Unofficially speaking, Memorial Day marks the start of summer. But on this morning, with the three-day weekend just six days away, summer appears to have not gotten the memo. Instead of azure skies and bright sun, a light drizzle falls from a blanket of gray, soulless clouds as we get in the car and head towards East Texas.
Traffic is agreeable despite the weather, and both the number of cars and the volume of rain taper off as the suburban sprawl becomes a speck in the rearview mirror. An hour and a half slips by, and we bail off of Interstate 30 in Sulphur Springs.
"It really became too much," Slaughter tells us of the early days of the Oasis. "We were just open on Saturdays, but I'd come up Thursday night and start trimming briskets, then get off work Friday to start cooking for Saturday, and I did this for almost two years."
Momentum kept growing, including a mention from Texas Monthly's barbecue editor, Daniel Vaughn, but the long hours forced Slaughter to choose between continuing his day job or running the restaurant. After discussing with his wife, he couldn't bring himself to let the barbecue business go.
"I had worked [for Ben E. Keith] for almost 20 years, so at the time, it was terrifying," Slaughter recalls. "But I love it. Things have gone well for us."
Brisket slices are smoky and succulent, and the peppery turkey breast impressed us right away. Expertly executed ribs had a sweet glaze that made each bite almost dessert-like, and the jalapeño sausage had just the right amount of peppery kick.
What's even more impressive is that the variety of proteins are all smoked on a relatively small oak-fired smoker in a shed behind the trailer, and all the sides are made by Slaughter, his wife Kimberly, and two employees in the tiny trailer.
"We're elbow to elbow in there," Slaughter says. "We're probably going to have to make a decision about more space here soon."
To hear Slaughter tell it, it's not difficult to imagine the need for more space. Despite the rain holding down the foot traffic on the day of our visit, Slaughter tells us he sells out most days he's open.
His barbecue is gaining more notice outside of Sulphur Springs, too. Slaughter's BBQ Oasis had just returned from the Red Dirt BBQ & Music Festival in Tyler, where they cooked alongside some of the biggest names in Texas barbecue. Slaughter tells us they've already been invited back to cook next year. Still, he doesn't take his success for granted.
"We get a good mix of people here from Dallas, and people from Texarkana," Slaughter says. "But you pass two barbecue spots right off the interstate before you get here, so I'm always amazed that people come find us."
With barbecue like this, Slaughter's BBQ Oasis won't be a secret for much longer.
Slaughter's BBQ Oasis, 1000 Gilmer St. (in the Fix & Feed parking lot), Sulphur Springs. Open Wednesday - Saturday, 10 a.m. to sold out.
Road Trip Details
From the Observer's offices in downtown Dallas, Slaughter's BBQ Oasis is a breezy 79-mile jaunt east on I-30 to Sulphur Springs (Exit 124), and the drive should take under ninety minutes if traffic cooperates. If you, like your humble author, start your journey on the north side of Dallas, we suggest taking TX-121 out through McKinney, then picking up US-380 east through Princeton, Farmersville and Greenville for a more scenic drive.
Making A Day Of It
- On the way to Sulphur Springs, the Audie Murphy Museum in Greenville highlights the life of Audie Murphy, one of America's most decorated soldiers in World War II. Murphy was born in Hunt County and grew up around Greenville before lying about his age to join the Army at the start of the war.
- The Southwest Dairy Farmer's Museum celebrates Hopkins County's history of dairy farming and production, which was once the epicenter of dairy farming in Texas. The museum is open Monday through Friday, and kids will love the ice cream at the end of the visit.
- The Celebration Market is a farmer's and artist market that runs in Sulphur Springs' downtown area every Saturday evening from May to September and features a variety of vendors and family activities.