BBQ City Limits: Iron Works BBQ

An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
Iron Works BBQ
100 Red River St. 478-4855,
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 03.10.12
The way downtown Austin is swallowing itself up, it’s hard to believe a barbecue shack like Iron Works is still hanging on just a short walk over a dirty creek to the Convention Center. With an exterior of corrugated steel painted rusty red and an interior where the wood looks like it’s spent a little time in the smoker itself, the place has the look and smell of the real thing. And when people have asked me where to get barbecue in town, I’ve always offered Iron Works as the alternative for people who don’t want to bother with Franklin Barbecue’s 90-minute window of opportunity.
That’s a big reason I started this BBQ City Limits series, to have 50 answers to the in-town barbecue question. And with a wider world of Austin barbecue under my belt, I had to take a more steely look at Iron Works, and what I saw makes me hope people don’t hold a grudge for steering them here. Because what I got from a three meat sampler plate ($13.45 with beans and potato salad) and a half-rack of pork ribs ($9.45) was meat that aside from the sausage could have come from the same animal cooked the same way had I been judging by taste alone.
Texturally, the beef rib and sliced brisket were the same, mining the same stringy vein, especially the fatty brisket cut with the grain rather than against it. A beef rib is a gamble on the bone-to-beef ratio, and I lost this time. But neither the rib nor the brisket pulled any flavor from their dry rubs, not even salt or black pepper. And the smoke profile wasn’t much more pronounced than roast beef.
Pork ribs carried good color on the outside, courtesy of a semi-gloss lacquer, but they tasted neither like pork nor smoke, but rather like a generic protein with bones for appearance’s sake. I’m left in the unpopular position of liking the sausage best. It’s a softer, looser grained sausage that relies on lean spice more than fat. The $7.95 sausage plate is looking better and better.
Two sides: Boilerplate mayo-mustard potato salad with pickles and unseasoned pinto beans don’t warrant any more time reading about them than they do eating them.
Dessert: A tiny cup of banana pudding looked like something from a school cafeteria line. I muffled my sobs over a regrettable $23 barbecue lunch with blackberry cobbler reduced to deep purple syrup with liquefied berries and knobs of biscuit-like dough for $2.75.
Sauce: A missed opportunity for a sauce to rescue barbecue on a bad day. But this is as thick as ketchup and overpoweringly sweet.
Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)