Monday, January 16, 2012

Sam's Bar-B-Que

AUSTIN: Sam’s Bar-B-Que
2000 E. Twelfth
Austin, TX 78702
Open M-Sat 10-3am, Sun 10-10

Update: Barbecue in Texas is usually a lunch time meal. Some joints might even sell out before noon, but East Austin has a famous exception. Sam's on Twelfth is open late - really late. I was riding in the back seat of a recent acquaintance's car, but I knew I was with the right group. Dinner was long ago, so we embarked on a late night Austin BBQ tour. Ten years earlier and we all would have been bar hopping, but Lambert's banana pudding followed by mutton ribs were on this night's menu.

Sam's has been famous in this neighborhood for decades, but has spent time in the spotlight more recently for some serious seediness. A scandal of questionable meat acquisition was the subject of much media attention this past summer. When our group inquired of the couple working the counter how 'things' were going, there was an immediate recognition about what was meant. Business was slowly picking back up they said, but at a few minutes before eleven, we were the only customers. I hoisted a large tray of meat as we made our way out to the screened in patio to watch football highlights on a small muted television.

The meat cutter was most generous with the sliced brisket. Cooked too fast but not long enough, it was both tough and dry. A faint smokiness came from the crust, but it lacked great flavor. It was simply poor brisket. Pork ribs had a bit more smokiness, and didn't suffer from the same dryness issues. These were above average, and the end cut made for a pleasing chewy cut. A respectable sausage had some good black pepper and smoke with a chewy casing. It was plenty juicy without being too fatty. The big surprise were the mutton ribs. Mutton is an acquired taste that I keep trying to acquire, but this meat was downright tasty. The gaminess was tamed, I think by trimming the thick layer of fat that sometimes remains on the top layer of mutton ribs. They were smoked beyond tender, but I dare say I'd order them again. The brisket - not so much.

Rating **

Update: This venerable joint in East Austin isn't much to look at, but it has character, and so do the folks that work there. With all the football posters, the last thing I would expect was tennis fans in this joint, but one guy was hollering about getting Wimbledon up on the small TV. The lady behind the counter joked with me about the oppressive heat as she sliced my order of brisket and ribs. The ribs here were positively huge. The meat was flavorful and smoky as long as the bite contained some crust, but there was little flavor in the center. The brisket had a decent smoky crust, but had not cooked long enough to render the fat well or permeate the meat with smoke. This joint might be just as famous for its service and atmosphere as for its meat, but on this day, the meat took a back seat.

Sam's BBQ on Urbanspoon


DrillerAA said...

I'm headed to Austin next week. I'll probably drive down to Kyle and sample some of Milt's and a little Railroad BBQ.

Unknown said...

Sausage here is basically a flavorless hot dog. Brisket is dry and uninspired. Pork ribs are mushy and lacking of smoke. The only thing here worth trying is the mutton--which, piled on a saltine cracker with some barbecue sauce, is palatable. Without the crackers and sauce it's almost too fatty to stomach. I really want this place to be good considering its right next to my house (and, not to forget, a mainstay of the black community in East Austin), but I probably won't return. Too bad.


Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.