We came, we saw, we gorged ourselves silly on barbecue.
AUSTIN, TX – I’ve always had a number of “fantasy” food trips I’d like to check off of my list – boudin in Cajun country, clam shacks up the Eastern Seaboard and sushi at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market rank among my top five. But going on a smoked meat sojourn through Texas, namely, the region around Austin, had been right up there with the rest.
I was in the area about 10 years ago, doing a story on chicken fried steak, and ended up at Threadgill’s, along with a few places in Hill Country. But a barbecue trip had somehow been elusive. Thanks to some friends who live there, we were able to organize our first (perhaps annual) Austin BBQ Armageddon, which consumed the better part of three days, encompassing nine locations (one of which we hit twice), a doughnut shop, an upscale modern Mexican restaurant and a David Byrne – St. Vincent concert. Talk about aggressive.
There have always been middle-aged pursuits, whereby a bunch of dudes attempt to relive their past. Want to jam with an aging rock star? Play catch with a former all-star baseball player who prefers to spend the entire year in Florida? Many experiences can be had with the click of a mouse and a credit card. But there isn’t an established tour for going in search of true Texas barbecue (attn: business opportunity folks) so we simply organized one ourselves.
I won’t go into a lot of detail – the video above really shows where and what we did. But we did discover a few common themes. Here are my Top 10:
1. Raw onions and pickles are always free (as are the beans at Snow’s in Lexington).
2. Beef is king, but some places – like Southside Market in Elgin – will also sell pork and beef hybrids; pork ribs are also pretty common, but tend to be St. Louis cut.
3. Only a handful of places offer beef short ribs (JMueller, Stiles Switch) and prime rib (Smitty’s, JMueller); turkey is available pretty much everywhere.
4. White oak is the wood of choice, and most of the reputable BBQ joints keep enough wood on hand out back to heat a small Siberian village for the winter.
5. Some places will offer cheddar cheese (Kreuz Market, Smitty’s), fresh avocados (Smitty’s); and most will give you slices of white bread and/or saltine crackers with which to accompany your ‘cue.
6. Butter (basting while cooking, then dunking after slicing) is the secret to the succulent turkey at Franklin.
7. No one uses plates; giant sheets of butcher paper will do.
8. You’re going to smell like smoke, so don’t dine in a suit.
9. If you see a smoker inside a trailer or beneath a corrugated shack, get in line.
10. Forks are for sides, fingers are for barbecue and sauce is for wimps.
If you want to follow our progress, you can see my twitter feed (@stevedolinsky) or look at the thread #AustinBBQArmageddon.
Here was our Austin BBQ eating itinerary:
1502 S. First
Austin, TX 78704
900 E. 11th St.
Austin, TX 78702
Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew
6610 N. Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78757
516 Main Street
Lexington, TX 78947
(979) 773-4640 (Saturdays)
Southside Market (Elgin)
1212 U.S. 290
Elgin, TX 78621
619 North Colorado St.
Lockhart, TX 78644
208 S. Commerce St.
Lockhart, TX 78644
Luling City Market
633 E. Davis St.
Luling, TX 78648
We also managed to have one non-BBQ meal at La Condesa, kind of a Mercadito-meets-Frontera theme (they call it Modern Mexican), with a great little bar and the best soundtrack of any restaurant I’ve dined in recently. How many places serving an upscale ceviche trio are cranking The Cure’s “A Forest” these days?
400A W. 2nd St.
Austin, TX 78701
Sunday morning, we made the 23 minute drive north to the town of Round Rock, where Round Rock Donuts had a line of cars queued up to the Drive-thru lane longer than the line inside. We got one of everything, plus a dozen of their regular glazed, which is really all you need to get; preferably warm, not too long out of the fryer. We loved the orange tinted glaze, as opposed to the stark white confectioners sugar one on most versions.
Round Rock Donuts
106 W. Liberty
Round Rock, TX
877-872-1984 (toll free)