Their venue: Tucson meat-lovers. Their vehicle: an old rusty truck. Their business: barbecue.
With their Rusty Truck Barbecue food truck, Jake and Amy Walker are making a splash—or rather, a plume—throughout the Tucson community, bringing their popular home-bottled barbecue sauces, meat-flavoring knowledge, and old rusty smoker to home gatherings, tailgate parties, and any place where folks love food with a fiery flavor.
From high school, barbecue was just something Jake Walker always did. “I cooked for friends and for parties,” he said. (Jake owned a barbecue restaurant while in college). “I especially enjoyed smoking meats and sauces. People asked me to cook, and I enjoyed doing it.”
Jake met Amy, a Tucson native, while in college in Kansas. Six years ago the husband-and-wife team relocated to the Southwest with their skill with barbecue sauces and their passion for sharing good fun and smoked food.
The couple now offers two types of catering. They will smoke meats and deliver finished goods, or offer their more popular option: “We drive the smoker to the house or party location and cook and serve on site. People really enjoy that because they can see how it’s done and ask questions,” Walker said. The Walkers love interacting with their clients, encouraging experimentation and sharing ideas.
But their smoker? “It’s a big, rusted water tank we found,” Walker said.
Walker built the smoker so that they could pull it behind their truck, primarily for tailgate season. The old water tank billowing crispy-scented clouds across the University of Arizona mall captured attention and soon became iconic, inspiring the Walkers’ brand.
And whether because of the skill of the two chefs, flavorful foods, community-based nature of the endeavor, or sheer innovation and inherent character of the old smoker, Rusty Truck Barbecue exploded in popularity. Their hats and T-shirts sell almost as well as the barbecue sauces, Walker said.
The pair gathers with friends and fans of the rusted smoker—known collectively as “rusty truckers” —for what they call Rusty Truck Jam Sessions. “Everybody will bring meats, apple pies, fish, mac and cheese, all kinds of things. We’ve smoked brownies, cookies, anything you can imagine. Some are huge successes and some are failures,” Walker said. “The successes we take on to our catering events. The failures we just pretend didn’t happen.”
“We’re always experimenting with flavors, meats, and recipes to try to create the barbecue of the Southwest,” Walker said. “Looking for that Southwest flare.”
Their favorite aspect of Tucson? “Gotta be the weather,” Walker said. “At the end of the day, you can’t beat the weather for outdoor cooking.”
Keep an eye out for their soon-to-be-launched website—and look for the plume of sweet-smelling smoke, emanating from the rusty truck into the Southwest skies. ✜
Shelley Littin is a science journalist and anthropologist. She spends her free time running unreasonable distances in beautiful places.