The Takeaway: Pitmaster Mike Gutierrez of Ay Que Rico Talks Brisket, Barbecues and Life After COVID-19

click to enlarge COURTESY OF AY QUE RICO
Courtesy of Ay Que Rico
Name: Mike Gutierrez
Job/Title: Co-owner and pitmaster of Ay Que Rico food truck
Birthplace: San Antonio
Years in food service: Nine
Little-known fact: Ay Que Rico sponsors a local boxer who does a Thanksgiving food drive each year.
Money quote: “I think the key to smoking [meats] is being able to manage a good fire. I don’t think a lot of people have the time or the patience to do it right.”
How to follow on Instagram: @ayquericosa

Tell us about your background and how you got where you are.
I worked for Bill Miller Bar-B-Q for six years, so I was responsible for cooking the rice, hash browns, you name it. But even before that, I did a lot of barbecuing with friends on Friday nights. My buddy chef Rico Montelongo and I started to try new barbecue spots each week, and one day we decided that we could do it ourselves. Together, we decided to buy a food trailer and get started. Why not jump into something that we love and make a business out of it?

In 2017, we opened Ay Que Rico with simple things like tacos and quesadillas. Everyone loves BBQ, so we started adding it to the menu — brisket quesadillas, mini tacos and the signature brisket grilled cheese. There are other local food trucks that have similar items, but Ay Que Rico’s menu has a fresh feel to it. We make it bigger, crazier and there’s different sauces that you can add on.

What’s the best thing about your job?
The people. The most satisfying thing is to see people drive across town to enjoy our food, laugh and talk, and share photos of their meals. As a food truck, we move around a lot, but we always take the time to make people feel welcome and treat them like friends. I think it comes from having all those backyard barbecues — joking, laughing and sitting with people to ask them how they found out about us. But we always provide them with the best service and best quality food possible.

Talk about how you give back to the community.
We sponsor a local boxer who does a Thanksgiving food drive every year. We also give away a smoked turkey meal to a local family who needs it for Thanksgiving.

What’s your favorite ingredient to cook with and why?
Brisket. It’s a basic part of Texas barbecue. I smoke our briskets from 12 to 14 hours, depending on the size, and go heavy on salt and pepper. I don’t do anything too crazy. I think the key to smoking [meats] is being able to manage a good fire. I don’t think a lot of people have the time or the patience to do it right. My favorite ingredient is brisket, but Rico is the one that brings all the ingredients together and brings them to life.

What do you like to cook for yourself at home?
I love making steak. Every now and then, I get the chance to grill a good steak. I work in real estate as well, so my life is pretty busy. To crack open a cold beer, be outside in some cool weather, and invite friends over for a great steak — that’s what I love to do. It’s very relaxing for me.

What’s next for you in terms of the business?
Right now, business growth is at a standstill because of the coronavirus. All the restaurants and food trucks in San Antonio are feeling it. We have always placed an importance on safety and good hygiene, and the food truck will continue to bring high-quality food and service to our customers.

When this is all over, we would like to open a restaurant and get more creative with the menu. It’s hard for a food truck to roll out newer items at a large volume, but the dream is to find a good little spot to call home, so we can come out with better and creative items that keep people coming back.

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