Austin’s Top 10 BBQ pulled pork

By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking

1. La Barbecue. Twin forks, steel tines, surgeon’s gloves, Wolverine claws. The instruments of pulled pork are many, but they share a single truth: No good ever came from a bad pig, and all the shredding, vinegar and sauce in the world won’t change that. It’s a Southern truth that’s spread to Texas barbecue, and La Barbecue picked up the accent without sounding like the cast of “True Blood.” Pulled pork here breaks away so easily you’ll look for perforation marks, but what you’ll taste is a studied balance of lean, fat and crust that holds together like hand-cranked custard at a barbecue picnic with swirls of pickled pink onion. September 2015 update: 1906 E. Cesar Chavez St. next to Stay Gold (map)
2. Freedmen’s. If there were a barbecue boarding school, Evan LeRoy would be the “O Captain, my Captain” guy, making the administration pucker by adding fish sauce to pulled pork. But there it is, the sweet and sour poetry of the pan-Asian canon bringing meter and cadence to high-smoked lines of fat and soft shoulder punctuated by black pepper and renegade verses of smoldering bark. 2402 San Gabriel St. (map),
3. Kerlin BBQ. At 12:30 on a Thursday, the Kerlin trailer was down to one sausage, a few sides, some pickles and ... pork shoulder. By itself, shoulder is easy to shrug off, as cold and stiff as a pitching injury. At Kerlin, though, pork shoulder is more like bacon by the scoop, pulled in loose fibers and nuggets with a sweet, saucy edge. Give me two scoops. I’ll catch the brisket next time. 1700 E. Cesar Chavez St. (map),
4. Franklin Barbecue. There are times I wish Franklin Barbecue had some harder edges. More bite to its brisket bark, more backbone on its pork ribs. Pulled pork is not one of those times. This loose association of pink and tan and black and brown captures the restaurant’s smokescreen rainbow. 900 E. 11th St. (map),
5. Brown’s Bar-B-Que. Think of Daniel Brown’s pulled pork as a salesman’s sampler of textures and colors. Freckled white, backstrap pink, smokestack brown. Flossy, firm, crunchy. With slaw and a little sauce, it’s a supporting player on a sandwich. On its own, that pulled pork is a star. Ask for it as part of a plate; otherwise, you might miss it hiding out under a bun. 1901 S. Lamar Blvd. at the Corner Bar (map), Facebook page
6. Stubb’s Bar-B-Q. To look at its long and short threads as frayed as a torn burlap bag, you’d think Stubb’s pulled pork would taste about like the bag. Instead it’s as tender and strong as Southern poetry, with bits of the good life and the rind of harder times coming together for a game of dominoes where both sides win. 801 Red River St. (map),
7. Bowie BBQ at Whole Foods Market. Although it’s assembled to order from a primal knot of shoulder with ridges of tawny brown crust and long fibers of radiant half-fat meat, it’s generous to call this pork  “pulled.”  More like broken apart, a do-it-yourself pile, a rich natural resource to practice your twin-fork finesse. It’s worth the effort. 525 N. Lamar Blvd. (map),
8. Blue Ox BBQ & Pancake Cabin. Update: Blue Ox has closed. Pulled pork is a push-me, pull-you proposition at the Blue Ox. It’s changed from brunette to blond since the trailer opened, and the long alabaster strands are a Valkyrie’s braid gone frizzy from the humidity. That’s the push-me part, the challenging mop-top texture. The pull-you part is the way those strands open up the flavor like oxygen on wine. But it dries out in a flash, so eat it fast; like, snatch it out of the cutter’s hand, dunk it in the Ox’s peppered apple cider vinegar and ride with the Valkyries. 1505 Town Creek Drive at the Buzz Mill coffeeshop (map),
9. Lamberts Downtown Barbecue. The Painted Lady of Austin barbecue is drenched in a sauce that will remind you of Heinz 57 in spite of yourself. The Heinz maneuver helps to cloak pulled pork that works the dry and rangy side of the street, but the underlying flavor is true. 401 W. Second St. (map),
10. Mann’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que. UPDATE: After 18 years in business, Mann's closed 11/25/15 If you want to appreciate the difference between the tumbleweed carnitas of the Southwest and the smoked pulled pork of the regular South, Mann’s is the place to do it, with glossy petals in a harvest bouquet of colors. 8624 Research Blvd. (map),
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)