Laura Loomis of Two Bros BBQ Never Thought She’d Be a Pit Hand—Let Alone a Pitmaster
“Just because you know nothing doesn’t mean you can’t learn. I’m proof of that!”
“But just because you know nothing doesn’t mean you can’t learn,” declares Loomis. “I’m proof of that!”
Loomis started waiting tables when she was 18, and was 25 when she began working for Dady at Tre Trattoria, his popular Tuscan-inspired concept. When she heard he was in need of a cashier at Two Bros, his barbecue restaurant, she started picking up some part-time shifts there.
“I fell in love with the place— with the food, the guests, the employees I worked with,” she remembers. “I loved everyone and I loved everything about it, so then I started full-time as a cashier.”
After about eight months, she decided she wanted to learn more about the smoking process so she could help the pit crew as needed.
“I started coming in on my days off and I would shadow," she says. “Actually, my first day they made me clean the pit room and I did it with a smile on my face. It took me six hours that first time, going over everything with a toothbrush, but now I can do it in 45 minutes!”
After several months, a pit hand position opened up and Loomis moved into it.
“I didn’t know what I was doing at first— I had no clue,” says Loomis. “But as I kept at it, I got more curious and wanted to know why things worked the way they did. So I started reading about it and watching videos online. I have a very obsessive personality, so when I get into something, I get really into it.”
Loomis worked as a pit hand for a year and a half when the pitmaster position opened up and Dady invited her to take over. At 28, she became the youngest pitmaster in Texas.
“Honestly, I just saw something in her and felt I needed to push her to do it,” says Dady. “Something told me she was the one…She is a barbecue savant. It’s a god given talent, but what really sets her apart is her relentless work ethic to get it right every single time.”
Loomis, who'd never planned on becoming a pit hand — let alone the pitmaster — took the reins and began building the kind of team she’d always envisioned for Two Bros. She developed a system of resting the meat by incorporating Yeti coolers into the daily routine, a process which took about a year to perfect. She also organized a list of the less desirable barbecue tasks (like cleaning the grates and dumping the grease traps) to make sure the entire team — herself included — shares these responsibilities. (Inspired by It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, she calls this list Charlie Work).
“When I was a pit hand, everyone did things their own way and the pitmaster didn’t care," says Loomis. “That always bothered me. We do everything different now — but we all do it the same way, so that’s the important part.”
Her rise to leadership meant she was now supervising those who’d previously been her equal, and Loomis says a couple of her male teammates quit because they didn’t like her telling them what to do. But Loomis hired and trained replacements, and one of the pit hands who originally trained her even came back to work at Two Bros. when he heard she was now in charge.
“Chef Jason (Dady) always had my back,” says Loomis. “He pretty much let me do whatever I wanted back here, giving me suggestions and letting me figure out the rest. He’s been a great mentor.”
Loomis is petite, yet doesn’t flinch as she hauls open one of brick pits in the smokehouse, flipping briskets as they start to sweat, then opening each barrel smoker to spray water on the fan-favorite cherry glazed baby back ribs.
“He told me in the beginning that barbecue is the easy part and the difference between a good pitmaster and a great pitmaster is all the behind-the-scenes bullshit that you don’t see,” she says. “I remember at the time, as I was sweating my ass off in the pit room, saying, ‘What do you mean the barbecue’s the easy part?’ And sure enough, the bbq is the easy part.”
In addition to supervising a team of pit hands to turn out consistently perfect meat every day, Loomis deals with inventory, invoices and ordering, plus supervises a team of front-of-house staff led by her GM Tori.
“Two little blonde chicks running Two Bros,” Loomis says with a laugh. “We’re the two sisters.”
But if it were up to her, she’d stay outside cooking in the pits all day, even in the triple-digit heat served each summer in Texas. This passion for the craft is what’s earned her accolades like the 2017 Eater Young Guns award, which she accepted in New York last spring.
“I love barbecue because it’s primitive,” says Loomis. “I like that it’s just smoke and fire. We don’t have a timer or a switch to set it and forget it. It’s all up to you to control the heat and the smoke. And to me, that’s unlike any other cooking with ovens and gages. It’s not easy by any means but, once you figure it out, it’s very rewarding.”