The first time I saw Mad Jack’s Mountaintop BBQ, I stuck my nose in the air and just drove. on. by. New Mexican BBQ? Yeah, no: not when you live in the center of the BBQ multi-verse in Texas. But then, about a year later, Denise Gamino published an article in the Austin American- Statesman about James “Mad Jack” Jackson, and I quickly realized the error of my ways.
Turns out Mad Jack is from Lockhart, Texas, the center of the center of Texas BBQ, and he earned his Mad from opening up a BBQ trailer in Lockhart. “You’d have to be crazy to open a BBQ place in Lockhart,” his friends told him. While he was trying to move to brick-n-mortar in Lockhart, his daddy died and left him and his brother some substantial dough locked away in the trunk of a rusting ’71 Mercury. Jack decided to pull up his boots and move to Cloudcroft to open up a BBQ joint.
On our next visit to Cloudcroft, we stopped in. Word was already starting to get out about Mad Jack’s, so we had to navigate a one-hour line before ordering. Jack himself, when he’s not in transit to or from Lockhart for provisions, knifes the meats after you order them.
“Mad Jack,” I said as I reached the head of the line, “I owe you an apology.” I explained how I had poo-poo’d his joint but, after reading about it in the Austin paper, realized I had been, perhaps, too harsh. “I’m here to try your que.” “You’re from Austin?” he asked. “Then you will know what this is and appreciate it.” He gave me a burnt end. And then another one. And another. And then, after sitting down, another two. “Folks around here don’t know what these are.” Oddly, at that time, the locals weren’t much into brisket. But that has all changed. The lines for Mad Jack’s now approach Franklin levels.
Jack works to keep his joint authentic. The brisket is just as good as Central Texas’ best (he uses the same brisket supplier as Aaron Franklin, which Franklin has a lock on for Texas). His post oak comes from central Texas, his sausages source from Kreuz Market, his buns are baked by the Sweet Mesquite Bakery in Houston, and long-neck Big Reds are available for the pickin’. Folks drive in from the Holloman Air Force Base in the Tularosa Basin that Cloudcroft perches over from 9,000 feet. Folks drive in 108 miles from El Paso for lunch.
Although saddled with bordering-on-obsessive attention to recreating the Central Texas BBQ experience, Mad Jack has appropriately fused some local cuisine, namely green chile, into some of his menu items, including the Chile the Kid Sandwich (up top there) and their brisket green chile stew (served with a warm tortilla). Now if he could only get Kreuz to sub chile for jalapeno in that sausage, we’d be in New Mexican BBQ heaven!
web&where: interwebs; 105 james canyon highway, cloudcroft, new mexico; (575) 682-7577
what’s the deal? first rate Central Texas style BBQ at 9,000 feet; counter service [expect a 1 to 2 hour wait]
overall: **** (food****; drink***; atmosphere***; service****; instagrammability***)
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best] each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)
each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)