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The 50 Best BBQ Joints . . . in the World!

City Meat Market

Giddings

The main room at City Meat Market.
Full Custom Gospel BBQ

Rating: 4.25
Opened: 1941
Pitmaster: Gerald Birkelbach, age 57 (since 1982)
Method: Post oak; indirect-heat pit 
Pro tip: For a living history lesson, just sit quietly and watch the old-timers. 

A welcome landmark on U.S. 290 between Austin and Houston is the boxy brick building of City Meat Market, in Giddings. The red painted sign reads “Bar-B-Q and Sausage”—sausage being one of their specialties. Walk through the main room, with its high ceilings, two rows of tables covered in plastic Christmas tablecloths (we last visited in late January), and aged cream-colored walls, and into the sooty back room, where you can order the famous links (80 percent beef, 20 percent pork) straight off the pit. The filling is pleasantly coarse in that way that you only find in homemade sausage, and the casing has a good snap. We could have kept eating these perfect links all day. We were less enthusiastic about the brisket, which cooks at a fairly high heat on an indirect pit for just five and a half hours. While the final result is seductively smoky and has a flavorful salt, pepper, and cayenne rub, the meat itself was a little tough. The ribs, on the other hand, do beautifully under this treatment. They are superlative: ultra-tender, delectably sweet, and infused with post-oak smoke, much like the absolutely succulent chicken. As at any proper joint, black pepper is used liberally, and not just on the meats. It punches up the tangy, sweet sauce (one of our favorites in Central Texas) and gives a nice kick to pinto beans too. Admirable attention has been paid to the stellar potato salad, a bold and mustardy twist on the classic. Banana pudding is enjoyable enough once you forgive the fact that it looks like a meringue and isn’t a pudding but a blob (with an oddly firm outer shell) of cream cake.

101 W. Austin (U.S. 290), 979-542-2740. Open Mon–Fri 7:30–-5:30, Sat 7:30–4. citymeatmarket.biz

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  • Tom

    My review of City Meat Market (CCM).

    As we enter, to our left are a bunch of old meat cases, and to our right
    are several tables and a counter. Behind the counter we can see staff. We can
    smell smoke. Staff are all very friendly and polite.

    We decide we’re going to get some BBQ to eat there, and bring back some for respective others.

    First warning sign: I order ¼ pound brisket, 2 sausage
    links, and 2 ribs. The brisket comes out of a pot of liquid on a counter behind
    the serving counter. I’ve never seen this before, and can’t think of any reason
    for this that is good. Asked if we want lean brisket or a little bit of fat. I
    get the fatty. Sausage is very long and dark. Ribs look decent.

    Payment appears to be by weight for the lot (so price is the
    same for everything). Comes to $16 and change.

    Brisket: For what is supposed to be fatty brisket, this
    is pretty dry. Not much flavor at all. No real smoke ring, no real color
    changes inside (so once you get past the bark it is all the same universal
    gray/brown). Honestly, I’ve regularly had better at Poke-Jo’s and Rudy’s. 3 on
    a scale of 1-10.

    Sausage: I don’t mind coarse ground sausage, and this is the
    coarsest I can ever recall seeing. It looks like someone took some hamburger
    meat (it is apparently an 80/20 beef/pork blend), cooked it, then stuffed it in
    a sausage casing. That wouldn’t bother me, except it tastes about the same. I
    can taste a little pepper and a little salt, but not much. And it is more like
    someone cooked the meat and then added the seasoning. It is very uneven. It is
    moist (unlike the brisket), but poor and uneven flavor is a deal breaker for
    sausage. Again, I’ve been getting better at the local Austin area “chains”. 3
    on a scale of 1-10.

    Ribs: These have a decent flavor. Good salt and pepper mix, and
    a decent crust. But a little chewy. I do agree that a rib that is “fall off the
    bone” is actually overcooked, but these are a little tough. Still, of what I
    ordered they are the best things by far. Say a 6 on a scale of 1-10.

    Pork Butt: Mom asked me to bring some pork butt back and I
    tried a bite when I dropped it off. Tasted about the same as the ribs. Decent,
    but nothing spectacular. Not quite as chewy. Say a 7 on a scale of 1-10.

    Final thoughts: One of our group suggested that we should get t-shirts
    made that say “BBQ Recon”. It’s a good thought. One job of a recon patrol is to
    go out and make sure the way is safe, or if you need to detour and find another
    route. In this case, detour and find another route. The BBQ trifecta is made up
    of ribs, brisket, and sausage. CMM only does one of those that I would consider
    eating again (the ribs), and theirs aren’t so great that they are worth a trip.
    Since 100% of the time if I’m passing through Giddings I’m going to be passing
    through Elgin as well, there are better options closer to home.

    I’m not sure when this Texas Monthly review was
    written. Either CMM has gone way downhill lately, or this reviewer(s) has (have)
    radically different standards than I do. (Daniel, if this was you, sorry. Normally your reviews are on the money, but this one just didn’t hit the mark with me).

    Some may say it was just a bad day for them. While I suppose
    that is possible, the way they handle their brisket makes me doubt it. I can’t
    think of any reason a well-done BBQ brisket would then be kept in a container
    of liquid that would improve the flavor. And if it is improving the flavor,
    then they have even bigger problems than I thought.