Caldwell Country BBQ

Clay Caldwell retired in 2013 after owning Waldo’s BBQ for 20 years, but he discovered that he couldn’t leave the barbecue business behind.

“I sold Waldo’s BBQ to my partner and soon found out I had more time than money,” says Caldwell, now co-owner of Caldwell County BBQ and Caldwell County Mexi-Q, both in Gilbert, with his wife Susan and son and daughter-in-law, Spencer and Alisha Caldwell.

During several trips to Central Texas, Caldwell “stumbled across Aaron Franklin’s BBQ in Downtown Austin,” and not long afterward, Caldwell County BBQ was born.

“My wife and I waited in line for three hours and got a hold of his brisket. I had a come-to-Jesus moment,” he recalls. “It was so outstanding. I said to my wife, ‘I can do this.’ I’ll have to make some changes to the way we thought about BBQ at Waldo’s. We came home and started experimenting and built our own pit.”

He’s now using 1,000-gallon Texas pits, also called stick burners, with a fire on one end.

“We’re using no electricity and no propane but 100% wood for many hours,” Caldwell explains. “We lay down a very nice arc on the brisket and the pork butt. We’re slowing things down with the authenticity of a real fire for a long time.”

Located near Power and Warner roads, the restaurant is inside a house.

“We discovered this old house that was for rent,” Caldwell says. “It belonged to a machine shop next to where my restaurant is now. The gentleman said he’d throw in with me and I could do my BBQ there. Then he backed out. We were able to buy the acre it sits on. We completely gutted the old family home and refurbished it into a restaurant.”

The family-style restaurant features picnic tables outside with a John Deere tractor in front.

He said Waldo’s has a more pork emphasis.

“I was a pig farmer in my first life and brought pork down from the farm in Snowflake in 1993 when we started. I got worn-out with pork so I was glad to make the transition,” he says, noting that Central Texas BBQ is more beef oriented.

“We’re hitting the brisket pretty hard at Caldwell County BBQ,” Caldwell says. “The main thing that elevates it is we’re buying grades of prime brisket, which is the best you can get rather than choice or select.”

Preparation includes a dry rub.

“It’s important to have a good dry rub, but if you’re saucing the meat before you serve it, in BBQ circles, it’s a sign of failure — you’re trying to cover up mistakes.

“If you went to a high-end steakhouse and it came out with steak sauce all over the steak you’d think, ‘What the heck.’ The same with BBQ if it’s done right.”

Caldwell says the first time he investigated Texas BBQ restaurants over 20 years ago, several didn’t have BBQ sauce and one didn’t even offer forks. Everyone ate with their fingers.

But he says since then, there’s been more of a push to have a nice BBQ sauce to accompany the meat.

The menu is basic.

“It’s true to what you see in Central Texas,” Caldwell explains. “We don’t have many sides.”

Sides include lemon poppyseed coleslaw (it’s Caldwell wife’s recipe with citrus zest and lemon juice), corn casserole with green chiles, potato salad and pinto beans.

Meanwhile, Caldwell County Mexi-Q just north of Downtown Gilbert puts a different spin on BBQ.

Again, the idea comes from Central Texas in what Caldwell calls a hybrid mixing of flavors.

“We call it Mexi-Q,” he says. “The new kids on the block are pushing the envelope on these old BBQ ideas.

“We’re taking our slow-cooked authentic brisket and we’re putting it in birrea tacos in a consommé,” Caldwell explains, adding that he has a chef with great family recipes.

“We’re also putting the brisket on tostadas and we have what we call a Texas Twinkie or rather Mexi-Q Twinkie, which is a jalapeno wrapped in bacon with cream cheese in the middle. And we’ve got a burrito with pulled pork. It’s just great flavors.”

A third Caldwell County BBQ restaurant is being built next to the Queen Creek Botanical Gardens near Ellsworth and Riggs roads.

That 10,000-square-foot restaurant will feature a lot of picnic tables, ideal for people with kids. It could be another year before the restaurant opens.

“We’re going to apply the same high standards at Caldwell, keeping our staff cheerful and keeping the food up to standards,” Caldwell says. “BBQ is a little bit of an art, so some days are tougher than others in serving the perfect brisket.”

Caldwell County BBQ

18324 E. Nunneley Road, Gilbert


Caldwell County Mexi-Q

546 N. Gilbert Road, Gilbert