes everyone feel like a friend. "It's like going to the
movies. Everybody is different and unique, and most are not half bad if you give
'em half a chance."
One person she doesn't have much use for is a guy in a town closer to Houston
using the same name on his barbecue joint. "I want people to know that the other
place is not affiliated with us in any way," Joycelyn says. She is so emphatic
about proclaiming that this is the original Joel's that she put a sign on the
front of the building letting everybody know that this is the "real" Joel's
Bar-B-Q. She says the sign went up right after a guy stopped by with a soggy
sandwich that he claimed had been purchased at the other place and asked for his
Kubesh's Joel's Bar-B-Q is at exit 661 off I-10 at Flatonia. The place with
the picnic benches out front and the smoker going in the back is open seven days
a week, 8am-10pm, and until 11pm on Friday nights. To order the jerky or dry
sausage sent by mail, call 361-865-2454.