Smoked brisket takes hours to prepare, in a pit or smoker. This result is something of a delicacy in Texas. And that has some critics questioning the Subway sandwich chain’s recent Pit-Smoked Brisket Sandwich.
In September, Subway began selling what it calls authentic barbecue flavor, with the debut of its brisket sandwich. The fast food chain claims that one man and his crew are behind each slow-smoked slice of brisket. Pitmaster Ramone is the face of the marketing campaign and supposedly supplies the 24,000 Subway locations with meat used in its product.
Daniel Vaughn is the barbecue editor for Texas Monthly. He investigated the story behind Pitmaster Ramone.
On whether Pitmaster Ramone is fact or fiction:
Pitmaster Ramone does exist. He is a real person. I knew that one of their suppliers was Sadler’s Smokehouse. They are in Henderson, Texas. It’s a huge facility. They put out just hundreds and thousands of pounds of brisket. And I asked Sadler’s and Subway about this and they would neither confirm or deny it.
On who is behind Subway’s huge barbecue advertisement:
I did find an article in the National Provisioner from 2005 that talked about a Ramone Gonzales at Sadler’s Smokehouse. At the time, he had been at Sadler’s for 25 years. So on the poster here it says he’s worked there for 38 years. So… I went out to Henderson and I asked around. I went to two different Subway locations there. His poster is prominently displayed inside. I asked the folks inside if they knew Ramone – they did not. They actually kind of laughed. They did confirm, however, that the brisket does come from Sadler’s. But I did talk to a guy that worked in the area who had coveralls on and I asked him if the famous Pitmaster Ramone, the guy from Subway, worked there. And he looked at me kind of funny and I said you know, Subway. And he said ‘oh Ramone. Yeah, yeah. Ramone works in here,’. So that was sort of my confirmation there.
On why Subway or Sadler’s didn’t want him to meet the real Pitmaster Ramone:
It bugged me because I’m a journalist and I want to talk to these people. But, I’m truly interested in his story…. He’s a real person. He’s worked at Sadler’s for 38 years and most of the pitmasters that I talk to are small batch pitmasters. Even the biggest restaurants out there aren’t cooking anything like what Sadler’s puts out. So I was really interested in his perspective on what it’s like working for a company that’s putting out this much. How do you actually watch a pit that is putting out this many briskets and basically what’s it like to be the guy who’s in like 24,000 locations of Subway across the country?
On how Subway is portraying Pitmaster Ramone:
I talked to a few folks about it, including Toni Tipton Martin. She’s the James Beard Award-winning author for the Jemima Code. Her first outburst about it was that it sounds like a modern-day Aunt Jemima to me. Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, these images that were placed on these big commercial products to help sell them when the idea of who these people were didn’t really matter. Basically it was just these people using people of color for a mascot for their product. And I see this older Hispanic gentleman standing over a firepit with the name Pitmaster Ramone almost like he’s a superhero, not like he’s an actual person.