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Barbecue Trip Report (Long)

Just thought I'd pay it back for the info I've gotten off this board - coming down to Austin again in a month or two, and will want some questions answered, so thought I'd report on my last trip.

General info: I was in Austin for two weeks - and ate a lot of barbecue. I'm a resident of the north - Minnesota for the last ten years or so - not the best place for barbecue, but I've got an offset-firebox barrel smoker, and smoke several times a year - pork shoulders, briskets, ribs, turkey - and I've done barbecue trips through the Carolinas and other places, and am always searching out good barbecue.

Since this was a working trip - and I was putting in quite a few hours, I wasn't able to hit as many places as I really wanted, and getting to those only-open-until-the-meat-runs-out and stand-in-line-for-an-hour-or-two-to-get-served joints was a problem - mostly went to the larger places that I knew would be open and have food.

So, here's where I went, and what I thought about them. This probably won't be news to most of the locals, but other out-of-towners in a similar situation might get something out of it.

It the order I ate at them:

- Rudy's Barbecue - this was the first night I was in Austin. The barbecue was pretty good. It's a chain - I saw several more around Austin and the surrounding area. I had much better barbecue later, but they were really friendly, and the food was not bad at all. Had some moist brisket and a little sausage.

- Texas Rib Kings - I just got take-out from here one evening. I had a really tasty chopped brisket sandwich and a couple of good ribs, but it was toward the end of the day, and I think it would have been better for lunch, when it was still fresh. Pretty good for quick take-out food, though.

I was in town for one weekend, so I took most of Saturday off and drove to Lockhart and New Braunfels to taste what those barbecue meccas had to offer.

- Smitty's Market - in Lockhart - Smitty's was kind of scary. You walk in the front door into this long hallway, and the walls are completely black from smoke, and if you look up, there's a layer of smoke about 3 feet above your head. You walk back the hall right past the open pits full of burning wood. It seemed kind of dangerous to me, but I guess they've been doing this for a lot of years. You then go to the counter, inside the smoky pit area, and order your meat. I had two kinds of brisket - moist and lean - and some sausage. I got there at about 10:00 in the morning, so it was just coming off the fire. This was my indoctrination to the true Texas barbecue place - they served the meat on a piece of butcher paper with a few slices of bread. Could I get a fork? No forks. No sauce. This seemed to be the way a lot of barbecue places down there serve it. But man, was it good. The moist brisket was definitely better than the lean, and the sausage, which, when I cut into it, oozed melted hog fat all over the paper, was also very good (once it had drained a bit).

- Black's Barbecue - also in Lockhart - I stopped here after Smitty's. They had a special of a "chopped beef" sandwich, which I thought would be chopped brisket, but I think it was some other kind of beef, mixed with a little sauce. It was good, but not as good as the stuff I had at Smitty's. The next time I'm down there, I'll definitely have to try the _real_ brisket.

- Kreuz Market - also in Lockhart - This place has been in business for over 100 years, I think, although they moved to a new building several years ago. I had some more brisket, and some smoked prime rib. The brisket wasn't _quite_ as good as Smitty's (still very good, though), but the smoked prime rib was incredible (and at $18/lb, it should have been). The bark was nicely seasoned, and the meat was well-done, but still tender - kind of like the best prime rib you've ever had, but smokier. I'll definitely have to give this a try the next time I'm smoking meat.

- Cooper's BBQ - in New Braunfels - I had already had barbecue three times (over 1.5 pounds of meat in about 2 hours), so I decided to drive over toward New Braunfels, and, since it was getting kind of hot (almost 90 degrees), I stopped in San Marcos to see a movie. After the movie, I drove around the New Braunfels area - it used to be an old German farming town, and there are still some old German-style buildings around. Then I went to Cooper's BBQ, just outside of New Braunfels. I did order some brisket, and asked for an end piece. I wanted some chicken, but they only sold entire half-chickens, and after all the barbecue I'd had, I didn't want that much, so I had some smoked turkey breast, instead. The end piece of the brisket was nice and crispy on the outside, and tender on the inside, mostly, but a few pieces were kind of tough. The turkey was very nice, though - kind of spicy, and really moist. I can't get mine to stay that moist when I smoke turkey.

Back to Austin - later in the trip:

- Pok-e-Joe's: I went here one night, just because it was near where I was at the moment, and had their daily special - the rib plate. It was the only barbecue I had that wasn't really that good. There were only three ribs, and they were kind of dried out and not real hot. They were taken out of a steam tray, and were wrapped with plastic wrap. Probably wouldn't go back there.

- Salt Lick Barbecue - in Driftwood - I had been there 15 years or so ago, it was in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Now, there are a lot of houses around it - some of them looked pretty fancy. The restaurant is big, and now they've added an even bigger banquet hall - the complex is huge. I ordered a half-pound of brisket and a half-pound of ribs. The waitress asked if I wanted my brisket "moist, dry, or burnt". Moist means "kid of fatty", dry means "lean - very little fat", and burnt is the burnt ends of the brisket. I ordered the burnt, and the waitress thought that was a good idea. The ribs were good, but the brisket was definitely the best I had in Texas. I know Salt Lick draws very disparate opinions from locals, but on this particular night, with this particular brisket, it was remarkable. Salty, crispy, spicy crust, and the just-fatty-enough meat was fall-apart tender and juicy. Salt Lick has this really interesting sauce - it's kind of a mustard-based sauce, and a little spicy. A lot of places in Texas don't even serve sauce, but this sauce is really good. The brisket didn't need sauce, but it was a nice addition.

So, those were my experiences. Hope it helps out someone...

Greg.

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    1. Pretty awesome. I know Salt Lick gets a fair amount of flak (except for their BYOB policy), but the sauce is generally recognized as the best around. Also, if you ever get to Barbette in MPLS and feel like sending some frites down . . .

      2 Replies
      1. re: bubbleboy79

        I've heard about the frites at Barbette, but have not had the pleasure of eating there...

        1. re: greghoffman

          It's been ages, but I really might go back just for the fries (and aioli, as there's nothing approaching that delicious mayonnaise in Austin).

      2. Next time you're in town make a run out to Louis Meuller's in Taylor, City Market in Luling and Cooper's up in Llano. My mantra is this....freinds don't let freinds eat at Rudy's.

        15 Replies
        1. re: ericthered

          Thanks for the suggestions. Supposedly, I'll be in Austin for around a month this next trip, so I should have time to explore (even) more. I really wanted to get to Franklin's, too, but like I said, the timing just didn't work out.

          And I know what you mean about Rudy's - not that it was _bad_ barbecue - I'd put it on par with the (Minnesota-based) Famous Dave's chain - it's not bad _food_, but should not be held up as an example of good _barbecue_. But, I was tired from a long day of travelling, and it was within a mile or so of my hotel, and, like I said, they were also very friendly. I looked at it as a "not bad - but looking forward to even better barbecue to come" meal.

          1. re: greghoffman

            If you'll be here for that long on your next trip, you'll surely have time for a trip to Snow's in Lexington. They've got the best brisket I've ever eaten and I've eaten plenty. The pork steak is really special also.

            They're only open on Saturday mornings from 8am until they sell out so get there early.

            1. re: agoodbite

              I'm thinking about an excursion one Saturday - hitting Snow's first thing in the morning, then Louie Mueller's and maybe one (or both, if that's necessary) of the Elgin places after that - or is there another place in that general area that I should hit in addition to Snow's and Louie Mueller's? Anything else to do around that area to kill time while I'm working up an appetite between meals?

              1. re: greghoffman

                The only thing I can think of that you're missing is there's another couple bbq joints in Taylor that aren't as famous as Louis Mueller's: Taylor Cafe and Davis Grocery. I haven't been to either, but sure would love to hear your report if you decide to hit up one or both of them.

                I've been to both Southside Market and Meyers in Elgin. There's not much of note at either place beyond the sausage, which is a different style than you'll find down in Lockhart. If you're a sausage fiend, it's worth a stop, but not necessary. Louis Mueller's sausage is of a similar style (don't know if theirs is housemade or perhaps comes from Elgin) and I enjoyed it quite a bit last time I was there.

                I've got no suggestions on what to do to kill time between feasts but I bet wandering around Taylor might be fun. It's a nice looking little town. If you get to Lexington late enough, you can walk up the street to cattle auction site just up the road from Snow's to check out the action. There's not much to Lexington beyond that as far as I can tell. Enjoy your trip and please do give a full report.

                1. re: agoodbite

                  Wow - we think a lot alike... If someone had asked me, "What would you _like_ to do to kill time between barbecue feasts", exploring a nice historic-looking downtown area and going to a cattle auction would have been at the top of my list. Okay, I probably wouldn't have thought of the auction, but it sounds great. I grew up on a farm, went to a lot of livestock auctions when I was a kid - mostly hogs, but same general idea. And something about seeing the barbecue in its primal state just seems right - and getting to meet the people who bring this wonderful food (part of the way) to my table...

                  The only problem might be the logistics - the auction, as far as I can see from a couple of websites, is at 12:30 on Saturday. And, as I've also seen from a few articles/websites (including this one), if I get there anywhere near that time, I've got a pretty good chance of not getting any barbecue.

                  Do Louis Mueller's or either of the Elgin places run out of anything early? None of them had the "Til the barbecue runs out" as a closing time, so I'd assume if I got there sometime reasonably far enough away from closing time, I'd be okay? Say, if I were to go to Snow's first thing in the morning, then head over to Elgin (wouldn't say I'm a sausage "fiend", but a good sausage, properly smoked, can be very tasty, and a break from the brisket focus) - about 25-30 miles away - and eat a little more there, and then head back over to Lexington to watch the auction for a bit, then leave for Taylor around 1:30 or so - get there by approx. 2:30 - is that early enough?

                  Or, I could forgo the auction for that day - looking at the Texas Department of Agriculture site, it looks like there are cattle auctions all over the place...

                  I'll also definitely look into the other Taylor places - see if anything looks worth tasting.

                  Thanks again.

                  1. re: greghoffman

                    Mueller runs out of some things early, particularly sausage and beef ribs. I'd recommend you call ahead and they'll stash some for you. The sausage in Taylor is way different than Elgin. Mueller sausage is much looser and fattier. Elgin sausage is much more like what you can buy in a store, probably because they sell it in a stores. If you can't get to Taylor give Stiles Switch a try. The guy used to work at Louie, I recognize him, it's close enough in flavor that you don't have to schelp all the way out there for the beef ribs. Although the sausage is to me unique and closer to Smitty's in composition and juiciness.

          2. re: ericthered

            Really? For me, Rudy's has always had its charms. Their extra moist brisket and St. Louis style ribs are consistently tasty (love the rub). They also get points for the banana pudding and that strange hand-washing machine. POKE-JO'S, on the other hand, makes me think of school cafeteria bbq.

            1. re: thereman

              Rudy's is the baseline for BBQ in the area for me. Most of the really great BBQ places are a pain to get to or get food from. So it better be heads and tails above Rudy's before I schlep elsewhere, or at least offer a unique experience. Because at Rudy's you get a fork, clean tables, sauce and edible side dishes. I'm a big Louie Mueller fan and would recommend it but if you can't get out there Stiles Switch is a reasonable facsimile.

              1. re: Rptrane

                That's a good encapsulation of what I thought of Rudy's - same as Famous Dave's here in Minnesota - a "baseline". If another place isn't one (or preferably more) of: tastier, cheaper, closer, or more consistent - no reason to go there. These constraints are interconnected - if a restaurant is slightly tastier, it's worth a slightly longer drive, or if s place is cheaper, it doesn't have to be quite as consistent.

                Fortunately for you down in Texas, these exceptions - these worth-the-drive barbecue places - seem to be a lot more commonplace than here in Minnesota, which is why I bought the smoker and make my own.

                1. re: greghoffman

                  Have you been to some Italian place in MN called Donitellio's I believe? I saw it on the Food Network and it has unusually good reviews for a Food Network place.

                  1. re: Rptrane

                    I haven't been to Donatelli's - heard about it, but it's about a half-hour to 45 minutes away, and we don't get to that area very often. Looks like a good menu, though.

                  2. re: greghoffman

                    I work about three football fields away from Rudy's on Research and will drive to Taylor for lunch if I want barbeque. Here's why. I have worked here for 17 years and all Rudy's has done is raise their prices. Their quality has been consistantly mediocre. Their "moist" brisket is moist because it' fat. Their ribs are oversalted and inconsistantly cooked. Their sausage is very pedestrian and by that I mean I can go to HEB and buy a better link. So when freinds come to town I discourage them from Rudy's even if it's walking distance. Maybe the one in San Antonio is better, or the one on 360, but theis on has it right there on they're sign The Worst BBQ in Texas. Now that's truth in advertising.

                    1. re: ericthered

                      Most moist brisket is moist because its fatty. I happen to find their moist brisket serviceable but I will agree with you about their sausage and ribs.

                      In my experience, the one on Research is one of the better Rudy's.

              2. re: ericthered

                When you go to Mueller's, two tips: First, when asked if you want lean or fatty brisket, take fatty. Second, you absolutely MUST try the sausage. Just amazing and life altering.

                1. re: Mike C. Miller

                  Yeah - definitely a fan of fatty brisket. Lean brisket, if done _perfectly_ - and, I believe, it takes both a perfect brisket to start with _and_ a perfect cooking environment/pitmaster - can be great. Fatty brisket, on the other hand, leaves a little room for error both in the starting product and the cooking.

                  Given the enviable choice between the ultimate in fatty brisket, and the ultimate in lean brisket, I still think I'd go for fatty, but it would be a tough choice.

                  And the sausage - I'll have to give it a try, too.

                  Thanks for the pointers.

              3. Okay - in finalizing my trip and trying to find accommodations, I stumbled upon the fact that I'll in in Austin during SXSW - I'll actually be there almost the whole month of March. Judging by the hotel situation, this brings a ton of people to the area - I know it's a huge thing.

                My question is - does this change things in any way, barbecue-wise? Does the SXSW hipsterism/trendiness intersect with the I'd-drive-an-hour-or-two-to-have-great-brisket Chowhoundism? I know I read somewhere a remark about Franklin's crowd swelling up even more than usual with "SXSW-badged" folk, but does it extend to the farther-out joints?

                And, in general, are things just crazy with SXSW going on? Even worse traffic? Fuller restaurants all over, or only hip/trendy/places-to-be-seen restaurants near the event venues?

                11 Replies
                1. re: greghoffman

                  Lucky you!
                  Austin during SXSW is amazing - there's music every place you turn.

                  Happy locals and tourists are everywhere as well, all smiling and excited to be here (the small population of bitter locals stay locked up at home to "avoid the damn crowds", only poking their heads up online and at city council meetings with complaints about noise and traffic).

                  When I say there are people everywhere, believe me. The hip places will be near impossible to get into, the rest will be packed. ,

                  It does impact your plans.
                  Tens of thousands of people will have travelled from all over the world to be in Austin for SXSW, and a lot of them will not hesitate to travel another hour or so to experience Central Texas' famous Bar-B-Q. You will likely need to start earlier and wait in longer lines, but you should still be OK.

                  Keep your ears open and maybe call the day before to ask how the crowds have been and adapt your plans accordingly.

                  1. re: Alan Sudo

                    I would probably classify myself as part of that small population of "bitter locals". I resent the hell out of SXSW because of the reasons you cite. Not to mention the cost to the city to clean up the aftermath since the "happy locals and tourists" do not clean up after themselves.

                    1. re: ericthered

                      "Not to mention the cost to the city to clean up the aftermath since the "happy locals and tourists" do not clean up after themselves."

                      SXSW brings in a TON more money to the city than it costs to clean it up.

                      1. re: ericthered

                        I'm an old curmudgeon, too, I guess. My birthday falls right in the middle of the whole rodeo/SXSW/Basketball mayhem and I end up never going out to dinner for it, because all of my favorite places seem to be overtaxed and the food and service just disappoints. It's a total bummer, cuz it's damnear impossible to get husband downtown/out otherwise.

                        1. re: amysuehere

                          That sucks Amysue. I have a brother with a birthday on Christmas and always felt he got shafted. Maybe you can persude the hubby to give you a "coupon" for a night out at a specific later date? Make sure it's a specific date, so there can be no procrastinating :)

                          1. re: Alan Sudo

                            Yeah, for a hound like me, it means a lot too. I went ahead and made a reservation. I figure I can cancel it. I'm waffling. I mean, Uchiko is ALWAYS at capacity anyway; right?

                      2. re: Alan Sudo

                        Well, I'll put it this way - if I were actually coming into Austin to _attend_ SXSW, and had a nice hotel room right in the middle of it all where I didn't have to drive/park, I'd probably be more excited about it, but since I'm going to be in town for a completely different purpose, and won't have much time to appreciate the festivities, I'll probably be siding with the curmudgeons on this one... :-)

                        That being said, I'll be staying in the NW Austin/Arboretum area. Is that far enough from SXSW central to be unaffected/less affected (except for hotel occupancy)? In fact, with all of the nightly activities downtown, might people be concentrated down there until later in the evening, and as long as I don't want to have a really late dinner, I should be able to dine fairly unmolested?

                        And, one more question, let's say I did want to head down there one evening just to see what the hubbub is about - is there any way to do that without spending most of my time mired in traffic and searching for an overpriced parking spot? Last time I was down there, I drove downtown one afternoon after work, and was surprised by the congestion on a non-weekend evening.

                        Sorry this has strayed a bit away from the original topic...

                        1. re: greghoffman

                          All very good questions. Firstly, welcome to "the land of the bland". I live in NW Austin (just down the street from where you'll be staying, 2222/360). Yes, you are far enough away. You should be just fine. That being said, your dining selections aren't as exciting up here.

                          Yes, it's my understanding that the lite rail will be running extended hours during SXSW, so you can make the quick drive down 183 to the Lamar station and go straight to all the hubub and back. I'm sure they'll have a schedule posted. I've never been on it, but I think it would be a most excellent option.

                          1. re: amysuehere

                            While it is true that SXSW brings in considerable revenue to the city, it stays downtown and benefits only the venues, the eateries the bars etc. I don't see where it benefits the majority of Austinites. I don't see me spending hundreds of dollars to get a colored bracelet and spend hours dodging rude drunken tourists.

                            1. re: ericthered

                              I have lived in Austin for over 20 years, and I work in the bar/restaurant industry. Believe me when I tell you that as I laugh at the outsiders who pay inflated prices for Lone Star tall boys, I will gratefully accept their gratuities, as those same gratuities go to fund my ever increasing property taxes here in S. Austin. Real Estate Bubble Bursting What Where When?

                            2. re: amysuehere

                              Thanks for the info - I guess I didn't even realize there was a light rail line - definitely seems to be a good way to get there, assuming it's not swamped. The one in Minneapolis tends to get overloaded during major events.

                              Now, to get this back on topic, are there any don't-miss restaurants within walking distance of any of the light rail stops - preferable outside the immediate SXSW area?

                      3. I feel terrible that I've lived here in Austin for nearly three years and haven't been to 90% of the places you've mentioned. I know that people poo poo me because I love Salt Lick, but I do. First, their sauce is Gluten Free which is why I went there in the first place, and they have beef ribs which is super important to me since my husband and I don't eat pork. Rudy's was my first "Texas BBQ" experience and it made me want to move back to Michigan and hunker down to a nice plate of Beef Tips from Famous Daves (which I miss, I will admit) but luckily friends convinced me that Rudys is not what the BBQ down here is like, and I'm thankful I listened. Thanks for the commentaries. I'm officially hungry for roasted beast now. PS-is it weird that I think Rudy's BBQ smells like feet? I'm sure it's me. I'm a weird person like that.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: tdombrow

                          If beef ribs are your thing Mueller or Stiles Switch are the places. It's a totally different product than what you get at Salt Lick, which I don't think deserves the hate it gets.

                          1. re: Rptrane

                            I agree about Salt Lick. It's nowhere near the BEST BBQ the area has to offer but it is good. Add the BYOB, live music and location and you have a great place for BBQ.

                        2. Nice report. Three years ago, I made a trip to Austin and wanted to do a Barbecue trip myself...but no others in my group had any interest. The following thread has a very nice discussion and a lot of good recommendations.....Funny though....all the recommendations I received, other than the big three in Lockhart, are absent here thus far.

                          The Barbecue recommendations I received in no particular order were:

                          House Park
                          Sam's
                          Opie's
                          County Line

                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5905...

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: fourunder

                            If you can't talk your colleagues into driving an hour or so for some of the best barbecue in the US (and, therefore, the world), I think you need to hang out with a new group... :-)

                            I kind of have the same problem with the people I work with while I'm in Austin - they're all more than happy to just eat lunch at the company cafeteria. To promote a little team bonding, I stuck it out for a few days, but after that, I was just, "Okay - I'm out of here - see you in an hour or so...", and I was off to explore some of the local eateries. I'm a contractor, getting paid hourly, so I didn't quite want to take the time to drive to Taylor/Lockhart/Luling for lunch, but found a few nice lunch places withing a few minutes drive of the place I was working that offered the variety I required.

                            Besides the cafeteria, which I frequented twice, the only other place I ate at more than once in the two weeks I was there was the lunch deli/restaurant at "Le Cordon Bleu". I didn't find out that this was there - right across the street, almost - until the last few days I was in Austin, but it was very convenient, and they usually had one or two interesting and very tasty entrees/sandwiches/salads each day. Highly recommended. If I remember right, one day I had a kind of chicken/cheese/caprese grilled panini, and a bowl of creamy garlic soup, and the second time, I opted for the (always-available) bacon cheeseburger - nicely grilled, and served with some of the crispiest fries I've ever had that came in a styrofoam takeout container - no idea what they did to make them stay crispy in there...