New BBQ-by-mail option puts the ‘convenience’ in Convenience West

MARFA — Local barbecue eatery Convenience West launched a new shipping operation this week, opening their online shop to barbecue fans across the country. Effective immediately, customers in the contiguous United States can order a whole brisket or a bottle of sauce and have it reach their door within 48 hours of shipping.

Mark Scott, the pitmaster and a co-owner of Convenience West, said the pandemic shutdown allowed the team to tackle the challenges of launching an online shop and figuring out the logistics of shipping their frozen briskets. When the restaurant closed down in March of 2020, they began learning the virtual retail ropes to sell their foods locally through online ordering.

It was 2019 when Convenience West first tried long-distance shipping, when a friend requested some barbecue for his wedding and the team obliged. Then, Donald Judd’s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art opened in March of last year, and the restaurant refined their mailing process to feed Judd Foundation guests at a catered dinner. When the restaurant posted an Instagram of their Judd Foundation shipment, “people were pretty interested” in getting their own Marfa-smoked meat deliveries, Scott says.

The site offers the option to purchase a whole brisket, which averages around 5.5 lbs and is shipped frozen, along with instructions for thawing, storing, and reheating the cut of beef.

Since the restaurant’s indoor and outdoor dining options are still closed due to the pandemic, the pared-down staff is slow cooking briskets on a once-a-week basis, meaning brisket orders can be placed all week, but only ship on Tuesdays for now.

At Convenience West, briskets are slow cooked every Thursday night in Marfa. By the next morning, they are cooled in the fridge, vacuum sealed, and frozen for at least a day, in preparation for their journey. Finally, they are packaged for shipment in a box with cold packs, and mailed on Tuesday with a two-day delivery time. “In theory,” Scott says, “it should be just about defrosted when it arrives.”

Shipping perishable food can be tough, but the Convenience West team had an added obstacle in figuring out the logistics: none of them wanted to buy styrofoam boxes, which are not biodegradable. “That’s been the biggest hurdle to clear with this,” Scott says. “It was easy to get a vacuum sealer, easy to smoke briskets, but really getting the shipping material has been a challenge.”

To offer a biodegradable package without sacrificing the quality of the container, the team sourced cardboard boxes, insulated liners and cold packs, all of which are recyclable or compostable.

The cold packs are recyclable plastic which can be reused, or broken down by composting the “gooey inside” and recycling the outside. The insulated liners are paper and #1 recyclable plastic. To Scott, “perfect” would be fully paper-based and compostable, but for now he says the packaging is “a good step in the right direction.”

But the delivered goods inside certainly outshine the packaging. Convenience West briskets are prime, black angus briskets, rubbed with salt and pepper and smoked over oak wood. Scott said their method is to be “nice to them,” adding, “We’re not reinventing the wheel or anything. We don’t try to do too much to it; we let the brisket do the talking.”

While a whole brisket runs $120 plus shipping, Scott said, “We want to keep it accessible to anybody that wants to get their hands on ‘the good good,’” his way of describing the barbecue Convenience West offers. The crew wants to make their food available to a wider audience that might see the price of a whole brisket as a barrier.

For that, Scott says sausage links may be the next step. They are lighter to ship, and the restaurant has offered a variety of sausages on their local menu already. He hopes the restaurant can expand online offerings once they have added some more staff and reopened outdoor dining options at their space.

Orders have already begun this week, and the pitmaster said that as the online sales grow, they envision adding menu items like a mustard barbecue sauce, a hot sauce, spice rubs, different sausage links and maybe even pork ribs.

“There will always be brisket, there will always be sauce, but one week we’ll maybe have more of this, or get excited about something and throw it up there,” he said. “We’ll let people around the world know the standards will always be there, but there might be revolving or weird things as we get excited.”