Before I set off for Austin, I shot an email to Daniel Vaughn, the barbecue guru with Texas Monthly and the genius behind the Texas Monthly quadrennial 50 Best issue, and THE authority on all things brisket. Since we’d be there on a Game Day, I wanted to know where we could actually get into a great barbecue place without too awful long a wait, and also where I might able to get barbecue for breakfast on Sunday morning.
Vaughn came through big time. For dinner, he suggested Terry Black’s or Stile’s Switch for dinner, and Valentina’s Tex Mex for breakfast. As it happened, Nancy’s grand-nephew, Henry Berry, also suggested Terry Black’s, so I didn’t have to pull seniority or exercise the power of the purse, two of the favorite sports here in DC.
Seeing Henry was a major reason for our trip. We wanted to see him before he graduated. He’s a senior majoring in mechanical engineering at UT Austin, and he and a team had just invented an improved process for sealing pipelines that they were going to demonstrate in Houston. There’s much more to it than that, but I’m not what you’d call mechanically inclined. I was 20 before I could operate a wheelbarrow. Still, Henry was engaging and sharp enough to somehow dumb it down enough for me to be fascinated, if unable to retain the information.
To Terry Black’s we went after a full day of lunches at the City Market in Luling and Smitty’s in Lockhart, and 11k walk in Austin, and a stop at Sandy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers. With that synchronization that marks all complex operations, we parked almost simultaneously in the same tow-away zone. We strolled a few steps, then joined the line at Terry Black’s.
The line seemed fairly long, but it moved along reasonably quickly.
And it wasn’t long before we were inside. At that point we found that the line wound around back and forth on and on. It would have been dispiriting had there not been a counter at the door at which they sold beer. They sold one to me, and it lasted right up to a recycling bin placed right before the barbecue-ordering stage. Well timed, Terry Black’s.
The joint was jumpin’.
That’s the view from our table which, as you can see, was inside overlooking the line. There were as many or more people sitting outside in the cold.
Henry chose the sliced brisket sandwich ($16.50), and I added a half pound of brisket ($34.98/pound for prime) — I’ll interject that in the Texas system, you order by the pound, they cut off about that much, and weigh it. You pay for the actual weight. I added a jalapeño cheese sausage ($27/pound), oh, and a couple of ribs ($29.98/pound) and “a few” jalapeños. And another beer.
Oh, and here’s Henry. Nice looking guy in addition to being affable and very smart.
I’m not sure who ordered which sides. I see we got, let’s see, two pinto beans, two Mexican rices, creamed corn, slaw, peach cobbler, and a corn muffin. The small cobbler was $3.75 and the pints were $8.
That was a lot of food, and the total was a bit surprising since I hadn’t bothered to look at prices, but cheaper than dinner for three in Washington. I told you brisket was high, but the quality was just as high. This is superb brisket, tender as can be and with a good smoky, beefy flavor. It just doesn’t get much better than this.
The sausage also was delicious. Texas is very strong on sausage, with a tradition dating back to the failed revolutions in 1848 that spurred a wave of immigration to Central Texas from the German and Austro-Hungarian states. The Texas beef sausages just can’t be beat, and Terry Black’s offers a fine example of Texafied Czech sausage.
The pork ribs tasted very good, but let’s face it. While Texas is outstanding with beef, it’s rare to get truly great barbecued pork. As you can see in the photo, these were very heavily seasoned, brisket style, to give that outer bark that is so important to the rim of a great slice of brisket. Ribs are much thinner than brisket and much of the rib is bone, so that you end up with an exponentially higher seasoning-to-meat ratio. It gets in the way of the pork flavor. Still, the ribs tasted very good.
The Mexican rice was a hit, beautifully flavored with the tomato sauce and its garlic and peppers, and the pinto beans were enriched by lots of meat and, after I got through, some onion and jalapeño: it was clear that the five jalapeños were falling to me. Another hit. Nancy liked the slaw. She has yet to find a slaw in Texas that isn’t great. She was very impressed by the creamed corn, which was creamy indeed, I’m guessing with sour cream, with a wonderful texture contrast from the corn kernels. I liked it, too, but she liked it more. And the cornbread was good, with a nice texture and no noticeable sugar.
It was a great meal and a great time talking with Henry and with some other folks at the shared table. We joined a couple from El Paso on a romantic getaway, an architect and a schoolteacher, who were great fun. They were followed by four Chicagoans who had just flown in and were having a big old time.
My hat is off in respect and gratitude to Daniel Vaughn for the recommendation. It’s clear that Terry Black’s earned its Top 50 ranking. The brisket is delicious. I’m not going to get into ranking places. Indeed, Vaughn has said that Texas has reached “peak barbecue,” as good as it can get. Regardless of where you live, El Paso or Chicago or Washington, drive, fly, or hitchhike to Texas for some brisket, and be sure to try Terry Black’s. You’ll thank me, and thank Daniel Vaughn, too.
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2 thoughts on “Terry Black’s Barbecue, Austin, Texas”
It looks like we had pretty much the same dishes here, and judged them the same way. But you have put your finger on what has long bothered me about ribs in Texas, and that is seasoning beneath which the flavor of the meat simply disappears. The only ribs I have ever eaten in Texas that could have passed inspection at Memphis in May were at Hashknife on the Chisholm, now permanently closed. The real Texas trinity, in my judgment, is brisket, sausage and turkey. Now, there’s a ‘cue joint in Tomball that does chile relleno sausages … if you can get there, it should be love at first bite.
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We see eye to eye, and if I get to Tomball …