Barbecue Lover’s Guide to Austin

It’s sacrilege for me to write what I’m about to write, but sometimes sacrilege is inevitable on a site called BBQJew.com.  So please don’t hate me for admitting that, if there is such a thing as reincarnation ( and I’m waiting on BBQHindu.com for the answer to that question), I hope to be reincarnated as a Texas pitmaster.  Or at least a Texan.

North Carolina whole hog cooking is the nation’s original barbecue and when done right is probably the most perfect food anywhere, but even I must admit that present day Texas is the superior barbecue state.  Whereas wood cooking is all but extinct in North Carolina, with only a few dozen traditional pit-cookers still in existence, in Texas traditional cooking methods remain commonplace.  Perhaps because barbecue is part of Texans’ sometimes over-the-top self-identity, traditional cooking techniques and recipes remain important to Texas culture in a way that is not matched in the Tar Heel state.  For every terrific traditional wood-burning pit in North Caroina, Texas can claim several.  For every whole hog or pork shoulder pit-cooked in Carolina today, Texans probably smoked 50 times that much meat.  Lucky for us Carolinians, Texas’ rich barbecue culture is documented efficiently, if sometimes formulaicly, in Gloria Corral’s Barbecue Lover’s Guide to Austin.

Corral admits upfront that she is a newcomer to Texas, but she approaches her new state of residence with wide-eyed enthusiasm and a giant appetite (after all, everything is bigger in Texas).  Sometimes it takes an outsider–free of long-established biases–to fairly judge barbecue with an open mind and an eager stomach.

Through her guide book, Corral sets out to find barbecue anywhere and everywhere she can in Austin and the surrounding Hill Country, an area that is chock full of deservedly famous barbecue joints.  As Corral writes in her introduction, “The Austin area is known as the Central Texas Barbecue Belt.  It became clear to me that this food needed more than casual investigation, so I signed up for an Austin public library card and dug in.”

Thankfully, Corral also dug into her work beyond the confines of the library, diligently eating her way through the brisket, ribs, sausage and other smoked delicacies of the Hill Country.  In total, the Barbecue Lover’s Guide to Austin details Corral’s visits to about 75 Austin-area barbecue joints, including some that most barbecue fanatics have heard of and many that are more obscure.  She does a fine, workman-like job of describing the atmosphere and food of each joint, in the process heaping praise on her favorite joints while refraining from badmouthing those joints that are less than sublime.

This is Corral’s first book and its prose is not as polished as that of more seasoned writers.  Still, the Barbecue Lover’s Guide to Austin does a good job of fulfilling its promise: it serves as a succinct, practical guide to many of the barbecue joints of the Hill Country.   The fact that I salivate every time I crack open the book is evidence enough that her book is worth buying for your next trip to the area.  I am certainly eager to travel to Austin and test out the guide for myself; hopefully prior to discovering whether reincarnation exists.

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3 Responses

  1. It’s been over 30 years since we left Austin for NC, but I know that your words ring true. BBQ is good here, but great there.

  2. Corral’s book has taken some flak for not distinguishing between great places and mediocre ones (of which there are plenty), but as a survey rather than a diner’s guide, it is a valuable document — and the survey does indeed show that the Texas barbecue tradition is not the hothouse flower that real North Carolina barbecue is in danger of becoming. Ask yourself how many great barbecue places the capital of North Carolina has. None, in my opinion, but no more than three or four by anyone’s reckoning. It’s pathetic that folks in Raleigh have to drive to Goldsboro or Chapel Hill for a respectable, wood-cooked example of the state food. I’m in Austin right now, as a matter of fact, and could choose from a half-dozen good places within 15 minutes for lunch, and a half-dozen great ones within a half-hour. In fact, I think I will.

  3. I also had a chance to review this book on my blog. As long as people take it for what it is (a survey as @porcophile mentioned earlier) and not a book with recommendations, then it serves its purpose.

    She’s currently working on a second edition of the book which should contain opinions on food.

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