Santa Fe may be many things, but Lockhart, Texas, it is not. David “Uncle DT” Thom calls that city, roughly 30 miles south of Austin, a barbecue mecca. “There are six giant barbecues within a half mile of each other,” says the musician-cum-pitmaster who is doing his part to bolster the supply of truly good, authentically inspired ’cue in Santa Fe, one plate and vacuum-sealed bag at a time.
Music came first. Although he worked in restaurants during his younger years, Thom was a full-time musician by age twenty-four or twenty-five. Still, he continued to lean on his cooking experience to make ends meet. “To come up with venues where the band could make more money, I started throwing my own concerts, and they were centered around dinner parties. I would cook for everybody, and then we’d put on a concert.”
Then in 2009, Lagunitas Brewing took his band to South by Southwest. On that trip, Thom said, “I made a pilgrimage out to The Salt Lick [the iconic Driftwood-based barbecue restaurant founded in 1967], and when I tasted that brisket, something just clicked. I had to know how to do it.” Not that he was a stranger to Lone Star State barbecue, mind you. “I spent age three to age nine living in Texas with my family,” he said. “After every soccer game there was barbecue, and it was just sloppy, greasy brisket on a terrible white bun. It wasn’t until 2009 that even considered looking at Texas barbecue again.”
We should all be glad he took that second look. These days, Thom smokes a wide array of meats. Think brisket ($16.99 per pound), of course, but also juicy whole chicken ($17.99) so tender you can “carve” it with your hands. There’s also pulled pork shoulder, turkey, St. Louis ribs, and generously meaty baby back ribs that bite easily off the bone ($24.99 per rack), as well as tofu “burnt ends.” He then vacuum seals, freezes, and sells it all by the bird, the pound, or the rack at uncledt.com. (He also takes orders at 707-337-5641.) Pick it up at his commercial kitchen space (2850-D Rufina St.) or his home in Eldorado. He’ll also deliver within a particular radius for a small fee.
It feels somewhat fitting to discuss meat and music over a green beer on St. Patrick’s Day at Santa Fe Brewing Company’s Eldorado taproom (7 Caliente Road), where Thom is slinging plates of corned beef and cabbage — both smoked. In addition to the vacuum-sealed venture, he hosts occasional barbecue pop-ups here and at the SFBC Brakeroom (510 Galisteo St.), where he’s just begun serving food every Saturday afternoon.
The clever boil-in-bag reheating method Thom outlines in detail on his website allows you to serve barbecue with less than an hour of prep time. “This stuff will keep in your freezer for two years. You can load up … and not think about it again. Anytime you need it, grab it and drop it in the water. It’s just that easy.” You needn’t worry about accompaniments, either: Thom also prepares a slew of archetypal barbecue sides, including “cowboy beans” (which are vegan, with chipotle powder for smoky depth), corn on the cob, slaw, and cornbread. Thom can also make you a hot lunch — meat-of-the-week sandwiches with chips or a platter that includes slaw, beans, and cornbread. His only requirements for pickup are a minimum order for five people and at least three hours’ notice.
Thom has kept on pluckin’ with his music, though. In addition to farmers markets, festivals, and the famed Taos Big Barn Dance, he plays every Monday and Tuesday at La Fonda alongside local legend Bill Hearne, who was inadvertently instrumental (if you’ll pardon the pun) in launching the food phase of Thom’s career. “On tours to Texas, we ended up going back to some of the barbecues that I’d already been to. Turns out Bill knows the owner of Black’s Barbecue.
“It doesn’t get more legit than Kent Black,” Thom says of the owner. Somewhat astounded, he admits, “He has given a full-on stamp of approval. … He was just up for Bill’s documentary release. He offered me to come down and do a two-day internship at Black’s and actually go work the smokers and stay with his pit bosses. It’s an incredible opportunity.”
“Whereas music used to promote the barbecue, now the barbecue promotes the music,” Thom says. The tables may have turned — again — but he seems perfectly at home juggling both. Just before he steps away to fill more plates with smoked corned beef, I ask if he wants Santa Feans to know anything else. He grins and says, “Come see me play some music, too.” ◀