Barbecue veteran brings Texas-style brisket to Gilbert at Caldwell County BBQ
Clay and his wife decided to get back in the barbecue game and founded Caldwell County BBQ, a play on their last name and a famous county in Texas known for its barbecue.
GILBERT, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Driving along Power Road just north of the Loop 202 Santan freeway in Gilbert, you’ll almost feel like you’ve been transported to central Texas. Farms, sprawling developments and new businesses are sprinkled on either side of the road. Take a turn down Nunneley Road and what initially appears to be a small house on your right is soon to become one of your favorite places for barbecue in the East Valley. Welcome to Caldwell County BBQ!
Owner Clay Caldwell, a former pig farmer, previously owned a barbecue joint called Waldo’s BBQ for over 20 years before selling in 2014 and beginning what ultimately would be a brief retirement. Clay took a trip to central Texas, and his passion for barbecue was reborn.
“In my retirement, I started going out to Texas, been out there ten times chasing the BBQ scene, trying to keep up to date,” said Clay. “And I kind of had a ‘coming to Jesus’ moment when I went into Aaron Franklin’s BBQ in Austin, Texas and tasted his brisket, and I thought to myself, ‘I can do this.’”
Clay and his wife decided to get back in the barbecue game and founded Caldwell County BBQ, a play on their last name and a famous county in Texas known for its barbecue. The county seat, the city of Lockhart, is considered by many the BBQ capital of Texas. Clay’s identifying mark for his new restaurant is, “If Texas and Arizona had a baby, it would be Caldwell County BBQ.”
“Mostly what we’re doing is slow everything down, 250 degrees low and slow. We’re cooking today for tomorrow, so everything’s getting a lot of smoke and attention to detail,” said Clay.
Clay brought back proper Texas brisket, utilizing a 20-hour smoke and special wrapping technique to preserve the meat’s juices and flavoring. The meat falls apart beautifully and doesn’t lose any seasoning or flavor from when it gets sliced to when it reaches your mouth. Clay also incorporates many Southwest flavors, grinding and roasting green chilis to use in sauces and sides to give a nice heat finish. When it comes to the smokers, Clay’s pitmaster Jimmy uses mesquite wood, which is native to Arizona and best for smoking dark meats, such as Texas-style brisket.
“The brisket we’re going to consume tomorrow we started this morning at 7 a.m. We smoke it until it gets a good rich color, mahogany color, a great smoke ring. Then we wrap it in the traditional butcher paper,” Clay said, describing their technique for smoking brisket. “And then we’re wrapping it with a high-temperature plastic to hold the juices in.”
If you make it out to Caldwell County BBQ sometime, the brisket alone is worth the drive. When sliced, the meat nearly crumbles, has an excellent smoke ring that preserves the flavor, and packs a well-seasoned punch of a taste.
I would recommend trying the pulled pork, which was smokey and hearty. The pork ribs seasoning greets you at the lips, and the meat falls right off the bone. If you’re looking for a little bit of everything, try the El General Patton sandwich! The shop’s trademark sandwich comes with pulled pork, brisket, and sausage with coleslaw and pickles.
For sides, the beans are a must and are slow-baked, smokey, with that slight heat component. The coleslaw is one-of-a-kind, with Clay and his wife utilizing more of the Arizona produce and adding hints of lemon that gives each bite a refreshing and zest taste. And lastly, as someone who is NOT typically a fan of corn, the corn casserole (which is a family recipe) is both creamy and light with a blend of roasted green chilis and something I would eat every single day if I could.
And don’t forget about the sauces! All of Caldwell County BBQ’s sauces are house-made. The hot and sweet was on point and a great addition to the brisket, sausage, and ribs. The mustard sauce was sweet with a hint of sour and had a lighter taste with very little bitterness. It complimented the turkey and sausage very well. You can’t go wrong with their house sauce, a great addition to all the meats (and even a couple of the homemade sides), and brings your traditional savory barbecue taste. Clay recently put out a newer sauce, the North Carolina Vinegar. It’s sweet and (you guessed it) vinegary, but after a good shake-up of the spices within the bottle, it’s stellar and adds a great bonus flavoring to the sausage or turkey.
From the restaurant’s homestyle ambiance, the hearty food, to the kind and warm welcome from Clay and his staff, you’ll enjoy your experience at Caldwell County BBQ!
This is the first segment in a series on barbecue in the Phoenix metro. Arizona’s Family Foodie is taking a look at how pitmasters have fused traditional American BBQ with Southwestern heat and spices, creating almost a new style within its own right. Barbecue brings people and communities together, so let’s focus on the food and find new, great restaurants to support and enjoy together!
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