Preparing the pork ribs at Rudy's BBQ, Austin, Texas (photo by Simone Cannon)
We are spending our winter in Texas this year since we have some personal matters to take care of that require us to stay within striking distance of Houston and decided to make the best of things, so started hitting the BBQ joints at top speed. When in Rome and all that. For the uninitiated, BBQ in the United States can be very different depending where you happen to be standing in line, which is usually how you will order your meal, cafeteria style with a tray. Sauces (tomato-, mustard-, vinegar-based or none at all), meats (beef, pork, chicken, mutton) and smoking and grilling techniques change dramatically in different regions of the Carolinas, the Southwest or Chicago. Texas, as the state motto makes clear, is a whole other country. The star of Texas BBQ is long-smoked beef brisket with a black pepper crust and sauce served on the side.
Chopping slow-cooked brisket: like buttah! (photo by Simone Cannon)
Well-cooked brisket needs no sauce or, for that matter, no knife. It should just break apart into tasty, tasty morsels. We learned from our more BBQ-savvy friends to always ask for "moist" brisket and ask to see it before they serve it to you. Due to Texas's many cattle ranches, beef is the main meat served, but pork ribs, pulled pork and sausage are usually also available. BBQ is sold by the pound, so if you like pork ribs, which are no question an absolutely delicious, but costly (at $16-$18 a pound) order, ask for pulled pork instead. That way, you are paying for all meat, not bones and fat. And BBQ is not cheap. A couple of slices of brisket, a couple of ribs, some cole slaw, beans and a local craft beer (in my opinion, the only viable beverage option with BBQ) will run you about $25 a person.
No plates, just juicy, smoky deliciousness (photo by Simone Cannon)
As always, there are outstanding to mediocre BBQ places everywhere; always check with locals or on sites such as Chowhound or Yelp. Just be prepared for long waits: word spreads far and wide about great places, especially through social media. If you want to sample BBQ at Franklin's, for example, one of the best places in Austin, you can expect to join the customer line at 5am and wait for several hours before being served. They close when they run out of meat, typically around 11am. Austinites regularly pay people to stand in line for them. We found all this out by accident when we asked someone what time Franklin's opened for dinner and he laughed out loud. We visited several other places, which were so-so, but really enjoyed Rudy's which required only a short wait and had pleasant, helpful employees, a good choice of local beers and, most importantly, smoky, succulent meat.
Slicing sausages (photo by Simone Cannon)