Owner of Engine 51 Smokers one of four contestants competing on episode of American Grilled.
It takes time—a lot of it—to be so good.
Barbecue aficionado Tex Rabenau, of Engine 51 Smokers, says it takes him 12 to 14 hours to cook each brisket. And the resulting succulent burnt ends sold at his mobile kitchen—which at times can be found parked at the Station Break Delano gas station in St. James—are phenomenal.
"Brisket is definitely my forte," Rabenau said. "I'm a cowboy not a pig boy."
While it's not uncommon for customers to order several pounds of his barbecued pork, it's the brisket that Rabenau says has been a challenge for him to perfect—and a challenge it's safe to say he has met.
"Brisket is one of the harder meats to cook," he said.
The cut of meat consists of the flat and the point, Rabenau said, both of which come from the front end of the cow, which tends to be muscly, often times resulting in tougher meat.
"If you cook it wrong it's going to be like chewing on shoe leather," he said.
But the right brisket, cooked under the right conditions can be comparable to steak, Rabenau said.
Just like the perfection arrived at from brisket basting in its own juices for hours on end, Rabenau's skill as a barbecue pitmaster also took time.
"I got started when I was really young," he said. "The passion came from watching my momma and grandaddy barbecue. We would always get together for family cookouts."
Rabenau's first grill was fashioned out of a modified three-pound coffee can. He used it to cook hamburgers in the family's driveway.
"It was essentially just a poor-man's bunsen burner," he said. "I was probably 10 or 11 then and it worked out fine until I got hamburger grease on the driveway."
Rabenau is now married and 44-years-old and has a family of his own. He says it was that early influence that led to his well-seasoned approach behind the grill.
"My momma was a great cook and I was blessed to get that trait from her," he said.
While Rabenau moonlights as a pit boss, traveling the country to compete in barbecue contests, it's his full-time job as a firefighter in suburban St. Louis, that keeps him busy.
Naturally he's the fire station cook.
"Working in the fire service, somebody has got to do the cooking," he said. "It can be difficult at times, trying to satisfy the tastes of 10 different people."
In the past both he and his family had found time to travel to barbecue contests across the U.S., picking up winner's hardware along the way.
"We've done well just about everywhere we've gone except Wisconsin," he said. "I guess we don't use enough cheddar."
Those laurels led to an appearance on the Travel Channels competitive cooking show American Grilled.
American Grilled is a cooking series that pits local grill masters against each other in the "ultimate outdoor challenge," with a chance to win $10,000 and bragging rights.
Rabenau is set to appear on the episode titled "Meat Me in St. Louis", where he must use local ingredients, including Provel cheese, to wow judges. The episode is slated to premier 8 p.m. Sept. 10 on Travel Channel. The series is hosted by renowned chef David Guas.
"American Grilled is a very unique show in format," Rabenau said. "Most cooking shows are going to be based in a kitchen, but this show is outdoors. We have to deal with the elements."
And while he can't speak to the outcome of show, he says that those that tune in won't be disappointed.
"All four competitors are really high-caliber cooks," he said. "I'm just trying to represent South Central Missouri as best as I can, and my goal is to make everybody here proud."
While time will only tell if Rabenau will stand the direct heat of American Grilled, it's obvious from a sampling of the fare sold from Engine 51 Smokers that he's master of the range.
"When you are out in the open and you've got the smoke and the smell of the rendering fat dropping down into the hot flames, it's a good smell," Rabenau said. "It makes you feel good."