Perhaps you’ve seen it on a menu and have been too embarrassed to ask if what you’re ordering is a sandwich full of bones. That’s understandable. “Rib sandwich” does sound like a dental episode waiting to happen, and while yes, it does have bones, it’s often the best deal at a Texas barbecue joint.
In Central Texas—or any joint that sells meat by the pound—it’s easy enough to get just one rib, but plates and sandwiches are how most barbecue is bought and sold in Texas. If you just want a taste of ribs, or a hearty snack, you shouldn’t be forced to order a full plate of ribs with a couple of sides; a half rack might also be too much. This is where the rib sandwich, usually loaded with three to five bones, comes into play. At the Baby Back Shak in Dallas you can get one with five bones and a side for just $7 (pictured at top), just be warned that despite the name, they won’t be baby backs.
It’s not meant to be eaten like a sandwich, although I’ll admit that my introduction to the Texas specialty ended embarrassingly with sore teeth and a sauce-stained shirt in a football stadium at the State Fair of Texas. This was my first, and I hadn’t yet learned that a rib sandwich was best enjoyed deconstructed. It’s simply an economical way to get ribs, barbecue sauce, and white bread together for five or six bucks. At Meshack’s in Garland, six bucks gets you four spare ribs and a tub of their fantastic barbecue sauce. For the record, I have seen it come on a bun at Off the Bone BBQ in Forest Hill and on Texas toast at Rick’s Smokehouse in Garland, but the usual is fluffy white bread straight from the plastic bag.
There are variations on the sandwich, including a few without bones. These aren’t McRib knock-offs (thank God). At Valentina’s in Austin they remove the meat from leftover ribs and chop it into a hearty sandwich filling. The same is done at Smokey Denmark’s in Austin where they’re paired with pickled cabbage and jalapeños. I haven’t seen it lately at the Slow Bone in Dallas, but the Eve Sandwich is one of my favorites. It’s composed of slices of a rib meat terrine made with minced rib meat and fat.
Despite the variations, expect to get a few bones when ordering your next rib sandwich. Also, add a side of sauce. There’s something about a rib sandwich that makes me want to dip it all, even the bread, into a vat of sauce before every bite. Just relish those ribs individually—and have plenty of napkins at the ready.