Nine on the Line: David Martin of Red Desert BBQ & Catering

Red Desert BBQ & Catering owner and pitmaster David Martin worked his way from Long John Silver’s to the five-diamond (now-closed) Mary Elaine’s at The Phoenician.

Born in Joliet, Illinois, Martin moved to Tucson in 1978. With a bachelor’s degree from the now-closed Scottsdale Culinary Institute, Martin’s 20 years of barbecue experience began as a backyard hobby, but eating at the now-closed Bobby Dean’s Hickory BBQ food truck inspired him to open his own food truck.

After working in mining for eight years to pay off student loans, Martin took the leap and purchased a food truck in 2015. In November, Martin took the next big step to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

1) What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective of food?

Seafood risotto. Love the creaminess of the risotto with lobster and scallops.

2) What are you eating these days?

A lot of french fries from work. I prefer Whataburger in a pinch.

3) What was the first dish you remember cooking?

Scrambled eggs. Having friends spending the night at age 12 and putting every spice in the cupboard and seeing who could eat more of it.

Brisket, Loaded Tots, and Ribs at Red Desert BBQ (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Brisket, Loaded Tots, and Ribs at Red Desert BBQ (Credit: Jackie Tran)

4) What concept, ingredient, or food trend are you experimenting with these days?

I’ve been thinking about sous vide and how I might apply it in barbecue a lot. That and cheese — I have cheese on the brain lately.

5) Who would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?

Ferran Adrià or chef of the century Joël Robuchon.

6) What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?

I don’t have time to travel much but love food from the south. Want to visit New Orleans and eat my way around town.

7) Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?

Double Meat Whataburger and fries with their ketchup. Love that combination

8) Which three Tucson restaurants do you frequent the most, aside from your own?

The Parish for the Drunken Angel, Charro Steak for the New York strip steak, and Pappy’s Diner for breakfast.

9) With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?

My mom’s steak and rice. Simple flat steak sliced and cooked in mushroom gravy and then poured over a bed of rice and heated a few minutes in the oven. That or a giant plate of scalloped potatoes from my mom. Comfort food as my last meal.

Catch David Martin at Red Desert BBQ & Catering at 918 W. Prince Rd. Operating hours are 10:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. or until the food runs out Monday – Saturday. Keep up with Red Desert BBQ on Facebook.

Jackie is a food writer and photographer native to Tucson. He loves corgis and still thinks rickrolling is funny. If you'd like to stalk him, visit and his Instagram @jackie_tran_.