A weekend trip to Austin gave me another opportunity to sample some great Central Texas barbecue. I had hoped to get out to Llano and Mason, but time constraints forced me to stay closer to Austin. After Rick Smith's encouraging update on Black's, I considered returning to Lockhart. But curiosity won out, so I headed west on 71 instead.
My first stop was Inman's Ranch House in Marble Falls. It really is a *house*, with a long brick pit in the living room and cash register in the kitchen. For forty years they've been selling brisket and their famous turkey sausage. I tried some of both. The sausage, being turkey, was naturally lean. But it had good flavor, pleasing peppery accents, and a coarse grind, coming densely packed in a crisp casing. Very different, but also very good. I had expected the sausage to be good, since that's what they're known for. But I was surprised to find that their brisket was outstanding--better than anything in last week's Elgin/Taylor trip and rivaling the best in the recent trip to Lockhart/Luling. Smoky, tender, intensely flavored, and with a great crust, this was prime "eating brisket." Great barbecue and very friendly people. I look forward to going back there.
Next was Peete Mesquite BBQ, also in Marble Falls. Banners outside indicate that this place has been the people's choice as "best in county" for several years running. Rusty rotisserie pits out back carry the meats around through mesquite smoke. When I asked what they did best, they unhesitatingly replied, "Ribs." So I ordered a plate of ribs, plus some brisket and sausage. The ribs were, indeed, impressive--tender, flavorful, with good smokiness and bark. Some of the best ribs I've had this year (and that's against some stiff competition). The brisket was a mixed bag. Some of the slices were from the lean side and, despite great smokiness and flavor, were too dry. The slices from the fatty part, however, were excellent--lean, juicy, smoky. The sausage (a beef/pork blend, but tasting mostly of pork) was good, but nothing to write home about.
Heading back east towards Austin, I stopped in Spicewood for Opie's BBQ. Their format is about the same as Cooper's. A row of pits is lined up in front of the store under a metal awning. The pit nearest the store is used to hold the finished meats at temperature, as pictured below. You pick your meats and watch the pitmaster pull them out and carve them onto a tray, which you take inside for weighing and paying. I ordered brisket, spare ribs, jalapeno sausage, and (at the pitmaster's recommendation) pork loin. The smooth-textured sausage tasted okay, but not good enough for me to order again. But that was the only weak part of the meal. The brisket was very tender and flavorful, though it didn't have as nice a crust as Inman's and Peete Mesquite's. The ribs were also delicious, with great smokiness and perfect texture (though not as good a bark as Peete Mesquite's). And the pork loin was fantastic, juicy, fork tender, and flavorful (but not too salty). Though I was no longer hungry by the time I arrived at Opie's, the meats were so good that I soldiered on. The returns didn't diminish, as I would have expected. And, while Inman's and Peete Mesquite's might have edged Opie's out in individual meat categories, I felt that Opie's was the best overall on this day.
Last up was R.O.'s Outpost, also in Spicewood. I had read the most about this place and, therefore, had more expectations of them. In the spirit of "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all," I'm going to say little here. Apart from a good piece of chocolate pie and some pretty good smoked turkey breast, I was disappointed with my meal at R.O.'s. The proprietors were incredibly warm and friendly, determined to make their customers happy. But the ribs and brisket just didn't deliver. Nice people and a cute restaurant, but it's not a place I'd take a hardcore 'CueHound to. (R.O.'s fuels their pits with pecan, as opposed to the mesquite used by the other three.)
The wealth of great barbecue in Central Texas astounds me. None of the places I went to have national or even state-wide reputations. Yet several of them were turning out "major league" barbecue--meats that could go toe-to-toe with the best known names in the state. Amazing.
For more details and a ton of pictures, see the link below.