Get to Know Texas Pitmaster Derrick Walker

The owner and pitmaster of Fort Worth’s Smoke-A-Holics BBQ on learning the craft, smoked bologna, and “Tex-Soul”

Photo: Fredrik Broden

Walker, a Fort Worth native, in the pit room at Smoke-A-Holics.

His barbecue mentor: “When I was twelve years old, my grandfather pulled up to the house with his truck, and he had a smoker behind it. I had never seen anything like it before in my life. He taught me how to start a fire, maintain a fire, and trim and season meat, and he gave me a crash course.”

On “Tex-Soul”: “In my area, there’s been an influx of Hispanic pitmasters, and they’ve been combining Tex-Mex and barbecue. So I thought of a phrase that would let everybody know that I’m serving barbecue with [soul food] things like collard greens, cornbread, candied yams, and smoked mac and cheese.”

Introducing…rib tips! “Rib tips are big in African American culture in the Midwest. After I introduced them, my customers kept asking, ‘What are rib tips? What are rib tips?’ Everybody is paying attention to those now. When I started out making ribs, I did a St. Louis cut, so that strip of rib tips was left, and we threw them on the grill. We call them ‘cook snacks.’”

The sellouts: “Ribs, brisket, turkey, sausage—they’re all running a footrace every day to see which goes first.”

About “bolo”: “That’s what we call our smoked bologna. We put these cool score marks on it, and then once it cooks, it kind of blows up. We cut it real thick, about two inches, and it goes on white bread with sauce on the side. It was always a staple in Fort Worth when I was growing up.”

photo: Fredrik Broden

Gaining barbecue knowledge: “Man, I’ve been a student of barbecue since I was thirteen or fourteen years old. When I got into my early twenties, I kinda got sucked into the whole barbecue thing, and I just studied barbecue from North Carolina to South Carolina to Memphis to Texas to…wherever barbecue was being done. I’m just a student of the game.”

His wife was a little dubious…at first: “The first smoker I bought, she said, ‘Hey, we don’t really have the money for spending on stuff like that.’ When I got it and she saw the response, she said, ‘Wait a minute, the one you’ve got isn’t big enough.’”
Now she’s his secret weapon: “Kesha does a little of everything: baking desserts—including the sweet potato pie, the Coca-Cola cake, and the banana pudding—cleaning, serving, acting as cashier, bagging, whatever needs to be done. On top of that, she’s a hairstylist and splits her days between the restaurant and her salon. She’s a real-life Superwoman.”

photo: Fredrik Broden
Walker with his wife, Kesha.

How the hospital saved his business life: “After working at Williams Chicken and Taco Bell, I went to work at Baylor All Saints hospital in Fort Worth. That landed me a career in hospital kitchens. I managed kitchens to the point where it was just me. I had to cook, serve the cafeteria, go upstairs and feed the patients, then come back down and clean the kitchen. I had to order the groceries, and when the groceries showed up, I would have to put up the groceries. I was in charge of the budgeting. So all of that stuff led me to where I am now. Once I got my own place, the business part was easy.”

On “loaded” cornbread: “We have a honey butter cornbread that’s got our baked beans on top, then it’s got chopped brisket, shredded cheese, green onions, barbecue sauce, and sour cream. We can’t cook enough of it.”  

This article appears in the October/November 2020 issue of  Garden & Gun. Start your subscription here or give a gift subscription here.