Two people stand next to a barbecue pit smoker

Boo Eaker and her husband, Lance, work the pits at their Fredericksburg destination.

“I’m just the blowtorch lady,” Boo Eaker jokes as she levels her blue flame over a slice of banana, transforming its starchy yellow flesh into a nutty-brown coin. She doesn’t wait for it to cool, wrapping her fingers around its edges to tuck it delicately into a nest of pillowy cream.

Her eponymous restaurant is running behind today, but despite being short-staffed, Eaker remains cool and calm. In the symphony of her kitchen, she directs employees with simple hand gestures, ushering them between pans of kimchi fried rice and past refrigerators filled with her famous banana pudding. With just seconds to spare before opening, the main doors swing wide to reveal a line of customers curling around the restaurant’s Fredericksburg facade. Unfazed, she marches outside to greet and mingle with each guest before ever taking an order.

Eaker Barbecue
607 W. Main St., Fredericksburg.
Open Wed-Sat
11 a.m.-3 p.m.
830-992-3650;
eakerbarbecue
.com

Witnessing this well-orchestrated feat, one would guess that Eaker is an old hand in the business. But not only is this her first kitchen job, it’s her first in any capacity in the restaurant industry (other than a brief stint at Schlotzsky’s, which she says “doesn’t count”).

Prior to launching Eaker Barbecue in 2018, Boo had immigrated to Texas from Seoul, South Korea, to study at University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. At an IHOP in town, she met her future husband, Lance Eaker, a Uvalde native and IT service manager. Boo’s fashion industry career led them to Houston a few years later, but only after Lance invested in a backyard smoker did either of them really begin to take an interest in barbecue.

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Often inviting over friends and family to sample their wares, the Eakers say guests would all inevitably leave their Westbury home raving about the brisket. “It wasn’t that good,” Lance recalls with a blush. “They were just being nice.” Despite his modest streak, Lance quit his job to do the “whole food truck thing,” as he puts it—a decision that, in retrospect, felt especially well-timed after Boo was laid off from her job. Although sales were slow at first, the business gained momentum and never seemed to wane. Within a year, their little truck, parked frequently on Upper Kirby, was recognized as one of the best in the city by the Houston Chronicle.

But Boo, ever the realist, admits, “It looked like we were doing well, but financially, not so much.” For example, when the Houston Rodeo shut down in 2020 due to the pandemic, the family lost out on somewhere near $30,000 of projected revenue. There were also matters of practicality, such as the realities of battling the city’s infamous heat and humidity aboard a vessel that wasn’t equipped with air-conditioning.

A silver tray with several smoked meats and sides in plastic containers

The Eakers perfected the art of the smoke in their Houston backyard

With Boo wanting a change, Lance says his partner gave him an ultimatum to find cooler confines within a year. But his wife remembers it differently. “We went on vacation in Hunt [45 minutes from Fredericksburg], and when I gazed up to the stars that night, I told Lance I could really see myself in a small town,” she remembers. “I should’ve known Lance would take that as ‘Let’s move now!’”

After bandying about a return to Korea, as well as a plot of land in New Braunfels, the Eakers opted to go in a more unexpected direction. Taking the personal advice of Houston Chronicle barbecue editor J.C. Reid—who pointed to the lack of great ’cue in Texas’ wine country—the duo uprooted for a space on Fredericksburg’s main strip in 2021.

Even among the Hill Country’s rolling vineyards, the Eakers’ formula for success hasn’t changed. While it might be simple to label the intersection of kimchi and brisket as fusion, it’s purely what the Eakers eat in their own kitchen. Far from being “experimental,” the menu is their version of home cooking. Ingredients like gochugaru (Korean pepper flakes), sesame oil, and soy sauce just so happen to line the spice cabinet. This mindset is most evident in the Eakers’ pork ribs, which are smoked through then mopped to order with gochujang sauce—a classic Korean red chili paste made with glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. Seared with a blowtorch for extra caramelization, the coating turns the bottle of barbecue sauce sitting on every table into an afterthought.

A bowl of vegetables, kimchi, golden rice, pickled vegetables, and pork ribs

Gochujang pork ribs, kimchi, and fried rice set the family’s menu apart from other barbecue spots.

A silver blowtorch is used to apply a flame to a bright red rack of ribs

Blowtorching ribs

Then there’s the brisket. With a classic black pepper rub and a low-heat preparation, the rich beef is about as Texan as it gets. But paired with sides like fluffy fried rice and a Korean cucumber salad punched up with fish sauce, the aluminum tray presents closer to traditional Korean barbecue and the concept of banchan (which translates to “side dishes”). A collection of small plates arranged around the meats, these snacks counter the heavier mains with contrasting and complementary flavors.

Weekly specials are where the couple gets especially creative, with leftover fried rice transformed into kimchi boudin, pulled pork folded into egg rolls, and a pho whipped up during colder months. Complete with Vietnamese spices like lemongrass, star anise, and cardamom, the broth is spooned over a bed of slippery vermicelli noodles and topped off with a hulking slice of brisket. “You can get it vegan, but I wouldn’t,” Boo jokes.

While pulled pork, smoked turkey, and all the other trappings of a typical barbecue joint are present, what makes Eaker’s unforgettable is Boo’s house-made kimchi. A family recipe, the Napa cabbage at the heart of the dish spends months fermenting in gochugaru, fish sauce, and pre-fermented shrimp. The piquant brine clings to each crunchy leaf, and every mouthful yields a tangy effervescence that effortlessly slices through Lance’s mesquite smoked brisket and sausage.

In fact, the dish is so umami-laden and addictive, most customers can’t seem to get enough. Not to worry, as you can purchase a to-go container just for the drive back. “This happens all the time,” Boo smiles, as she helps me buckle my quart into the passenger seat for safe passage. This might sound strange, but as I drift past the wineries lining 290, it feels fitting for a barbecue destination that’s so far from the ordinary.

East Meets Texas’ Best

Three other must-eat spots combining Asian pantry staples with some serious ’cue

Curry Boys BBQ
Andrew Ho and Sean Wen’s Southeast Asian-inspired concept began as a Viet-Cajun crawfish popup. Now, they smother pulled pork, brisket, and even sausages in spicy curries and serve them over a bed of warm rice off the strip in San Antonio. 536 E. Courtland Place, San Antonio. curryboysbbq.com

Khói Barbecue
Popping up all over Houston, Don Nguyen slings under-the-radar Vietnamese flavors inspired by his mother. Take for example, brisket floating atop a bowl of bún bò huê, pho’s lesser-known cousin, or the smoked chicken and rice topped with yuzu kosho, Thai chiles, and ginger. Location varies. khoibarbecue.com

Brisket & Rice
This gas station-adjacent restaurant in Northwest Houston taps into Hong and Phong Tran’s Vietnamese upbringing in Brenham. In addition to its namesake dish, there are offerings like Poor Man’s Macaroni—the brothers’ take on nui xào bò. 13111 FM 529, Houston. brisketnrice.com

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