The rise of Austin’s barbecue culture has been led by food trailers. The mighty trio of John Mueller Meat Co., la Barbecue, and Franklin Barbecue (which began as a food trailer) lead the local scene and have made patrons all too familiar with the “Sold Out” sign. These joints all cook a huge amount of meat, slice it furiously for a few hours and are done for the day. We all love the results because of how fresh the meat is, and the pitmasters prefer it because they get to go home after lunch is over. Blue Ox is different. Sure it’s run out of a trailer, but on a recent Sunday afternoon after the “Last Man Standing” sign had already been given out at Franklin Barbecue, Blue Ox was less than halfway to closing time. Not only would they have barbecue until 6:00 pm, they were also serving all you can eat pancakes for Sunday brunch.
This was my third meal at Blue Ox. On one visit I got the very last scraps of a few menu items. It was impressive, but not enough to form a real opinion. The next stop featured late night ribs and brisket. That second visit was the best barbecue I’d eaten after 9:30 pm. That’s just not something that happens very often in Texas where barbecue is usually considered a lunch time food. That’s why I decided to go right in the middle of the lunch hour on this latest visit to see how they were using that pit that once belonged to Aaron Franklin.
If you don’t know where Blue Ox is located, you’re better off searching for The Buzz Mill on your map. It’s the coffee shop that you’ll have to walk through to get back to Blue Ox anyway, which is situated at the far end of the outdoor dining area. Back at the trailer the flapjacks covering the griddle inside the trailer looked tempting, but I didn’t need any extra carbs. The Buzz Mill was already passing out tall boys of Hamm’s, gratis. I went for a portion of all the meats they had along with the beans and German potato salad. The beef ribs that occasionally make it on the smoker weren’t around on this day, but they had pork tenderloin, pork sausage, pulled pork, brisket and ribs.
The pork was impressive. A pork sausage that they have made locally to their specifications was great. The links were juicy without being fatty, which is rare in an all-pork sausage. There was a little spice, plenty of garlic, and a great snap. This was good sausage. A pork tenderloin could have easily been dry as a bone. This isn’t the thick pork loin, but the smaller, tapering tenderloin. Even the thin tip was moist, and it was all enveloped in smoke and black pepper. Some coffee in the rub gave it an extra boost.
The pork ribs were also heavy on the seasoning, but they’d have been better at opening time. The meat was loose on the bone and had given up much of its moisture. Big, ragged hunks of pork shoulder had no such issues. It was pleasantly crusty, well seasoned, and smoky. It needed none of the new-recipe sauce. That sauce is now less sweet than a previous iteration, but the move to the marinara end of the spectrum isn’t any more welcome.
Brisket is tricky, and this one wasn’t quite done. The smoke and flavor were both spot on, but there was just too much unrendered fat. It’s a small quibble for a very good meal, but from my previous two meals I know they can do better. I don’t know if anyone can do better with German potato salad. There was some meat fatigue toward the end of this meal, but I had no trouble finishing the potato salad. The cubed potatoes were tender and the flavors were both rich and bright. Skip the uninspired beans and double up on the potato salad.
There is much to love about Blue Ox. Even a decent barbecue option in the late evening is something special, but this is far better than decent. They can do pork well on a consistent basis, and the high side of their brisket is definitely high. Knowing they can provide meat this good after the sun goes down makes it a joint worth seeking out.