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May 23, 2007 11:57 AM

Truth in Advertising? Rudy’s Barbecue Is (Practically) the Worst

On the Uncle Billy’s thread, rudeboy recently brought up some questions about Rudy’s ( ):

“Does anyone know the exact preparation method for pork ribs and/or brisket at Rudy's? Anybody used to work there? Do they cook with electric and then warm in those smokers where you order? I can't taste any depth of flavor at Rudy's, just the facade. They have a good gig, though...wish that I owned a Rudy's.”

Their marketing ( ) claims that “Rudy's is a meat market that sells cooked meats. Our pits are 100% wood fired with oak, a slower burning wood as opposed to mesquite. Our meats are cooked in a dry spice, not in our ‘Sause’ (we use it on the side).” They don’t actually state if the meats are cooked by any other methods as well, such as parboiling.

Anyone from behind the scenes care to share his or her perspective?

Full disclosure: Every time I see one of these franchises, I think to myself, “Die Rudy’s! Die!!!” Their brisket is soft, for what that’s worth, but it tastes like pot roast to me. In other words, the meat seems more steamed or “boiled” (to use Shan’s phrase about Billy’s ‘cue) than smoked. And I’m not a fan of Rudy’s tasteless sausage, packaged-lunch-meat-like smoked turkey, or even the much-hyped creamed corn. In my opinion, there are better options in town—and much better options out of town.

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  1. Well, I stopped in at Rudy's 360 location a few weeks ago, planning to try them out. Apparently you order by weight, since when I tried to ask for a sandwich, the guy behind the counter blew a whistle, yelled 'Newbie', and all the servers jumped up and down and sang a little song, like something out of Sesame Street. I wanted no part in this, and retraced my steps to the parking lot, so I never did get to try their food.

    Sigh. I guess if I want good 'Q' I'll have to keep driving out to Llano.

    1 Reply
    1. re: TAF

      Thanks, TAF, for warning the uninitiated among us of this deplorable "Newbie Song." I am in shock. I have never been to a Rudy's, as chain Q is a bit of a turn off for me, and now I never shall go. Why do establishments ever think that customers want to be embarassed and have attention called to them while they're trying to dine? I am so puzzled by that. What is the purpose? *shudder* Did they have any reaction or try to get you to stay when you said you were leaving? I'm wonderiing if they cared or even noticed that they made a customer feel uncomfortable.

    2. Rudy's certainly isn't really the worst barbeque I've ever eaten. I do avoid the sausage - I don't know where they get it, but it's always too soft, and it is tasteless. It also usually has more gristle in it than I like.

      However, I really like the extra lean brisket. Its great for sandwiches or just for eating straight. I usually put nothing on it but maybe a pinch of salt; the char on the edges gives it quite a nice pit flavor. I'm pretty sure the extra lean isn't been boiled or steamed or anything like that; I don't see how it could be that firm if it were.

      And I actually enjoy the turkey. Most turkey is too bland for my liking but their stuff has a good smoky flavor, however it's cooked.

      1. I am no BBQ expert (I hail from New York, and I ain't gonna pretend) but I'd put Rudy's (on 183) amongst my favorites in town (with the exception of Salt Lick, I have not had ANY barbeque in Texas outside of Austin, so take my review for what it's worth).

        The best item on their menu is their St. Louis Baby Back Ribs. I think the seasoning is delicious. In rib territory, I'd place them just behind Artz. And while I tend to shy away from BBQ sauce in general, I enjoy theirs. I'm into the jalapeno sausage as well, but maybe jalapenos are good in general for covering up mediocre sausage? Whatever the case, I dig it.

        I can't blame anybody for staying away as a result of the obnoxious / hokey attitude the restaurants project, but I've mostly gone there with big groups (out-of-town co-workers and such) and the order-by-weight style (and subsequent food-gorging) and the big picnic tables are pretty good for those occasions.

        Oh, and quality banana pudding.

        I do prefer Artz for baby back and beef ribs, and Manns for sausage, and Whole Foods for brisket, and Ruby's for the chopped beef sandwich. My take on BBQ in Austin is that there is no one place that nails everything. Every place has their highs and lows.

        1. Was this your first visit to Rudy's? How many times have you been?

          My office gets this stuff catered in pretty frequently (at least once a month, and I've been here for five years), so I've had an opportunity to gauge their offerings over time and location (we used to be near the 183 / North Rudy's location, now we're near the Cap Texas / South location).

          The bbq is usually mediocre, although sometimes you can get an especially good crop of extra lean brisket that surpasses many other local restaurants' briskets (I'm looking at you, Green Mesquite, Ruby's, Vic's, Bill Miller, Salt Lick). It'll have a better, smokier flavor, and an especially tasty-but-not-too-dense coating or bark, making the extra lean edge pieces especially tasty.

          Their fatty brisket is completely horrible. If you ate this because normally fatty is better (fat absorbs delicious smoke flavor), you got clowned by Rudy's, and I feel bad for you.

          The turkey is usually too bland to be interesting, but you can get a piping hot slice that absorbed enough smoke from time to time. The jalapeno sausage is boring. If they have pork ribs, beef ribs, or smoked chickens, our company has never ordered 'em.

          It is a far cry from Cooper's or the Magical BBQ Trinity; it also doesn't hold a cancle to Ben's Longbranch, House Park, or Sam's. But I'll take it over Bill Miller (for example) any day.

          6 Replies
          1. re: tom in austin

            The original in Helotes was (is?) good, and it was actually a gas station with BBQ in the back. I think 'chaining' BBQ is never a good idea.

            1. re: Torckus

              Probably so.....and "chaining" BBQ certainly may not be a good idea, unless you are making the $. And they definitely are.

              I think that the loud, obnoxious serving is part of what delivers the "mystique" to most of their patron. If you've gone their once, you are "in the know" and can get a chuckle out of the newbie trying to order a sandwich.

              I've seen similar snobbishness at some of the "real" BBQ places, where they sneer at people trying to figure out how the hell to order. You are supposed to take one bite of the char from the pit bawse, nod your head silently in agreement, and they say how many pounds you want to order, stepping to the left. Mueller's on Manor was sort of like that. So is Cooper's in Round Rock.

              I remeber that 'Bout Time BBQ (McNeil almost to Parmer) was very good on the several times that I went there. Smokin Steve had a monstrous smoker out back - you should have seen it. That guy could produce some damn good que. However, the service was sort of stilted - they'd be running outside trying to get the meat inside to cut and serve. It made me want to don an apron and help.

              I should have, because 'Bout time was replaced by Smoky Moe's #4. Of course, the smoker disappeared, to be replaced by the electric smoker that Mo now has inside. The really funny thing is that Smoky Mo is doing about three times the business in the same location. The other funny thing is that the que tastes almost exactly like Rudy's. Did I mention that he has four locations? You walk in, they slap it on the plate, and you are eating. Absolutely no smoke, but they have the flavor on the outside and the meat is tender. That's enough for most.

              I think that it must just be a rare treat to find a meat market that's doing enough business to operate correctly. Lickily, we have that nearby. Steve certainly tried (I only know him from the store, BTW). And that's the true shame of Salt Lick - they certainly have enough business to do it if they tried. But they have a damn nice piece of property, they supply music, and I can bring my own damn booze.

              The Airport Salt Lick has the same electric smoker as Smoky Mo - it isn't "imported in" from some pit bawse in Driftwood.

              1. re: rudeboy

                Great post. This is why I keep coming back to CH.

                1. re: rudeboy

                  Moe of Smoky Moe's used to work at Rudy's. That's why it tastes the same. Also, notice Moe's uses an electric smoker. Pretty sure Rudy's does also and the pits are just for show. Quite honestly, you can't be that consistent (good or bad) with BBQ using a wood fired smoker. The great BBQ joints (Kreuz, etc.) all have off days. Rudy's always taste the same.

              2. re: tom in austin

                tom in austin,

                I *wish* this had been my first visit. I've probably had Rudy’s barbecue at least a dozen times over the years, either at the south Austin location or one of the ones in San Antonio. [I’m including the Selma location in this category; I’ve only gotten ‘cue from the Helotes location twice—both must have been off days.] I've tried both Rudy’s fatty and lean brisket, and I agree that the fatty is worse. But I’ve never had a piece of truly delicious lean brisket or smoked turkey there, either. After multiple visits over many years, I hesitate to attribute that to sheer bad luck.

                I was being hyperbolic when I suggested in my title that Rudy's was almost the worst 'cue in the state. My feelings are summed up well by your own faint praise when you say that Rudy’s is better than Bill Miller's. Being better than an awful place isn’t the same as being really good.

                As you and others suggest, there are many local places that produce amazing ‘cue—and without the resources to advertise and buy in bulk, unlike chain restaurants. Whenever I can, I try to throw my chow dollars their way. . . which I'll do as long as these local spots manage to stay in business.


                1. re: MPH

                  Awesome, you and I have the same perspective. Hopefully you won't walk away from this thinking of me as a Rudy's defender or apologist. On any given day within Austin's city limits, I'd rather dine at Ruby's, House Park, Ben's, Sam's, Vic's, Artz, Iron Works, or Stubb's*.

                  Still need to hit Lambert's (which based on some really positive reviews here, I'll definitely visit soon), and I deeply mourn the continued absence of Louie Mueller on Manor.

                  Any other BBQ places in town that I should try?

                  * Actually, Stubb's and Rudy's are about a push.

              3. Bar-B-Que is an important part of a balanced diet. The variations of Bar-B-Que are endless with different meats, sauces, method of cooking that are used around the world. Personally, I enjoy a plate of St. Louie Ribs, lean brisket, & cream corn at Rudy's as part of my regular diet. I don't eat in many chain restaurants, but Rudy's is one that is an exception and I have had a lot of satisfaction in Rudy's take-out. I would be very interested in discovering any other options in the wide world of Bar-B-Que that Austin or elsewhere has to offer.

                6 Replies
                1. re: Don_ya

                  Want bbq go to Lockhart or go to Elgin for sausage. If you're in town might as well go to Rudy's. Rudy's definitely has decent brisket. And the creamed corn is fantastic. Bad sausage, think Eckrich, that doesn't fly around here with so much great sausage from Elgin and everywhere. Good turkey and okay ribs. One of my favorite potato salads in town. I'd rate them second to Burt's in town if you leave out House Park, which is open like 30 hours a week (11 or 12 to 2:30 weekdays) I saw a reference to Burt's here recently. The Far West location is still going strong so the T Man still can be found (if you insist) but I'd stick to their really good pork ribs(ask for small ones) and chicken, great central Texas grainy sausage and okay brisket. Don't let them put the sauce on it. My recent trips to Sam's and Ben's Longbranch did not impress me at all. They are both very ordinary and their dicey locations balance their old timey coolness. Never been impressed by Ruby's. I suppose Pok E Joes or Iron Works might edge ahead of Rudy's but most bbq here is pretty ordinary. Nobody much mentions Mikeska's at exit 300 in Temple. Great smoked sirloins and that pickle juice and cayenne table sauce with home baked bread. A half pound of beef for 4.50 or whatever and their bread and butter and pickles and onions = an extremely delicious and cheap meal.

                  1. re: BTAustin

                    Thanks for reminding me of Pok E Joes. That place isn't bad for a chain. Not great either, but I definitely prefer it to Bill Miller and Rudy's. Still not great, but of the Austin BBQ chains it is probably my favorite.

                    What did you get at Ben's? I agree that some of Ben's items aren't so hot, but other things (especially pork, also mutton) are pretty freaking good.

                    Same thing with Ruby's... If you focused on brisket, it would explain your lack of enthusiasm. I'm a college-buddy with the guy who runs the smoker there, and his ideal brisket is very, very different from mine. Some people swear by his output -- he focuses on fatty brisket, basically -- but to me, the meat isn't good enough. But many of Ruby's other offerings are stellar. What have you had there? Any specific thoughts on why Ruby's failed to impress?

                    I haven't hit Mikeska's, but I saw it on the way to Dallas. If you vouch for it, I'll make sure I land there next time I'm heading north.

                    1. re: tom in austin

                      These links give some more opinions on Mikeska’s in Temple:

                      Austin to Dallas BBQ, started Feb 2006

                      Desperate for restaurant in the Temple area, started Sep 2002

                      Sam’s can be greasy, among other things, but I had some good lamb ribs there recently. Within the past month I also enjoyed very good (pork) ribs at Ben’s Longbranch. I don't really avoid locations that are sometimes considered "dicey," so that’s not a factor for me.

                      I was pleasantly surprised with the pork ribs and sausage at Elgin’s Crosstown BBQ on my first visit there earlier this month. [I’ll post the details at a later date.] I thought I’d throw that out there, since we’ve now touched on places just outside of Austin.

                      1. re: MPH

                        I had Rudy's from the one in New Braunfels.It was okay,but I like Harmons in
                        Cibolo better.Also on,someone mentioned a place on USHWY87 near Lone Oak and St.Hedwig area called House of Da Smoke.It's just a small local place they thought was pretty good.I want to try City Market in Luling some time.My sister is coming at Christmas with her boyfriend,so maybe we can go there or try Gonzales Meak Market in Gonzales for brisket,etc.

                        1. re: HollyDolly

                          tom, i am crazy about 'que and luckily i have a friend who is willing to make road trips to bbq joints throughout central texas with me on friday afternoons about once a month playing hookey.

                          that said, ruby's is far and away my favorite place IN austin, top to bottom. i will say that if brisket or pork ribs are your thing, that's probably not your place. whoever posted and said that no place in austin nails it on all items (i.e. city market, luling, coopers, llano), got it right. i go to certain places depending on what i want.

                          in town, artz is far superior for pork ribs (if you go early), especially baby backs, ben's and donn's (fatty cut) are both better for brisket.

                          i have been to ruby's several hundreds of times. i think the things to get are:

                          smoked chicken
                          chopped beef sandwiches
                          pulled pork sandwiches
                          spicy pintos
                          collard greens
                          mac & cheese
                          crawfish etoufee
                          fresh japs (why are they so much hotter than anywhere else in town?)
                          ice cold red stripes

                    2. re: BTAustin

                      Just a quick comment on the perceived "diceyness" of Sam's and Ben's location: I really wouldn't want to discourage anyone on this board from trying out restaurants on the E. side of town based on location. I live about seven blocks away from Sam's and I've never had a problem.

                      Other little places in the area in a similar vein, though not bbq, are Gene's and Nubian Queen Lola's. I prefer the former for fried shrimp or oyster po' boys because I find Lola's to be too salty for my taste, but I adore Lola and her little enterprise nonetheless, and I find her breakfasts to be down-home good and lovingly prepared. I'd go there for breakfast over Hoover's in a heartbeat although her menu is much smaller.

                      I haven't been to Sam's in a while so I can't comment, though I should go because it's so close, but I really like the pork ribs and peach cobbler at Ben's, both of which I've had recently. On my latest visit, the ribs were tender and had been smoked long enough to render the fat out, and the peach cobbler reminded me of my long-gone great grandma's who lived in rural Iowa and who I'd visit as a child. She made the best down-home style baked desserts.