McMillan’s Bar-B-Q & Catering hasn’t had too many customers over the past 17 years complain about the food. But McMillan, 67, still values his customers’ opinions and has learned not to commit the mistake of cooking according to his own tastes.
“If you try my barbecue and you say there is a part of it you didn’t like, I’ll ask you how you want it. It’s like I’m your architect,” McMillan said. “I learn my customers and I learn how to become a gourmet cook for them.”
McMillan’s philosophy has worked to have his restaurant ranked among the Top 50 barbecue joints in the world by Texas Monthly three times in the past 10 years.
Every five years, Texas Monthly dispatches its food editor and other food experts to barbecue joints across the state to compile its Top 50 list. McMillan’s made the list for the first time in 2003 and again in 2008. The Fannin eatery was one of 18 restaurants in the 2008 list to repeat this year. The Top 50 list was published in the May 23 edition.
McMillan, who has been in the barbecue business in Fannin since 1974, caters to businesses and events from Houston to San Antonio to Austin to Corpus Christi. He also gets business from hunters who order food to take to their leases.
In 2008, McMillan was invited to cook during a 10-day event at the National Mall and Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
“About a million people came through that show and 75 percent of them probably got a barbecue sandwich or a barbecue plate.”
McMillan cooks with three types of wood - pecan, live oak and mesquite. He offered samples of his brisket, sausage, potato salad and pinto beans.
The brisket, cut in half-inch slices, was tender and didn’t require any sauce. The sausage was moist and seasoned nicely. As I ate the sausage, I couldn’t help but keep going back to the brisket. McMillan provided me enough samples to take home and my 21- and 20-year-old daughters agreed that it was some of the best brisket we had ever eaten.
“Brisket is the most difficult piece of meat to cook,” McMillan said. “The key thing is taste. I don’t care how it looks. If it doesn’t taste good, it’s not good.”
McMillan’s also offer two types of barbecue ribs.
“I use the baby back, which is No. 1 and I use the St. Louis ribs, which are a little bit meatier,” McMillan said.
The potato salad was sweetened by the pickle relish, but not too much to dominate the other ingredients - pimento, pickles, mustard and mayonnaise.
Penny Ramirez prepares the potato salad for McMillan and also presents the food for the catering events.
McMillan, a native of Westhoff in DeWitt County, served with the Army in the Vietnam War before attending Prairie View A&M College.
“My major was political science, but I went into food services and I loved it,” McMillan said. “It’s an art.”
McMillan holds barbecue-cooking classes some Saturdays during the year along with working 16 to 17 hours a day, seven days a week at the restaurant.
“Barbecuing is a process,” McMillan. “First you buy the meat, then you prepare it. Then comes cooking. The final process is tasting and if it doesn’t good, you’ve failed the process.”
Along with cooking to his customers’ tastes, McMillan does have another rule.
“If a guy comes in here and he’s hungry and he doesn’t have the resources to pay for a meal, I’ll never let him leave here hungry,” McMillan said.
McMillan said he is considering stepping away from the pit.
“I’m going to ease up a little bit, probably the next year,” McMillan said. “I’ve paid my dues to the craft. I’ve learned my clientele. It’s time to let the young men come on and cook. I’ve seen dads bring their sons in here and now I’m seeing the sons bring their kids in here.”