Smoke Crafters in Mission, McAllen driving business with personal touch, creative meats

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Jaime Elizondo, owner of Smoke Crafters BBQ & Beer Garden, cuts into a piece of smoked brisket Thursday, June 22, 2023, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

MISSION — Smoke Crafters BBQ is more than just great barbecue. It’s an experience.

That entire experience is carefully and painstakingly curated by owners Jaime Elizondo and his wife Maria Elena DeLeon; from the buttery brisket to the caliche-covered walkway, and everything in between.

Even more so, there is a particular emphasis placed on the customer service, which is next to none.

“I’m here because I want to give something to my customers,” Elizondo said. “I’m not here to, you know, take advantage of anybody or make money off of anybody. I really care about the customer experience.”

Like most great barbecue stories, Smoke Crafters’ story began in a backyard with wood and fire.

“It was a hobby for sure,” Elizondo recalled. “Growing up we always barbecued and grilled and stuff, my brothers and I. When I got really into the technical part of it, like understanding what’s really going on with the meat and all of that, that was more of a hobby.”

As that hobby continued to grow, Elizondo and his wife continued to perfect their recipes. Eventually, they felt it was time to share their food with the world.

They held their first pop-up event in 2018, which was a huge success.

“We had an amazing turnout,” he recalled. “We sold out of food in two hours that day. We were at a brewery and they actually ran out of beer while we were there, so they were really excited to have us back.”

With more successful pop up events, there came the need for a food truck. Up to this point, they had been using a few warmers for the meat and a small griddle for hamburger buns.

A slice of juicy brisket is displayed Thursday, June 22, 2023, at Smoke Crafters BBQ & Beer Garden in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

As the business started to take off, there was also the question of balancing their time. Both Elizondo and his wife had full-time jobs; he was a registered nurse, and his wife worked at South Texas College.

He now focuses more of his attention to Smoke Crafters while continuing to work part time in nursing. He is able to rely on his workers, including pitmaster Fernando Valles, known affectionately as Tank.

Valles served in the U.S. Army for 10 years, and is currently going on seven years in the Army Reserves. He has worked at Smoke Crafters for 11 months.

“​​I love it. I enjoy it,” Valles said. “Since day one, you know, I got to learn a lot about barbecue. My whole life I’d only smoked two briskets, and then Jaime here showed me the way.”

He said that he is preparing for one last deployment with the Army Reserves, but he expects to return soon after and devote his time to smoking meats with his barbecue family.

“It’s definitely a labor of love,” Elizondo said. “Barbecue is not easy, you know. Anyone that goes into barbecue thinking that they’re gonna get to relax and have days off and make a ton of money, they’re not going to last very long.”

Since its inception, Smoke Crafters has expanded to two locations, including a food truck in the parking lot of Kickin Axes in McAllen.

An indoor dining area is constructed from a shipping container at Smoke Crafters BBQ & Beer Garden on Thursday, June 22, 2023, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

It was outside of that location off of 10th Street that a photo was taken and shared on Smoke Crafter’s social media accounts showing Elizondo holding a sign and trying to attract customers to the new location.

“Business is very slow, I’ve bought ads, posted on every social media platform, walked to nearby businesses to introduce myself, and even bought lit signs to get attention; I’ve done it all,” the post read.

The post garnered a lot of attention online, and Elizondo said that the community showed up in the following days — resulting in that location selling out completely.

“You know, people are good,” he said. “They want to help. They just don’t know. You know, they don’t know the situation.”

Smoke Crafters BBQ in Mission is open Wednesday through Friday from 5 to 9 p.m., and Saturday from 1 to 9 p.m. The McAllen location is open Wednesday through Friday from 5 to 9 p.m., and Saturday from 3 to 9 p.m.