By Will McClure
For the last few months, Stamford residents may have noticed a new food truck in the area, serving out good, juicy and tender barbeque through its built-in smoker. This food truck is none other than Uncle Punch's BBQ, a new food truck and catering business owned and operated by Stamford resident, former Bulldog and experienced cook Arthur "Punch" Applin. After many years of wanting to own his own restaurant, but not having the funds available to open one, Applin came across a half-built trailer that had the potential to become a food truck. With little hesitation, Applin purchased the trailer last year and, after working to get it ready to serve food as well as spending an ample amount of time getting all of his certificates and licenses to be able to serve food out of the renovated trailer, Uncle Punch was able to open his window in time for the Texas Cowboy Reunion this past July. In the middle of serving hungry residents on a warm Saturday afternoon, Applin was able to take a few minutes to talk about his career in barbeque and his future plans for his new business.
Before acquiring his food truck a year ago, Applin previously spent the last 30 years as a cook at the Cliff House in Stamford, as well as working with his father at Applin Brothers Barbeque in Stamford and Sam's Barbeque in Midland-Odessa with his uncles and cousins, bringing many years of experience working with barbeque and, as he states, "learning from the best." Even before obtaining his many years of experience, Applin said that cooking and barbeque is in his blood, stating that his mother also worked in restaurants and helped Applin become the cook he is today, telling him that if something is done, it must be done right. When asked what the most difficult part of getting the food truck ready to open for business, that same philosophy of getting things done the right way still resonated.
When Applin purchased the trailer a year ago, he had to do quite a bit of work on the inside as well as build the siding to make sure the smoker was enclosed and put in windows as while the trailer was mobile, it was not fit to cook in its former state. However, even with the trailer taking shape, Applin said that it took a good six months to be prepared to finally open the windows.
"If you want to be legal and want to do it right, it's not a joke," Applin said. "You have all kinds of schooling to go through and all kinds of certificates to get...I didn't want to go into it and be illegal. I wanted to be legal so if someone came up to me and says 'Well, you're doing this' I can say that I have all of my plaques and certificates showing that I have done everything right."
With his primary goal of opening before the start of the Texas Cowboy Reunion this year, Applin worked diligently to have all of his certificates in order as well as the trailer ready to put out food, having everything ready just in time for the start of the annual rodeo. He was able to set up his truck in the VFW parking lot across from the rodeo grounds and, despite little advertising, was able to see a good turnout over the first few days as well as have the opportunity to cater one night of the TCR. Applin said that a lot of people already knew about his cooking when he first opened for business, allowing his reputation to speak for itself as he began to serve hungry rodeo goers.
When asked about the name of his truck, which is also his own nickname, Applin said that he had the nickname of "Punch" since he was a child and that "Uncle Punch" did not come to be until he was working for Stamford ISD in 1980. He stated that Betty Murphy gave him the name because when he worked for the school as a custodian and had a few nieces and nephews going to school there at the same time. They, along with their friends, would talk with him and call him "Uncle Punch" all of the time, leading to Murphy and the rest of the school to start calling him "Uncle Punch" as well.
Over the last couple of months, business has slowed down for Uncle Punch's BBQ mostly in part due to the heat, but Applin has been able to keep customers happy with weekly specials when he is open on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays with him and his niece working to put out the best product. And with having the responsibility of doing things the right way, the process of giving the barbeque its tender and moist flavor begins the day before he opens the window.
"I smoke my briskets for 15 hours. I put them on at about 2:00 one day and take them off the next day when we are getting ready to open. I let them smoke really well and it's the longest thing that I have to cook," Applin said. When smoking the brisket, Applin said that he only uses mesquite wood to help bring out the flavor of the meat. He also said that a popular item on the menu is his sausage, which he makes himself to serve.
While he would like to travel to more festivals and expand his area to bring his trailer, Applin said that one of the biggest challenges in the business was being able to move the trailer around due to its weight, stating that he can only really move within 50 miles and still be able to set up. However, even though he can only go so far with the rig, Applin can still offer catering services when he can bring just the food, but for the daily work, it would be out of the truck itself.
Offering an affordable $5 lunch and prices that he tries to make affordable for people to not have to spend much for a good meal, Uncle Punch's BBQ has been quite popular since it opened last July, continuing to put out good food that puts smiles on people's faces. Along with his food truck, anyone wishing to have him cater can contact Punch at 940-207-0328. So, if you are driving through Stamford and see his truck, be sure to stop in and get finger-licking barbeque, a warm smile and friendly service from Uncle Punch.