Barbecue Trip Report II (Also Long)
Thanks to all of you who recommended places to go for "Supper" barbecue. I'm about halfway through my four-week stay in Austin (or, I was when I started this report), and I thought I'd put together a not-so-quick rundown of where I've been so far, and my thoughts about each of the places. Some are "the usual suspects", but I also just kind of sniffed some of the places out - saw them by the side of the road, saw them pop up on my GPS or Google maps and just thought I'd give them a try.
Monday - 3/5 - Texas Rib Kings
I had been there once before later in the evening, and it was okay, but wanted to see if the barbecue was better earlier in the day. I had the brisket sandwich lunch deal - sandwich, side, and drink for $6.00. Good deal on a really good brisket sandwich - although the corn I chose as a side was completely tasteless - I'm sure other sides were better. I asked for "burnt" brisket, and got some nice end slices, roughly chopped. Very good brisket - nice and tender.
Wednesday - 3/7 - Stiles Switch
After all the talk this pace has gotten on Chowhound, I was really looking forward to it. I ordered a quarter-pound of burnt brisket, a link of the "hot" sausage, and a beef rib. The brisket was very good - nicely spiced, and moderately smoky - very tender, but with a little chew to the crust. The sausage was good - nothing too exciting, but tasty sausage. But the beef rib - wow - I think someone had mentioned that a single beef rib was about $5. I think that's about what mine ended up being - the single rib was almost a half-pound - a good inch of meat on three sides of the bone. When the cutter cut off the rib, I noticed him looking carefully at it. It had a stripe of fat on one side, and I think he was checking to see if it was mostly fat, but as far as I can tell, it was the exact right amount of fat - just a thin layer. Man - what a tasty piece of beef. Definitely among the better pieces of barbecue I've had in Texas so far.
I'm also not normally that excited by the standard sides at barbecue places - slaw, potato salad, beans - do nothing for me. But, I had the corn casserole at Stiles Switch, and it was very tasty - like slightly sweetened cornbread pudding with whole kernel corn and cheese added. Highly recommended.
Friday - 3/9 - Mann's Smokehouse - Brisket, Beef Rib
I went to Mann's Smokehouse on Friday for lunch. Turns out Friday is a good day to go. First, they have "fried" sides in addition to the standard ones - french fries, onion rings - I think I even saw that they had fried green tomatoes? I had a brisket plate with fries and a cornbread stick, and a beef rib on the side. The brisket was good, although not as good as Stiles Switch, and the beef rib, while okay-tasting, looked like it came off a completely different animal than the one at Stiles Switch. While I'd guess the SS rib was at least 2/3 meat by weight, the Mann's rib was probably between 1/3 to 1/2 meat by weight. It was appropriately priced, though - probably only $1.50 or $2, and was good for the price, I guess.
The cornbread stick was good, too - tender, just barely sweetened. Also, on Friday, they give out free home-made ice cream "until it runs out" (that's what the sign says). The ice cream I had was strawberry - with real strawberries in it. I may have to go back this Friday just for the ice cream.
Saturday - 3/10 - Black's Barbecue
I got there early on Saturday, and ordered some brisket - burnt again - and a link of the garlic sausage. Got some nice slices of just-the-right-amount-of-fatty brisket, with a very tasty bark - very tender. I asked the meatcutters for a recommendation on what kind of sausage to get, and they offered me samples, but I only tried one - once I tasted the garlic sausage, I knew tht was the one I wanted. According to the meat guy, it was an 80/20 beef/pork mix, and I think it was the best sausage I've had here (or maybe I was just really in the mood for garlic). Nice smokiness, but not so much that it overpowered the sausage and garlic, and a good snap to the skin.
Saturday - 3/10 - Luling City Market
I stopped at Black's on the way down to Luling. Nice little town. They had a chili cookoff going on, and I would have loved to stay, but it wasn't nearly time to sample the chili, and it was raining off an on, and cold. So, I settled in at City Market for some burnt brisket and a few pork ribs. The brisket was good, but I don't think it was as good as Black's (with the caveat, of course, well-known to barbecue eaters, that this was one day, one particular brisket at each place, your results may vary). It was good brisket, just a little tougher than Black's - it was a single slice off the end - Black's and others had sliced off smaller, thinner pieces - might have made the difference. But the ribs were _very_ good. There was very little "crust" - and I think the rub they used was very simple - with just a bit of sweetness that accentuates the taste of the pork, but they were very meaty, very tender, nicely smoky - oak, I believe, I'm getting used to oak - really lets the meat flavor come through.
Tuesday - 3/13 - Uncle Billy's
I went here based on a recommendation - with the caveat that the view is the important thing (it sits high above Lake Travis - nice view), but the barbecue is edible. You know if there's not a big stack of wood out back, and a plume of smoke coming out of the building, that it's probably not going to be great, but the beer was supposed to be good. I had the "Redneck Roadkill" - house-made, thick-cut potato chips served nacho-style with chopped brisket on top - and a few pork ribs on the side. As expected, the food was okay - it would suffice when drinking and watching the sunset, but definitely not worth the drive just for the barbecue.
Wednesday - 3/14 - Johnny T's
I drove by this one on my way back from Uncle Billy's, and made a note to look into it, and decided to go there for dinner the next day. It's in Round Rock - just west of 35 on 620. I ordered a 2-meat plate - brisket and ribs. They had an interesting selection of sides, including a spicy apple slaw - shredded apples and carrots, with chopped dried cranberries, and a "spicy" vinegar sauce. It wasn't very spicy, but it was good - went great with the pork. The brisket and ribs were both serviceable - tender (ribs maybe a little too fall-off-the-bone for me), and moist. It may not be worth an hour's drive, but I do recommend it if you're in the area - give it a try.
Thursday - 3/15 - Ray's Bar-B-Q
I was looking for somewhere to stop on the way to the airport, and searched for "barbecue" (and bbq, and bar-b-q) on my GPS, and Ray's popped up. It's only a few miles from the airport. It's a very small place, but they had a $5 lunch special - sandwich, chips, and a drink for $5. I believe the sandwich deal changes daily, and, I also believe, the "deal" sandwich is not as big as the normal sandwich on the menu, but it was a deal for $5, and the brisket was good. I was still a little hungry, so I ordered a sausage sandwich separately (which was bigger), and it was also good. Once again, not worth a long drive, but if you're on the south side of town, look them up.
Part 2 coming later...
Sorry for the delay - I've been busy since getting back to Minnesota, but now I've had a chance to look over my notes and write about the last of the places I visited in the Austin area.
Wednesday - 3/21 - Duke's Smokehouse BBQ
I was heading up to Georgetown for a slice of coconut cream pie from the Monument Cafe, but really wasn't in the mood for diner-style food, so I saw this place off the side of 35W in Georgetown and decided to give it a shot. It's a nice-looking place - a big barn-shaped building, with a nice picnic/outdoor dining area right on the creek/river. I ordered a "Hungry Man Plate" - two meats - brisket and ribs, with fries and corn as sides, and Texas Toast. The brisket and ribs were both pretty good - nice and moist - ribs just a little too tender/fall-off-the-bone-y for me, but according to the menu, they use mesquite along with oak to smoke, and that flavor definitely came through. It was different - a little jarring after most of the places I'd been to that were, for the most part, just oak, but it wasn't unpleasant - a nice change. Probably not worth a long drive, but if you're in that area, it's worth a try.
Saturday - 3/24 - Snow's BBQ (Breakfast)
I got up early to start my barbecue mini-tour with a trip out to Lexington to visit the "Best BBQ in Texas". There was a pea-soup fog that morning, so the drive was slow, but, I think it kept the crowds down, too, at least that early in the morning. I got there about 8:30, and the restaurant was almost full, but there was no line, and the outdoor dining area was empty. I went inside, and ordered some brisket, and asked what else was good - the pork was recommended, so I got that. As they were slicing it, I was regretting my decision, since it looked really dry, but I figured they must know what they were doing. I took the meats, and moved out to the picnic tables set up under an overhang right next to the pits. I was the only one out there (it was in the low 60s - too cold for Texans, I guess, but balmy for a Minnesotan), so I got a chance to chat with the pit crew - very friendly, like most pitmasters I've talked to in Texas.
Now, let me set the scene here. I'm sitting at a picnic table, in the middle of the BBQ pits at the best barbecue restaurant in Texas - perhaps the US. The place is surrounded by fog, so you can't see more than a block or two in any direction, but since the stockyard/cattle auction is only 3 blocks away, you can hear the sounds of cattle mooing in the background. Plus, I'm eating some of the best brisket I've ever had, for breakfast. It was all kind of surreal/dreamy, but in a really, really good way. The mooing definitely added to the atmosphere...
So, like I said, the brisket (moist) was definitely great - worth the trip. Juicy, tender without being mushy, just the right amount of fat to make it luxurious without feeling like you're getting ripped off by getting too much fat. The bark was tasty - I didn't taste a whole lot of complexity, but the spices that were there were nice - salt was just right. The pork was good, too - like I said, it looked really dry, but wasn't. It was thinly-sliced, with a kind of crispy crust that was really tasty. Not quite up there with the pork I've had in other places that specialized in pork, but really good. I'll definitely be back next time I'm in the area.
Saturday - 3/24 - Giddings City Market (Brunch)
Before I left Snow's, I told Ms. Tootsie that I was heading to City Meat Market in Giddings, and she said that they definitely knew what they were doing there. I got there about 10:00 or so, and since I wasn't hungry quite yet, I worked up an appetite walking around the downtown area - nice place.
Now hungry again - doesn't take much when I can smell that meat smoking - I walked into the City Meat Market. There were several people in there, but most were ordering takeout. The place was dark - not the greatest dining area - take your food and find a nice bench/picnic table somewhere. I ordered some moist brisket again, and was going to order some ribs when I saw one of the other cutters tearing off pieces of some really moist, juicy-looking pork, so I ordered some of that instead. The pork and the beef were both good - a little more salty than most of the meat I'd had at other places, though not overpoweringly so, and didn't have quite as much smoke flavor. The pork was, I think, a bit better than Snow's, but the brisket wasn't as good - a little less moist, and not as flavorful.
Maybe I'm mistaken, but I was under the impression that moist and lean brisket were basically the thick/fatty end of the brisket vs. the thinner/leaner end. What I got here when I asked for moist brisket was a brisket pulled out of a pan of juices, but the meat was cut from the flat end - not sure if I was misunderstood or that's just what they do there, but it was definitely "moist", and pretty darn good.
Saturday - 3/24 - Louis Mueller Barbecue (Late Lunch)
By the time I got to Taylor and Louis Mueller's, it was around 1:30 or so - past prime lunch time, but it was here that I encountered my longest line of any of the places I went to in Texas - probably about 45 minutes or so (no - didn't get to Franklin's). The restaurant was bigger than most - plenty of seating - well lit - but with enough smoke-staining on the walls to make it look legit. The hold-up was the single meat-cutter, who very patiently and politely answered any questions people had, and since I was still trying to work up an appetite anyway, it didn't bother me.
I ordered a quarter-pound of moist brisket, and since I'd heard they were good there, a beef rib. "I just want to warn you, our beef ribs are running pretty big today - about one-and-a-half pounds apiece." Now, of course, I _really_ wanted one, even though it would come out to about $19 for the single rib. But, it was worth it.
The brisket was very good - once again moist, juicy, just fatty enough, with a flavorful bark and a good amount of smoke - not quite as good as Snow's, but a close second.
The beef rib was massive - the bone was probably 10-12 inches long and over an inch wide, and the meat was hanging at least an inch-and-a-half off of both sides, and was probably close to two inches thick. The meat was very beefy-tasting - that extra flavor you get from being cooked with a bone in - but was just a little too fatty, and the bark was missing something - I think it needed a bit more salt. Also, I think it had been sitting/steaming awhile, and the bark was softened up. It was the first piece of meat - from a top-tier BBQ joint - that I'd had in Texas that really benefited from having a little sauce on it. It was still _very_ good, and I gladly wrapped it up and had the leftovers for dinner the next day, but I think the brisket was the better choice here.
Friday - 3/30 - Stiles Switch
After the Saturday meat-fest (and the Sunday leftovers), I kind of cooled it for awhile with the barbecue, but Friday was my last day in Texas, and I was ready to have one more good barbecue meal. I was trying to decide between finding/trying a new place, or going back to one of my "favorites". I decided on the latter, and headed back to Stiles Switch, since it was also close to where I was working/staying.
I went there for lunch and ordered some moist brisket again, and a beef rib. When I bit into that brisket, I knew I had made the right choice, because that particular piece of brisket, on that particular day, was the best brisket I had for my entire month-long trip. Beef's a natural product...variations in wood...temperature...sunspots...whatever it was, but the planets were properly aligned that day in that place to give me a really fine couple of slices of brisket as a farewell to Austin. The beef rib was again very good - I even got some kind of magical end cut that didn't have a bone in it (that's why I don't normally order ribs - I hate paying $10-$12 per pound for bones...), but the brisket definitely shone that day. For a combination of taste and convenience, I definitely think it's hard to beat Stiles Switch if you're in the Austin area and don't have the time to make the trip to Lockhart/Luling/Lexington/Taylor.
The only regrets I have are not getting to JMueller BBQ and Franklin's - I think I hit most of the other places I was wanting to try. How polite of Texas to put so many of the top barbecue places in such close proximity. Thanks to the fellow Austin board readers for all of the recommendations - hope you enjoyed the reviews.
Thanks - glad you enjoyed it. Unfortunately, the only reason I normally get down there is for work, which makes Franklin's tough.
I had two Saturdays down there on my last trip, and one was for Snow's, and the other was during SXSW, which I assumed meant Franklin's would be extra-packed, so I used it for a Lockhart/Luling trip. Besides, it was raining most of the day, and I didn't feel like standing in line in it.
I too love the sausage at Black's but really miss their former jalapeño sausage. The current version has cheese food product in it, no thanks. also I've now had the Stiles Switch beef rib twice and find it to be outstanding. Thankfully it's only a mile from my abode.
Glad you enjoyed it. Coming up after the end of the week - after I head back to Minnesota, the land of Famous Dave's - reports on Duke's Smokehouse, Snow's, Giddings City Market, and Louis Mueller, and any others I may find before I leave Saturday morning.
Anybody got any suggestions for my last week here? Between this trip and last October's, I've hit the Texas Monthly top 5 already, and about 10 more. I know - Franklin's - but I just don't think I can work it into my schedule - the company paying for my trip actually expects me to work, and standing in line for a few hours just won't cut it...