Barbecue wasn't in Laura Loomis's plan — she didn't really have a set plan — but now it's her life, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She just happened to work at a casual barbecue joint, Two Bros BBQ Market in San Antonio, and thought, why not see where this goes? And now, she’s the sole pitmaster.
Before Loomis found herself at Two Bros, she worked at other restaurants within Two Bros’ parent company, Jason Dady Restaurant Group, as a server when the opportunity for another part-time position at the barbecue spot popped up. “I fell in love with Two Bros — the environment, the guests, the people, the staff.”
“I didn’t know anything about barbecue,” the 29-year-old who moved around a lot when she was young but considers herself a Texan says of the beginning. “I didn’t like to eat barbecue growing up. My parents took us to Bill Miller BBQ — that’s not real barbecue. I didn’t even know what a brisket looked like.”
That all changed when Loomis decided to learn everything she could about working the pits because she wanted to make herself useful: On her first day off from the register, she came in, she cleaned everything, and she kept at it. There was something about the smoked meats that just spoke to her. “Even though I didn’t know what I was doing, that added to the excitement of it.”
Loomis is self-taught: Internet searches, online barbecue forums, books and videos, including Aaron Franklin’s Franklin Barbecue and YouTube series, and just good ol’ experience all helped build her barbecue knowledge/repertoire. “I was just trying to figure out what was good barbecue and what was not,” she says.
A pithand position opened up and she stepped into it: She worked hard in the position for a year and a half before she was made head pitmaster. Not everyone was happy about Loomis’s leadership, though. “People looked at me like, ‘this girl thinks she’s going to run the pits?’” she says. She didn’t care.
“Being a female, especially in this world, makes it tricky because sometimes people don’t take me seriously, or they don’t want to be told what to do by a woman,” she adds. “There were a couple of guys who just didn’t like it, so they ended up moving on.” That didn’t matter because she hired new employees and brought back some old ones, and now it’s a smoothly running ship. “We’re all on the same page. They don’t care that I’m a chick.”
As pitmaster, she implemented new systems and structure. “At the time, there was really no direction out in the pits,” she explains. “Everyone did everything their own way, so it was really inconsistent,” something that should definitely be avoided when it comes to barbecue. She added consistency, which took a lot of trial and error and about two years to perfect.
Another major change she brought to Two Bros: She introduced coolers into their cooking system. Co-owner (and Iron Chef competitor) Jason Dady asked Loomis to figure out how to use the coveted cooling containers to rest briskets. After a whole lot of experimentation, she did.
Loomis sees Dady has her mentor. “He saw something in me years ago that I did not see for myself, and he’s guided me along the way,” she says. “He gave me a chance to be the pitmaster and no one knew if I could do it.” But she’s doing it.
For motivation, she drew strength from the doubters. “Negative feedback, haters — take that energy and use it to prove them wrong, and to silence them. Don’t get disenchanted by it, get motivated by it.” That’s exactly what she did, and look at her now.
“I was out here in the trenches for years, I paid my dues — and I still do,” she says. Loomis earned her pitmaster title, and continues to do so. She can’t even think of a life beyond Two Bros at this point. For now, it’s enough.
Transcribed by Courtney Runn.