Eatin' Barbecue in Austin
Barbecue is almost a religious matter to some people. Barbecue sauce is a big part of it, of course. In part of the Carolinas, barbecue sauce is thin, vinegar-based, with black pepper in it. It's not sweet. In parts of South Carolina, it has mustard in it. In Memphis, the classic barbecue sauce is vinegar and peppers, although today most places make a tomato based sauce. Kansas City barbecue sauce is the kind that most people mean when they say 'barbecue sauce.' The stuff we buy in jars in the grocery store is usually based on Kansas City sauce. Carolina barbecue is traditionally pork. Texas barbecue is, not surprisingly, often beef.
In Memphis the style is often 'mop'--that is, smoked in a pit and periodically mopped with barbecue sauce as it cooks. Traditionally, a string mop, the kind used to clean kitchen floors, is the utensil used to apply the sauce. But in Memphis and in a lot of other places, the meat can be slow cooked 'dry'. That is, spices are rubbed on the meat and it's cooked over a wood fire, but there's no sauce. The sauce is served on the side and when you eat it, you add sauce as you see fit. I'm kind of a wet barbecue person myself. I make pulled beef brisket barbecue for sandwiches but I make it in an oven and without a smoker or a pit. And I live in Ohio. In the barbecue religious wars, I'm sort of the equivalent of a Buddhist in Northern Ireland. I'm just completely out of the whole debate.
But I was excited to try Texas barbecue.
You go into Rudy's and you get in the queue line and snake through to the counter (passing coolers of IBC soft drinks and Shiner Bock) where you order your dinner in increments of a half pound. A half pound of brisket, brisket lean, chopped beef, sausage, turkey, or you order by the number of ribs. (They will let you order a quarter pound.) The meat is dry barbecued--rubbed in spice and smoked until it falls off the bone. The counter guy calls the order back to the cutter--'quarter brisket and two St. Louies,' or a quarter pound of sliced cutter's choice brisket and two St. Louis style ribs. The cutter slices the meat, wicked fast, slaps it on a giant piece of waxed white butcher paper, and the counter guy grabs it and puts it in a big tray with four inch high sides. The tray is sort of like a cafeteria tray aspiring to become a milk cart. To that he adds cheap white bread. The bread is sitting there in the package. It's like generic Wonder bread.
They have sides. Beans, creamed corn, potato salad, creamed corn. There's sweet tea (that ubiquitous Southern staple which has spread across the Midwest in the last decade.) There are fountain drinks. There's a big vat of barbecue sauce (spelled 'sause') which customers dispense themselves into a styrofoam cup. There are pickles and onions. There are napkins.
And that's it. You haul your milk carton style tray back to a long table, find a seat and make sandwiches of barbecue on white bread, pour sauce over it and eat it. Around us were lots of families. A couple of them were Vietnamese. The place is loud, the floor is concrete, the portions are beyond what any human should eat and the food's not expensive. It's all ambiance, but not in the haute cuisine sort of way. Outside it was over a hundred degrees and inside the air conditioners were refrigerating the air. The ribs are good but the brisket seems to be the real reason to keep coming back. It's smoky and still moist, with a peppery-spicy taste. The sauce seemed to me to be a perfectly good sauce--ketchup based with brown sugar and maybe some mustard, although I don't know. It was very good. I'm very full. So's Bob.