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...