Smokin’ Z’s BBQ is one of the best new barbecue joints in Texas

Smokin’ Z’s BBQ is one of the best new barbecue joints in Texas

There is something uniquely Southeast Texas about eating at Smokin’ Z’s BBQ, one of the best new barbecue joints in the state, currently operating out of a turquoise-blue trailer behind a gas station in the waterfront community of Bayou Vista near Galveston.

On a recent Saturday morning I drove down with friends and upon arrival we were met with perhaps the greatest trinity of aromas any Houstonian can experience: smoldering post oak from a nearby barbecue pit, the salty sea breeze of the Gulf of Mexico, and a hint of crawfish boil in the background.

This aromatic barrage primed us for the Texas trinity of tastes to come — salt-and-pepper, Central Texas-style brisket; meaty St. Louis-cut pork ribs with a balance of sweet mop and spicy cracked pepper flakes; and a cornucopia of hand-made sausages whose creativity defies typical barbecue offerings.

As we sat at picnic tables in the bright spring sun, with seagulls chattering above and local residents coming and going in their tricked-out golf carts, my friends and I agreed this was the best tray of barbecue we’d eaten in a while.

The story of how the husband-and-wife team of Zaid and Mallory Al-Jazrawi opened Smokin’ Z’s three years ago and then faced a series of ups-and-downs and stops-and-starts is a classic Texas tale of hard work, steely perseverance, and ultimately growing success.

Zaid, 29, and Mallory, 30, were both born and raised in Sugar Land, and knew each other growing up. Mallory’s family is from Texas and Canada. Zaid’s father grew up in a Catholic family in Baghdad, Iraq, learning English in a Jesuit school there, and then came to America for college, landing at Lamar University in Beaumont in the 1970s. He would eventually move to Sugar Land to work at his uncle’s engineering firm, marry, and start a family.

Additional family members moved to Sugar Land and Zaid grew up in a large Arab American family where cooking took center stage. As a self-taught chef and pitmaster, much of Zaid’s formidable cooking talents came from growing up in that atmosphere.

After high school, Zaid became a serial entrepreneur and reconnected with Mallory through mutual friends and they began dating. Zaid’s sister lived in Bayou Vista at the time and, after visiting, he and Mallory liked it so much they decided to move there in 2015.

Zaid started cooking big barbecue spreads for his family, who encouraged him to go pro, a classic foundational tale for many now-established professional pitmasters. But he still wasn’t sure if he had the chops.

“People aren’t going to criticize you if you serve them free food,” Zaid said, “Plus they were my family.”

Still, he began a catering business on weekends with Mallory’s help. The feedback was universally positive, so he and Mallory took the next step of opening a barbecue trailer in their hometown of Bayou Vista in 2018.

The process has been bumpy. For the next three years he and Mallory struggled with finding a permanent place to park the trailer, as well as wrangling with the seemingly unpredictable requirements of a county health department. One constant through it all was that he and Mallory (also self-taught) continued to cook, improve and innovate. They were recently married.

That perseverance has paid off and they are back open every weekend in Bayou Vista. Besides support from the surrounding community, Zaid’s friend Matthew Larkins helps out with the pits and his dad, Bassam, is in the trailer assisting in any way he can.

In addition to the Texas trinity, we ordered a tray of Mallory’s superb side dishes (get the cornbread souffle) and a link of Zaid’s smoked brisket boudin. He stews trimmed brisket pieces in beef tallow and homemade etouffee, adds spices and herbs, mixes in basmati rice — a gesture to the cuisine he grew up with — and then stuffs it all into a pork casing and smokes it for a couple of hours. It was another unique and delicious part of a very Southeast Texas barbecue experience.


Melody Meadows

Based in Euless, Texas, Melody Meadows is a Chief Editor at Business Journal.  Previously  She worked for Crain Media and Yahoo News.  Ms. Meadows is a graduate of University of Texas at The University of Texas at Austin. Ms. Meadows started working for Business Journal in 2020.  She covers business, government, politics and stories about economics.