A platter of Texas barbecue isn’t complete without pickles in the mix, but it’s rare for them to become the star. Whitfield’s barbecue truck in Austin puts its pickling program on a pedestal, offering far more than dill chips and pickled onions. The menu offers various pickled sides, each for $4, including strawberries, broccoli, and even spicy pineapple.
“The pickling has kind of overwhelmed us,” pitmaster Scott Fogle admitted. He spent time in the pit rooms of Stiles Switch and Valentina’s, both in Austin, before he started to run the early shift at Whitfield’s. Fogle comes in at 3 a.m. to take over the barbecue pits from owner Kasey Studdard, who cites his time as a lineman during UT Austin’s 2005 season national championship football season as training for the long hours of a pitmaster. When they’re not seasoning briskets or loading the firebox, the pair work on pickling. The brined sides have a shelf life of just a week before they start to degrade and become discolored, so fresh batches are a must. “I got a bunch of nicks on my fingers now,” jokes Studdard.
Their efforts are worth it. The strawberries have a distinct acidity while retaining their fruity sweetness. They were out of the pickled broccoli when I visited, but the heat from scotch bonnet peppers snuck up on me as I sampled the pickled pineapple. The cubes of fruit are still bright yellow without a hint of red, so there’s no visual warning of the kick that’s about to come. Pickle usually offers relief from a plate of smoked meat, but in this case, it’s the other way around. I just wish they’d offer a combination of their specialty pickles in one paper boat for that same $4 price tag.
The trailer opened last May on a treeless plot of land. It initially made a splash partly because chef Josh Watkins was on board. He’s the former chef at Carillon in Austin and beat out a number of big name chefs and pitmasters to win the 2013 Smoke @ ICC competition. His bio is still on the website, but he’s no longer part of the team. He left several months ago, so now it’s just Studdard and Fogle fighting against the wind and the cold, but Studdard said it’s better than the heat of summer. “Oh my God, it was so hot,” he said of their first few months. “I was taking the melted ice from the Yeti spout and cooling myself off.” Their goal is to move into a permanent spot, but for now, customers dine on picnic tables under a tent. Thankfully, they’ve added a large metal wall to block the wind and keep the barbecue warm during your meal.
I’d suggest going straight for the tender pork ribs. These St. Louis cut ribs get a peppery rub with a hint of sweetness. Juicy slices of smoked turkey breast are also a great option, and I’d liked the zing of lemon pepper on the pulled chicken sandwich. Smoked briskets are all Prime grade, and have a rich, buttery layer of fat. Slices from the fatty point end and the lean flat end of the brisket were both moist and tender, and the balance of salt, smoke, and black pepper was great.
There’s more than pickles for sides. The smoked vegetables—yellow squash, zucchini, cauliflower, and romanesco during my visit—were a welcome twist to the standard barbecue menu, but they needed more seasoning. Orbs of fried red potatoes, on the other hand, were spectacular. The potatoes are boiled until tender, then smashed and deep-fried until the outside is crisp, but the center remains fluffy. Brushed with smoked beef tallow and sprinkled with salt and a splash of vinegar, they’ll make you forget all about potato salad.
It’s impressive what the duo is able to put out from this tiny trailer. When they opened, Studdard told Fogle, “I’ll get people in. Make sure you cook good food.” Fogle is holding up his end of the bargain, and something tells me Whitfield’s will be a popular destination come springtime in Austin. Bring your barbecue appetite and an open mind, and they’ll deliver pickles like you’ve never had at a Texas barbecue joint.