The Smoke Shack truck couldn't match the years in business of many of its competitors in the Barbecue Madness tournament, and it doesn't even have a permanent location.
But after five rounds of voting, it was the little truck that could.
The Smoke Shack won the tournament, topping Augie's Barbed Wire Smokehouse, 52-48 percent, to take the championship, as decided by reader votes.
“I'm ecstatic about winning,” said Chris Conger, Smoke Shack's owner. “It's huge, especially for a food truck.”
The finals match was tight throughout the voting, with Augie's jumping out to a 55-45 percent lead and then Smoke Shack tying the percentage on Monday evening. Just hours before the noon deadline, Augie's started to pull ahead but Smoke Shack pulled closer and briefly took the lead.
With about half an hour left in the voting, editors here decided to extend the deadline to allow the influx of last-minute votes to have a chance. Then Augie's pulled into a tie and Smoke Shack pulled ahead for good.
Smoke Shack's path to the finals took it past KHill BBQ, Outlaw BarBQ, Two Bros BBQ and then a narrow win over The Barbecue Station.
The key to winning the tournament was the same as making the business work: Hard, consistent effort, whether it was constantly asking people on social media to vote or talking with customers and including little pieces of paper with every order asking people to go online and vote.
“This Barbecue Madness has been huge,” Conger said. “People who have never even heard of us are coming by.”
Augie's, at 3709 N. St. Mary's St., had to make it past an unprecedented overtime matchup, in which it prevailed over Bolner's Meat Market. Before the semifinal pairing, Augie's advanced with wins over Texas Brisket BBQ, Big Lou's Burgers & BBQ and then Heart O' Texas Barbecue.
The tournament began March 23 with 32 barbecue places in eight categories and narrowed quickly after a pair of dual elimination weeks.
Among the upsets, Dickey's Barbecue Pit took down local institution Bill Miller Bar-B-Q in the first round of voting; Harmon's Barbecue overtook Texas Pride Barbecue also in the first round of voting; and in the quarter-finals, Bolner's Meat Market knocked off San Antonio juggernaut Rudy's Country Store and BBQ.
Smoke Shack's path proves even more impressive considering that it's a food truck that parks most often in a parking lot at the intersection of Nacogdoches and Loop 410.
It has been growing steadily in its three years of operation. Part of the reason lies with the way Conger smokes the different meats, over oak with a touch of pecan wood. And the meat has a standard barbecue rub that includes a bit of coffee. Most important, it's the quality, which comes from making everything from scratch.
“We make everything in house, our sauces, our rubs,” Conger said. “You have to keep a consistent product. You gotta be there 24/7 if you want it to run how you want it to go.”
Updated 12:43 pm CDT, Friday, April 5, 2013