CowBurners is Texas barbecue and beer done right
Story by PATRICK SMITH
In Texas, barbecue is serious business, and opening a restaurant serving the Lone Star State’s most famous fare is no easy task.
CowBurners BBQ and Taproom owner Jason Herring isn’t just succeeding, he’s found a way to thrive. The business has weathered tough times thanks to its quality food and friendly service that keeps people coming back for more.
With barbecue staples and unique menu items — like rib candy and pork rind nachos — CowBurners draws patrons in droves, many of whom come back more than once a week. “We’ll have a lot of people come through from out of town,” Jason says. “We get a lot of people who stop here first thing every time they come in from Dallas.”
Like many in barbecue, Jason was raised around smoked meat. His story starts at the age of 12, when his father, Ted, let him smoke his first brisket. “It was awful,” Jason recalls with a laugh. “He let me trim it and season it. Then he let me stay up all night with it. He watched me make my mistakes, and then he showed me what to do and how to make it better.”
By the time he was 20, Jason and his father started testing their skills in barbecue competitions. “We did our first competition in 1997 on my 20th birthday,” he says. “We did that every year until he passed away, and we always talked about how cool it would be to have a barbecue restaurant.”
After college, Jason worked in the beef, beer and seismic industries, which eventually brought him back to Mineola. That move was just in time for the 2015 crude oil price crash. Out of work, he decided to turn a favorite pastime into a job and set up his barbecue competition trailer, a bequest from his father, as a business.
“We burned through all of our savings, lived on credit cards and paid one credit card bill with another,” Jason says. “I was doing it by myself Wednesday through Saturday. I’d put the meat on the night before, then I’d come back at 5 a.m. and stay again until 8 or 9 p.m. every night.”
Nearly two years later, he decided to transition to a brick-and-mortar restaurant. “A high school friend, Daniel Moser, approached me with the idea of making it into a real restaurant,” Jason says. “We partnered up and found a building. Then we spent the next six or so months
working on it when he was home from the oil field and I was off from the trailer. We opened the doors here in May 2017, and we’ve been doing it ever since.”
Retrofitted as a restaurant, CowBurners occupies a building that dates back to 1885 and formerly housed a pharmacy and a doctor’s office. As the concrete over the brick has gradually peeled away, it’s created the perfect atmosphere for a restaurant. The interior is completed with rustic, rough-sawn lumber lining the kitchen area, created to look like an outdoor barbecue shack.
UNIQUE MENU CONCOCTIONS
Beyond melt-in-your-mouth barbecue that’s always cooked with Texas hickory wood, CowBurners was also the first restaurant to offer alcohol in downtown Mineola. “We have probably 99% Texas-owned and Texas-brewed beers here,” Jason says. “There’s no Miller Light, no Coors, it’s all craft beer. All our employees are trained, so if you’re not a craft beer person, they can ask what you’d normally drink, and nine times out of 10 we’ve got something similar. Plus, it’s supporting a local Texas company. It’s a great small business mindset.”
CowBurners also attracts customers with fast Wi-Fi, made-from-scratch barbecue rubs, sauces, dips and more. “My philosophy is if you’ve got a regular barbecue restaurant, you’re going to get people in every few weeks, maybe once a month,” Jason says. “They’re not going to come in to eat a brisket sandwich five days a week. We try to change it up, so Tuesdays are the only day you can get tacos. Wednesday is always wings. Thursday we do our brisket burnt ends and either poblano, or when they’re in season, hatch fire-roasted mac and cheese. Then Friday and Saturday, we’ve got ribs and the rib candy. We try to give people a reason to come in more than once a month.”
The philosophy has not only helped put CowBurners on the map, it’s also inspired Jason to move on to new adventures. “It’s really gratifying,” he says. “This community has been amazing and welcoming since we opened.” So welcoming, in fact, that Jason plans to open a new restaurant, Commerce Street Brewing, a brew pub and pizza joint, in early 2024. Until then, you’ll find him keeping the pit smoking at CowBurners and welcoming patrons for a one-of-a-kind Texas barbecue experience.”
CowBurners BBQ and Taproom
109 N. Johnson St., Mineola
Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Tuesday through Saturday