BBQ City Limits: Live Oak Barbecue

An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
Live Oak Barbecue
2713 E. Second St. 524-1930,
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
JANUARY 2015 UPDATE: Live Oak's last day is Jan. 31, 2015
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 03.07.12
Live Oak Barbecue is part of the fertile East Side empire run by Randall and Donya Stockton, an empire that includes Rio Rita, Shangri-La, the Grackle, the Liberty, Sputnik and others. But Live Oak stands less as a set-piece for the ironic mob and more as a neighborhood smoke shack at Second and Pleasant Valley, far from the foot traffic of East Sixth Street.
They sell meat by the pound here, and between my growing awareness of my weight limits and a cutter willing to let me try anything, I stepped away with four meats and two sides for $15.79, and I still have enough to carry the two miles back to my car. I walked here from Stubb’s, because how far could it be? Quite a ways.
On my first trip to Live Oak when it opened in the spring of 2011, I thought pitmaster Tom Spaulding’s pork ribs ($12/pound) carried most of the weight. They still do, if you don’t mind them on the rough side, with knobby fall-away caps and a fat-to-lean ration that favors the former. He also smokes Boston butt pork steak ($11/pound) to a radiant coral and white with earthy brown tops like a forest mushroom. Cut into chunks rather than razored into slices, the pork hangs onto some moisture, like pork in that tenuous suspension between roasted and pulled.
Sausage from Texas Sausage Co. in Austin is more than a standard smoky link ($11/pound, about $2 for a small link), pulling in what the cutter said were alternative cuts of pork and beef to make something between a blood sausage and a jellied terrine in texture with a pronounced “other” meat taste. I don’t want to know the specific cuts, either, just as long as they taste this indulgently Old World. My award for the most-improved meat at Live Oak goes to brisket for beef that pulls like a blacksmith’s bellows with the smoke to back it up. Whatever hard-target crust the brisket had right out of the big iron smoker got lost in the steam table at the cutter’s station, but the smoke, color and flavor were right. When the cutter handed me a glistening piece of the fat cap still smoldering hot, I caught the same fleeting bliss I get from seared foie gras, a dizzy reaction to iron and blood and the drive to fuel up for whatever’s next.
Two sides: Live Oak’s cucumber salad easily slides into the city’s list of Top 5 barbecue sides (all the sides are $6 a pound). It’s a vinegary quick-pickle of shaved cucumber, onion, sugar and dill that acts as palate refresher and acidic counterpoint to the heavy pH (short for “phat”) factor of the protein. For other sides, you know you’ve come to the right place when both the beans and the greens are full of meat. The collards were gone, but the borracho beans lived up to their drunken name with a rowdy kegger of brisket, pork, sausage, jalapeño and onion. A loaf of bread, a jug of beans and cow. We’ll call it lunch.
Dessert: There are none. Yet. The shop hopes to add a line from Dangerously Delicious Pies in the near future.
Sauce: Can we get a weekend pass for permission to use sauce at Live Oak? Only the smokiest at heart could turn away a crazy vinegar mop sauce like this, with spice and lustre like the bottom of a broiler pan and enough twang to cut through and amplify the fatty fiesta. Especially the pork loin, which dances like a Looney Tunes pig after a little shot of sauce.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
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