The first lady of Fort Worth, Texas, barbecue talks about Heim Barbecue’s quick growth, National Bacon Burnt End Day, and what she thinks is the most underrated barbecue side dish. We have the recipe too!
Restaurateurs trade in balancing passion and practicality. It doesn’t matter if they serve fine dining or barbecue. There are bills to pay and mouths to feed. It takes an insane amount of work and partnerships to get that balance right. Travis and Emma Heim of Heim Barbecue in Fort Worth, Texas, seem to have pinpointed the sweet spot — and did so quickly.
Heim Barbecue began as a series of pop-ups in 2013. They opened a trailer in 2015 and moved into their first brick-and-mortar location, at 1109 W. Magnolia Ave., in 2016. In April of this year, the second Heim Barbecue location opened at 5333 White Settlement Road. The Magnolia restaurant is a small dining spot that emphasizes barbecue’s focus on community. The newest spot, known as Heim River, continues that emphasis with pockets of tables in a larger space. It seats nearly 300.
It’s there that Emma Heim sat down with us to talk community, Heim Barbecue’s quick growth, and National Bacon Burnt End Day. Yes, that’s a thing.
Cowboys & Indians: Why did you and Travis get into barbecue?
Emma Heim: If Travis was here, he would say, “We did it just to pay the bills,” which I guess you could say is a little bit true. I mean, we needed to kind of figure out our lives and what we were going to do long-term. Our first year of marriage, we were making, like, I was working, he was trying to finish school, making $10 an hour at an eye doctor, like front desk. So it was like 610 bucks every two weeks is what we were like living on. He had this passion for barbecue. We’d save up money, go to Sam’s, get racks of ribs, try things out like in our little apartment, just on a Weber grill. It got to the point where I was like, So why not barbecue? Let’s try it out. And we would start doing the pop-up dinners. We started those in 2013. That’s how that kind of all started. We got married in June 2011 then we just started the Meat Club pop-ups in June 2013. It was soon after that where we were doing pop-ups at a friend’s house, our backyard, and my brother’s backyard.
The last one was at our friends’ house over by Hulen. There were 75 people there in a normal house. It wasn’t a huge home. We got to the point where it was like, OK, we really got to think about this, because we thought if you start serving food and it’s not good, you’re going to find out really quick. Well, these parties started blowing up and we’d emailed people. You could pay online and then that would cover the cost of the meats and drinks and sides and all that.
C&I: What’s the story behind the bacon burnt ends?
Heim: The bacon burnt ends were actually served at one of our pop-ups. We did ribs and pulled pork and then the bacon burnt ends were an appetizer. They were an immediate hit. So we thought, If we ever are fortunate enough to have a restaurant with a menu, that’s definitely forever always on there.
C&I: Now you have had National Bacon Burnt End Day designated recently. How does one even get to that point?
Heim: These things are obviously a must, every time someone comes through one of our restaurants. I think it was 2018, we did 24 tons of just bacon. It’s insane. People love the [bacon burnt ends]. They really love them. And now, you know, Travis will never say this, but he really started this whole movement of pork belly burnt ends. And so for his birthday, he turned 30 in June, and I thought, Let’s make this a thing. I looked at when our first pop-up was, which was June 29, 2013 — that’s the first time we served bacon burnt ends — and then I applied for National Bacon Burnt End Day at the National Day Archives. There are different days you can do like a proclamation day. If you want to celebrate your wife or your kid, but I got the one where it’s on a calendar. It’s a fun little thing.
C&I: How much barbecue do you really eat?
Heim: I try daily because I need to make sure all my stuff’s good. But like sitting down probably like once a week. The other day, I had the burger. I just hadn’t had it in a minute, and I think it was just so good with a side of mac. I try to eat barbecue daily.
C&I: Now for the quick-fire round of questions. Best thing about barbecue?
Heim: Community. I love that when people come through you’ll see at Magnolia, both of the two main tables are community tables. It’s on purpose because I want people to be able to sit down, meet people — the same kind of feel as the barbecue line. You kind of grow these weird bonds in maybe 30 minutes of a line and you talk about the food and the experience. And I wanted the same thing for when people sit down and eat together.
C&I: What’s the worst thing about barbecue?
Heim: Timing. We’re cooking all day. Our smokehouse guys get OT every single week and we’re OK with that. But it’s a labor of love, for sure.
C&I: What’s your second favorite style of barbecue?
Heim: Whole hog, like Sam Jones-style. We love to do whole hog here, if we can. In October, we do BoobieQue, a charity event for breast cancer. The first year we did it, we did it on a traditional smoker. But this year, we’re going to build a [cinderblock] pit for it.
C&I: Most underrated barbecue dish or side?
Heim: Pinto beans. We put a lot of love in our pinto beans, and I think there should be more out there. Sides are something that we as a restaurant in general has tried to push because everything's from scratch. And so obviously the barbecue is going to be the main focus. But every little thing is like every day we make it from scratch, whether it’s coleslaw or beans or whatever. So I think pinto beans, for sure. (See recipe below.)
C&I: Why tacos on a barbecue menu?
Heim: Who doesn’t love tacos? We make everything from scratch, including the tortillas.
C&I: What’s your favorite food — other than barbecue?
Heim: Pasta. I like a traditional spaghetti with meat sauce.
C&I: What is something that folks might be surprised to learn about you?
Heim: I love Hello Kitty and Disneyland.
C&I: Favorite musical styles or bands?
Heim: I love the Avett Brothers but I also love the Grateful Dead. We just got back from Chicago for the Grateful Dead show at Wrigley Field.
C&I: Favorite Dallas-Fort Worth restaurants?
Heim: If I’m going out to lunch and we do a Dallas drive, I love the new Hudson Houses that are going up. I also love Town Hearth, which is always a fun time to drop a pretty penny. Then for Fort Worth, it would probably be Salsa Limon. Their tacos are great! And Joe T. Garcia’s.
C&I: Is that old Tex-Mex institution still cash only?
Heim: Yeah. You can write a check, though. [Laughs.]
C&I: Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Heim Barbecue Pinto Beans
Courtesy of Travis & Emma Heim
(10 – 12 Servings)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
6 bacon strips, diced
2 sticks of butter
4 large tomatoes, chopped
1 – 2 garlic cloves, minced
2 – 3 fresh jalapeños, sliced
2 pounds pinto beans (soak in water for one to two hours prior)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
6 ounces Mexican beer
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 tablespoon paprika powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon chile powder (Use ancho, chipotle, or habanero for extra heat)
½ cup rendered brisket fat and trimmings
Start a large pot on medium heat, and caramelize chopped onion in oil. Chop bacon into small pieces and cook with the onions. When bacon is cooked down, add butter, tomatoes, garlic cloves, and jalapeño. Cook until soft.
Drain beans and add them to the pot. Cover with water (at least 1 inch on top of all ingredients). Add chopped cilantro. Cook for a few hours and add water as needed.
After a few hours, add the Mexican beer, spices, rendered brisket fat, and leftover trimmings.
For more information on Heim Barbecue, visit the barbecue joint’s website.
Photography: Robert Strickland, (featured and middle photo) Jason Kindig