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Couple’s dynamite BBQ feeds kids’ college funds

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Related: The story behind this story.

Shalonda McCray jokes with her daughter Ty’Lanna on Sunday while her husband, Zachary, (background, left) serves a customer barbecued chicken at TnTz Smoked BBQ, which the couple operates on U.S. 17 on the weekends to earn money for their children’s college funds. (Photo by Peter Cihelka/The Free Lance-Star)

BY CATHY DYSON

THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Zachary McCray hopes ribs and collard greens will help put his three kids through college.

He and his wife, Shalonda, operate TnTz Smoked BBQ in a field off U.S. 17 near Geico. Every weekend from spring to Thanksgiving, they pull their mobile food truck into the open space beside Cardinal Forest subdivision, set up a tent and tables and start cooking.

The McCrays started their business about four years ago, and it’s in addition to their full-time jobs. He’s an audiovisual engineer at the Pentagon, and she’s a manager at the nearby Target. Both are working every day of the week for a reason.

“I look at it this way, I got three kids,” he said. “I work hard now so they can go to college, and when my wife and I get older, we can travel.”

For their friends who work with them, the barbecue business has helped supplement incomes in a troubled economy. Mike Lynch is a personal care aide, and Elzie Robinson cuts grass on the side. Both have had trouble finding jobs.

Their weekend work at the barbecue stand is long and hot. They start at 6 a.m., lighting the hickory wood and charcoal in the smokers. Then they tend the custom-made grills throughout the day as the unit’s two smokestacks issue an advertisement that travels as far as the wind carries it.

“The smell just sucks you in,” said Holly Roach of Hartwood.

Galvin Coimbre of Stafford stops at the stand whenever he’s doing weekend errands and said the ribs are the best in the area. He admired the way the crew kept at it from dawn to dusk.

TnTz employee Elzie Robinson cuts up a rack of ribs. The crew starts at 6 a.m., lighting the hickory and charcoal in the cookers. (Photo by Peter Cihelka/The Free Lance-Star)

“I’m telling you, they are really hard-working folks,” Coimbre said.

Zachary McCray learned how to recognize various cuts of meat from his father, the late Solomon Green Sr., who was a butcher for more than 50 years in South Carolina.

McCray tried a couple of locations in the Hartwood area before he settled on the field across from Try My Nuts. He hasn’t done any advertising except put out two tall flags that read “Barbecue.”

He’s built up quite the clientele, said his brother, Kelvin McCray Sr. He was recently in the hospital, where a nurse recognized him and told others his brother had the best barbecue around.

“I’m just surprised at how it grew so fast,” said Kelvin McCray.

He said he’s encouraging his son, Kelvin Jr., to follow the example and start his own business, renting inflatable bouncy houses.

Kelvin Sr., who retired after 20 years in the Army and then got another full-time job, said hard work runs in the family.

“That’s what we grew up with,” he said. “You work hard, and it will pay off.”

Customers of the barbecue stand have come to expect the weekend appearances—and get upset when the crew isn’t there.

“Where y’all been for the last two weeks?” asked Wanda Hines of Stafford, who stopped by after church.

Zachary McCray said it was too hot to fire up the grills during recent heat spells. The combined temperature of outside air and grill heat can reach almost 200 degrees, he said.

Hines wasn’t buying it.

“So we all have to suffer because of the heat?” she said, gently chiding them because she had to change Sunday dinner plans when they weren’t there.

Shawn Addo, also of Stafford, said she and her kids usually end up fighting over the smoked collard greens. Because they’re cooked over the hickory wood, they have a flavor unlike any in the state, Zachary McCray said.

Addo, who’s from Georgia, indicated that she knew her greens—and liked what TnTz offered.

“I would say they are a close second to my mom’s,” she said. “They’re the best thing I can get up here.”

Zachary McCray said the group, which includes another worker, Tré Wilson, as well as other friends who stop by, enjoys sitting around and talking between chores.

They also like to hear the horns from vehicles passing by on the busy roadway.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, we don’t know who they are,” Zachary McCray said about all the beeping. “We just wave.”

ABOUT THE BUSINESS

NAME: TnTz Smoked BBQ is named after the three children of Zachary and Shalonda McCray: Tyreke, 15; Ty’Lanna, 8, and Za’Carriah, 4.

SEASONING for the dry rub is a mix of six different spices. The recipe is known only by Zachary and Shalonda McCray.

TASTE: The barbecue has a unique, down-home flavor, said Zachary McCray. It’s not too sweet or spicy, but it has so much flavor the pulled pork doesn’t need sauce.

THE SMOKE that comes out of the two stacks on the grill does more than flavor the meat. “That’s the key advertising there,” said Zachary McCray.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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