BBQ City Limits: Chief's BBQ & Grill

An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
Chief’s BBQ & Grill
7811 S. First St. 512-444-2333,
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 03.27.12
Texas barbecue is in Jeff Turner’s blood. His mother runs Double K Barbeque in Boyd northwest of Fort Worth, and his father has Kip’s Texas BBQ in San Marcos. Turner teamed up with Kelly Gartzke 10 years ago to start Chief’s in Austin, bringing Mother Turner’s sauce recipe with them. More on that later.
On South First, the men smoke brisket, ribs, sausage, turkey and chicken next to a tattoo shop. Legend has it that there used to be barbecued bologna, but Turner said that while the novelty of it was a good icebreaker, the demand couldn’t support keeping it around. I’m tempted to bring a big casing of it over just to throw on the oak-fired pit. If you could see what Chief’s does with sausage, you’d understand. Their V&V sausage from Cistern, Texas, is a deep, thunderstruck red, freckled inside with fat and cracked black pepper and smoky beef and pork. It’s cooked to that point just before bursting, when every flavor inside is ready to escape. It was part of my three-meat plate with ribs, brisket and three sides with Texas toast for $11.99.
The brisket is fiercely smoked, a firefighter’s tan that runs from bark tip to bark tip, a leatherette brown whose intense flavor compensates for its dry personality, a stoic reserve also eased by a pearled amber fat cap at the top edge. The rub bristles with flavors beyond salt and pepper, toasted so that only a CSI: BBQ team could parse it out. The same intense smoke informs the St. Louis spare ribs at Chief’s, forming a crust that adds red to the earth-toned rainbow of the rub. The meat is lean and spare like a chuckwagon snack.
This isn’t a sandwich series, but when a shop sells something as popular as the Homer ($4.59), it warrants a spot. It’s a meritage of Chief’s strong suits: chopped brisket, sauce and sliced sausage on a plain white picnic bun. You can make a passable sandwich from mediocre barbecue, but you can’t make a sandwich this good without strong ingredients to start with.
Chief’s has a second location just down the street inside Westgate Lanes, giving bowlers a smaller menu of barbecue sandwiches and other lane-appropriate finger food.
Two sides: I like the symmetry of three meats, three sides. And I truly like the break from the barbecue triplets (beans, slaw, potato salad, although they’re here if you want them) that Chief’s offers with flat-cut beer-battered fries and onion rings hardy enough for a bottle toss at the midway. But this is Texas, so Chief’s also makes a decent bowl of peppery cowboy-style beans.
Dessert: Pudding cake. You have to like the ambiguity and the inclusiveness of that. It’s a little like Mississippi Mud, with crushed Graham crackers at the base instead of nuts. Turner builds from there with cheesecake icing, then a layer of chocolate-vanilla pudding followed by a billowy crown of whipped cream. It’s a solid $2.29 and a nice alternative to banana pudding.
Sauce: Jeff Turner’s own mother invented the first version of this sauce, bringing together ingredients that to this day are closely held by the family. There’s no denying cumin, garlic, onion, tomato, vinegar and black pepper. Beyond that, maybe Worcestershire, sugar, paprika? It’s what fuels the Homer, and it’s a sauce worthy of putting on the table next to meat that’s been respectfully offered on the oaken altar.
Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)