The brisket at Texas Ranch BBQ would be headline-worthy if it was served in Temple, but a half-dozen other barbecue joints in Austin provide smoked meats of this quality. Yes, the barbecue is superb, but the array of great sides it serves along side it is what really makes the trailer special. Thanks to a chance meeting between a seasoned pitmaster and a journeyman prep cook, Texas Ranch BBQ does it all.
After a rough day at work, Alonzo Sandoval was riding his bicycle down Austin’s South Congress toward home. As he passed by the site where the Texas Ranch BBQ trailer is now parked, pitmaster Marco Oglesby was out staining the deck of the new patio. Sandoval, who spent years in the kitchens of Austin staples such as Vespaio, Z Tejas, Perla’s, and June’s, stopped and asked if they needed help in the kitchen. He was hired the next day.
Sandoval’s expertise shows in the sides. The recipes are a result of Sandoval’s experience in professional kitchens in Austin and working alongside his grandmother in Oaxaca. “I make it a little bit Mexican, a little bit Italian, and a little bit of traditional barbecue,” he says.
Though the greens weren’t something his ever made, Sandoval’s taste like they came from somebody’s grandmother. Enjoy the tender leaves (no stems, he notes), but drink down the restorative broth, which has a base of chicken stock infused with garlic, onions, and bacon. Apples add a zing to his slaw. He rices red potatoes to get potato salad that scoops like ice cream, then adds a simple dressing and chunks of bacon (he’s emphatic about leaving eggs out of it). The mac and cheese looks more like alfredo, but there’s no parmesan—instead, it’s an unlikely mix of white cheddar, cream cheese, and mozzarella. Pinto beans fortified with sausage and bacon are as traditional as you can get with barbecue sides, but Sandoval puts his own twist on them by adding sautéed onions and celery at the end so they remain crunchy. The same textural difference is found in the escabeche, which mixes tender chunks of carrots, split jalapeños, and smoked cauliflower florets. The spicy pickled concoction is the perfect foil for the luscious slices of fatty brisket.
Sandoval says the only hand he has in the barbecue side of the menu is trimming the raw beef. That’s Marco Oglesby’s territory. Oglesby started his barbecue career at Opie’s in Spicewood, then moved to Schmidt Family Barbecue in Bee Cave before taking over pit duties at the new location of Kreuz Market in Bryan. He opened this most recent venture in June. The smoked meats at Texas Ranch BBQ are reminiscent of Kreuz’s. Choice angus briskets are seasoned simply with black pepper, garlic, and a heavy dose of salt. They’re smoked beautifully, and both the lean and fatty sides are spectacular, especially at $18.50 per (all orders are by the pound, with sides a la carte). I wish Oglesby would use his Kreuz influence do more to kick up their sausage game, but the original sausage from Hudson Meats up the road was good. Ample slices of butter-dipped turkey breast were juicy and offered just a hint of smoke.
The sign out front and on the truck still says 12 Bones BBQ, the original name, so it’s no surprise that ribs are a heavy feature of the menu. (A decade-old joint in Asheville, North Carolina with the same name asked them to change it.) Both spares and baby backs get the same pepper-heavy rub. I liked the spares ribs a little more, but I have an admitted bias toward spare ribs. Maybe of each were spiced or glazed a little differently, it would make sense to order both.
Brothers Sergio, Eric, and Eduardo Varela own the barbecue trailer and the Papalote Taco House that it sits in front of. There are tables outside, but you’ll have to walk inside if you want dessert (or tacos or a bathroom, for that matter), because the trailer doesn’t serve it. “We had a smoked pecan pie and a dulce de leche cheesecake, but it didn’t sell,” Oglesby says. And as soon as he said it, all I wanted was dulce de leche cheesecake. At least there was still some broth left from the greens to cap things off.
Texas Ranch BBQ has brought some excellent versions of Texas barbecue staples to far South Congress. A stop here and LeRoy & Lewis, the trailer just around the corner, could make for a great mini-barbecue adventure. Austin barbecue now has another notch in its belt, but every other joint in town should be paying attention to the part of the menu not measured by the pound.