The Smoked
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The Smoked

Dec 03, 2023

Sam Palomarez has two birthdays. "One in August and October," he told me as we sat outside Dozier's BBQ, in Fulshear, just west of Houston. His son, Sammy, explained that the family had always celebrated Sam's birthday on October 10, but when Sam tried to get his Social Security a decade ago, the state records indicated his birthday was two months earlier. But perhaps a more significant milestone is the day in 1965 when—at around fifteen years old—Sam left home to work at Ed Dozier Jr.'s meat market. He's been making the sausage there ever since.

Dozier was born in 1917 in Terlingua, where his dad manned a store in the tiny West Texas border town. After Dozier graduated from high school in Alpine, the family moved to Fulshear. Dozier and his father ran Edd's Cafe in Brookshire, about eight miles north of Fulshear, for a couple years before Dozier moved on to manage Dozier Farm Equipment Co. In 1957 he went into the meat business, buying a butcher shop called Kennelly's Grocery in Fulshear. He renamed it Dozier's Grocery & Market and quickly became known for his smoked sausages, barbecue, and pecan-smoked bacon.

Sam walked into Dozier's Market in 1965 and asked Dozier if he needed any work done. His first job was to keep the coolers filled with ice and drinks. Before long he was helping with the sausage. "I made it with a crank machine," Sam said as he mimicked the hand-cranking motion of an old meat grinder. Nowadays Dozier's has a big electric grinder. Every Thursday and Friday, Sam and Sammy work together to make the thirteen varieties of smoked sausage available in the meat case every day.

Dozier's is a throwback to old-school meat market barbecue joints. The refrigerated case is front and center, and it's lined with raw meats, sausages, jerky, beef sticks, and bacon. The barbecue is served from another counter and features a rotating variety of smoked sausages. Sam, who's been known as "Big Sam" since Sammy starting working with him in 1999, makes them all in two days. Dozier's also employs Sam's daughter, Maryann, and Sammy's daughter Samantha sometimes works the cutting block at the barbecue counter.

I visited on a Thursday, when Dozier's seasons and grinds all the sausage for the week. Gray plastic tubs filled with chunks of beef (brisket trimmings), pork (boneless pork butt), venison, and combinations of the proteins are labeled with the varieties they’ll become. The meats are already weighed, so Sammy knows just how much seasoning mix to make for each batch. He blends salt, pepper, sage, garlic, and a host of other ingredients together in small paper bags you’d use to pack a school lunch and labels them in black marker.

When Sam pulls the tub labeled "Hot Link" from the rack to dump it into the grinder, he grabs the corresponding seasoning bag to sprinkle over the meat before grinding it. The ground meat goes back into the cooler to marinate overnight in the dry ingredients. The following day Sam and Sammy grind the meat once more, into a finer texture, then stuff and smoke the sausages. An average week requires between 850 and 1,000 pounds of sausage, and at least double that during deer season.

The German sausage is one of Dozier's original recipes and is always on the barbecue menu. The second sausage option rotates between some old and new creations. Sam, who is a man of few words, says the old recipes haven't changed, besides brisket trimmings now being used in the beef sausages instead of ground chuck. They sometimes let newer hire Fletcher "Fletch" Sheridan create some experimental options, like the recent chicken, bacon, and gouda sausage. His smoked ham–and–cheese sausage was the special last week. I got to try it, along with nine other sausages pitmaster Jim Buchanan prepared for my visit in a smoker named Big Sam.

Mustard seeds and garlic are prominent in the German sausage, which starts with a mix of beef and pork. I loved the green onion sausage and the clean flavor of the jalapeño sausage without cheese. The ham-and-cheese sausage was spectacular, but Sheridan admitted the chicken-bacon-gouda was still a work in progress. Trying all these sausages together, I noticed just how consistent they were when it came to juiciness, snap of the casing, and the semi-coarse grind. The beef flavors were bold compared to the flavor of the more mild pork links, while the venison-and-pork mix proved more aggressive.

I enjoyed my bevy of sausages while talking with Sam, Sammy, and Buchanan. I asked Sam if he had a favorite. "I eat it once in a while," he said of the sausages. "I’ve been around it too long." He would rather eat the pork ribs. I asked him about Dozier, who passed away in 1992. "He was real nice," Sam said. "He helped everybody, and treated everybody right." In fact, when Sam started working with him, Dozier arranged for a room for Sam to stay in at his parents’ house so Sam wouldn't have to make the long walk to the market from his home. Sam said Dozier's ghost visits the pit room. "We used to hear some stuff back there," he said. "Somebody moving something around, or something falling."

Sam has had a remarkable career that spans six decades and is twice as long as Dozier's tenure (he sold the market in 1985). Sam was there when the team served Farrah Fawcett and when they shipped bacon to the White House at the request of President George H. W. Bush. Sam was also at the Simonton Round Up rodeo arena, about six miles west of Fulshear, in 1979 when Chinese vice premier Deng Xiaoping took in some roping and barbecue. Dozier told an AP reporter, "We’ve been cooking for three days getting ready for this." The restaurant brought 1,500 pounds of beef, 900 pounds of pork ribs, 300 pounds of sausage, 700 pounds of potato salad, and eighty gallons of beans. "And if that's not enough, we’ve got more in reserve," Dozier said.

Sammy recalled another story his dad had shared with him several times. Sam nodded along as Sammy retold it. "Back in the sixties, there was a rumor going around that there was some kind of wolf man in Fulshear," he said. "A lot of people gathered up in their trucks hunting this wolf man." The sheriff's department in Fort Bend County heard the wolf man had been captured and was hanging in Dozier's cooler. "Fort Bend showed up and asked to see inside the cooler to see if the wolf man was hanging there," Sammy said. Dozier opened it up for them, and the story came to its anticlimactic end when there was no wolf man to be found.

Sammy, who turns 41 this weekend, remembered Fulshear seeming isolated when he was a kid and the family didn't have a car. "Fulshear was one lane in and one lane out all the way down to Highway Six," Sammy said. "We grew up with no stores here." Dozier's became his hangout, and eventually his job.

Dedicating one's entire working life to a single business is unusual today, which is why Sam Palomarez is so remarkable. The fact that he has made sausage and cut beef for the meat case for 58 years without any significant scars and all his digits intact is just as amazing. Sammy's not sure if he’ll last as long as his dad. "The hardest part is trying to keep up with him," Sammy said with a laugh. Sam said he knows retirement is around the corner, but he's doing fine right now with two days a week. Buchanan said he cannot imagine the place without Big Sam. "We’ll put you on a stool up front to greet people," Buchanan told Sam. "That sounds like a good deal," Sam replied.