BBQ City Limits: Branch Bar-B-Que

An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
Branch Bar-B-Que
1779 Wells Branch Parkway, Suite 112. 990-5282,
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 03.03.12
Chris Carby isn’t just Branch Bar-B-Que’s website video spokesman. He’s the pitmaster who’s been sending out meat to the carving station since 1994. His shop is like a better-lit version of a country lunchroom, with red-checked picnic tablecloths over tables made from painted cable spools. Carby spoke to everyone in the dining room with the energy of a football coach, and I wasn’t surprised to read in his bio that he’s the stadium announcer for Connally High School.
Branch offers a five-meat combo that lets you sample brisket, a pork rib, sausage, chicken and pork loin with two sides for $11.99, a solid deal for the amount of food on your plate. They let me leave out the pork loin and add another rib, and I was happy with their long, rangy texture, gradient pink color and flavor like a smoked ham. Boneless chicken was as gnarled brown as driftwood, with a smoky taste like that wood had spent a little time resting by the bonfire.
Because so many shops buy their sausage from Elgin, I won’t overdescribe its soft grind and snap-crackle-pop casing. In Carby’s hands, it draws good color and smoke. If you can live without a knobby peppered crust, the mid-trimmed brisket is a cut above average, with a razor-thin network of fat that lets you draw it out like an accordion bellows.
Two sides: On the web video, a customer talks up the mashed potatoes and gravy. They’re whipped starchy smooth with earthy potato flavor and a thin brown gravy that neither diminishes nor amplifies its host and is blessedly light on salt. Cole slaw comes close to being right, with a thin mayo dressing, crisp cabbage and a liberal dose of celery seeds. But it’s overwhelmed by sugar.
Dessert: In the barbecue realm’s gelatinous bayou of puddings and cobblers, peanut brittle is as surprising as it is catacombed with whole peanuts and honey-flavored brickle. Pockets of air weave throughout the golden candy, making it crisp without coating your teeth like grill bling. Carby makes it himself, sold in Ziploc bags on the counter like sweets at a bake sale for $3.95.
Sauce: A bright vinegary mop sauce on the side draws equally on sugar and onion for flavor and tomato for body. It’s one of those rare sauces that adds value to smoked meat.
Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)