BBQ City Limits: J.R.'s Texas Style Barbeque

An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
UPDATE: J.R.'s has closed
J.R.’s Texas Style Barbeque
1900 Rosewood Ave. 600-6995, no website.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 04.06.12
Ben Dukes has a lot to be proud of. His daughter Dawnna Dukes is in the Texas Legislature and his grandson Kerrick Rhone just scored a scholarship to play football for Kent State. And a few years ago, he resurrected J.R.’s Texas Style Barbeque at Rosewood and Chicon, where they still cook meat over pecan and oak in a Wiley smoker the size of a space shuttle fuel tank. As they say in “The Godfather,” the Don is semi-retired now. His son-in-law Louis Green handles most of the family business at J.R.’s.
The place is known best for being the color of the Thing from the Fantastic Four. And for its chopped beef sandwich ($3.75). That’s not always a good sign, because a mixture of brisket and sauce on a bun with pickles and onions can cover up a lot of flaws. Let go of that phobia at J.R.’s, where a bigger chop leaves little room to hide, and the mop sauce pulls in enough vinegar to energize the whole package, even when it’s wrapped in a plain white hamburger bun.
The chopped beef represents how good the brisket here can be when it’s had a full run in the smoker. But as the first customer on a weekday, I got brisket as part of a three-meat combo ($12.99 with two sides) that chewed like top sirloin. The flavor was good, with a mellow wood smoke and a good salt-and-pepper rub, but it was missing the twin magic of caramelization and rendering that make brisket the king of Texas barbecue. Pork shortribs, on the other hand, landed at just the right texture: not too flabby on the bone but not clingy either, with a steady color graduation from pink to opaque white. Hard to argue with Elgin sausage as a third guest on any trio.
Two sides: There’s an 18-quart electric roasting pan on a table in the dining room that toiled and troubled all through lunch. Green lifted the lid to show a witch’s cauldron of ruddy pinto beans in their swampy liquor with hamhocks jutting like cypress trees from the boil. Double down on beans, because the mayo-mustard potato salad is strictly food-service issue.
Dessert: It’s not on the menu, but ask for banana pudding ($2.25) that’s swirled together with crushed wafers and bananas and everything else. Imagine the pronounced dairy whang of cheesecake aerated by a hand mixer and you’ve got the idea.
Sauce: That chopped beef sandwich says everything you need to know about the sauce. It’s a righteous mixer. If you prefer your sauce on the side, be sure to say so or you’ll get a ladle of it over your three-meat plate.
Tea for Texas barbecue: Louis Green’s wife, Paula, makes a glass of sweet tea better than a country-club Arnold Palmer, popping with lemon flavor and the spirit of the chopped fresh mint that makes its way to the top. It’s the best non-alcoholic barbecue drink I’ve had in Austin.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits