Getting to the next great Texas barbecue dish as quickly as possible is always a goal in my job. But, when it comes to pastrami, it has taken me five years to find the best in the state. My favorite pastrami is being served at weekend-only farmers markets in Austin by Mum Foods. They set up their cutting board to slice off hunks of smoked Wagyu brisket, beef short ribs, and pastrami that’ll make a Brooklynite take notice.
Mum’s pastrami began as a mistake. “One weekend in 2012, we ordered too much brisket for the farmers market, so we put some in a brine,” co-owner Geoffrey “Geo” Ellis told me. It turned out well enough that it became a weekly item, but the whole business went on hold shortly after. Geo and his partner, Mattison “Matti” Bills, started the business while in college and decided to move to the Hawaiian island of Oahu to sling wood-fired pizza after graduation. Texas pulled them back less than a year later, and it didn’t take long to fire the smoker up again.
Mum Foods is primarily a catering operation, but they’ve built a following at the Mueller (Sundays), Cedar Park, and Barton Creek (both on Saturday) farmers markets for their barbecue. Geo warns that they’re generally sold out about an hour before the markets shut down, but it’s always fresh. “We never sell reheated barbecue,” he stressed.
The briskets are cut into thirds before brining, so they’ll grab a different foil-wrapped package out of the warmer for fatty, lean, or middle. The middle is half lean and half fatty from the center portion of the brisket where the muscles overlap. I asked for a pound ($26) of fatty, and Matti sliced it just like a brisket. The meat was dripping with juice, and tore apart easily. A layer of fat on top was as soft as room-temperature butter. There was a peppery bite, but I wouldn’t call it spicy. The best thing about it was the pleasant saltiness. Some pastrami, especially from Texas barbecue joints, can have you reaching for a glass of water from all the salt, but this stuff had the perfect level of seasoning in every bite.
New York pastrami is generally made from the beef belly (aka navel), but in Texas the brisket is usually the choice. I’m a fan of both, but especially the one from Mum Foods. It’s like the Platonic ideal of Texas pastrami. That’s because they don’t screw with the basics. The wet brine is just Kosher salt, curing salt, and sugar. The rub is simply ground pepper and coriander. They smoke them to doneness right along with their traditional briskets. These portioned briskets require about ten hours of oak smoke, no steaming necessary. Don’t bother asking for a sandwich since it’s all sold by the pound. “I love the idea of a New York deli and a Texas barbecue joint butted up together,” Geo said, but nothing is currently in the works for a permanent location. So, get a pound wrapped up in butcher paper and enjoy it at home, if you can wait that long.
Saturday: Cedar Park & Barton Creek Farmers Markets
Sunday: Mueller Farmers Market