Trent Sexton retired his hammer and replaced it with tongs last fall, much to the benefit of the Sarasota barbecue scene. Sexton, owner and operator of Solid Slab BBQ, worked as a carpenter his whole adult life but started cooking barbecue 12 years ago. He catered a wedding six years later and began taking his culinary aspirations more seriously. The grind of carpentry eventually made the barbecue life too appealing to pass.
“I got sick of dealing with home owners,” Sexton says. “I was like, ‘I’ve done this for 25 years. I’ve had enough. I’m going to go try out my barbecue.’”
Sexton began smoking meats with an old cement mixer converted to a makeshift grill and smoker by his in-laws. “It was kind of cool when we pulled it out and people realized what it was,” Sexton says.
The general response was something along the lines of, “Are you cooking food in there?”
Sexton has come a long way from his days of barbecuing with construction equipment. He regards his time using the cement mixer as an amateur operation and has upgraded to a 250-gallon Meadow Creek reverse flow smoker, which he says creates a much better flavor in his meats.
All Solid Slab BBQ equipment is loaded into Sexton’s recently purchased concessions trailer and hauled to wherever he's setting up that day. This allows him to stay mobile and, unlike a true food truck, stay open if there is a problem with his truck’s engine. The concessions trailer is better in the elements than the old work trailer Sexton used previously.
“As soon as we got it and were in it, it started raining every day,” Sexton says. “We got really lucky for the six months that we didn’t have it. We got sprinkled on once.”
Solid Slab BBQ sets up on Friday and Saturday afternoons outside South Shore Community Church. Sexton also coordinates with local breweries to set up on Friday and Saturday nights. Locals looking to try out this travelling barbecue show should check the Facebook page for location updates.
Sexton can’t train employees because he doesn’t have a physical restaurant, which means he does the shopping, prepping, cooking and cleaning himself. His wife Alisha helps, too. “She reminds me a lot of what I need to be doing," he says. "She helps me with my checklist and making sure I have all the ingredients."
Solid Slab BBQ serves ribs, brisket, salmon, pork, chicken and chicken wings year-round. The sides are scratch-made and seasonal, which allows Sexton to use local ingredients. “My main thing with barbecue is, it’s [the] sides that really impress me,” Sexton says. “A lot of people will say, ‘Hey, I have homemade sides!’ And then you go, ‘No, I’ve tasted this before. It came out of a can from Sam’s.’”
Summertime features a side that isn’t on the menu: watermelon. Sexton gives watermelon away to little kids because he knows they might not like barbecue, but still want something to eat. Making a few kids happy for free won’t destroy Solid Slab BBQ, Sexton says, and anyway, he isn’t in this business to make a “magillion” dollars.
Solid Slab BBQ also offers catering. Sexton doesn’t have much overhead and quitting carpentry freed up more of his time, allowing him to cater an event regardless of the number of people.
“I don’t care if it’s two people or 2,000 people,” Sexton says. “If you’re hungry, I’ll cook for you.”