BBQ City Limits: Mann's Smokehouse Bar-B-Que

An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
Mann’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que
8624 Research Blvd. 459-5077,
Hours (updated 9/14): 11am-6pm Mon-Fri. Closed Sat-Sun.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 03.02.12
UPDATE: After 18 years in business, Mann's closed 11/25/15
Barbecue doesn’t have to be an event. It’s an everyday food that’s been fetishized to the point that people will stand in line just to be part of the theater. At Mann’s Smokehouse, there’s a line, but you can check the show at the door. People are here to eat, not make a scene.
A four-meat pate is $16.79 with two sides, which sounds like a lot unless you’ve had much experience ordering by the pound, when your appetite will play tricks on your credit card all day long. For that price, you get to try pork ribs, a beef rib, a knot of pulled pork and brisket about the size of two decks of cards. And it’s a solid bet, that brisket. The older man at the slicing station will ask if you’d like lean or fatty, and somewhere in-between is brisket with a long, tight grain and veins of fat. Pray for an end or a corner, where the fat wins the war and you get the full effect of smoke and the razor-thin crust. Ask for fatty, and you run a risk of thick ribbons of it that should have been put on a lower-carb diet before it hit your plate. The meat’s mostly Bosco-milk brown, with only a thin rim of smoky red. The brisket has character, which can go either way.
For now, I’ll have to eulogize the pork and beef ribs for too much salt, but the pork is long on beauty, a bloom of red and gold with nice lacquered fat and a big cured-ham taste before the salt takes over. The beef rib starts with a nice shell and peels away to a rib that’s dog-bone white, but the taste strays to gamey a few bites in.
If you want to appreciate the difference between sinewy, fibrous carnitas and smoked pulled pork, Mann’s is the place to do it. This pork is so feathery and light it must have come from one of those flying pigs we hear so much about.
Two sides: Man’s will plate two of any 16 sides with your four-meat fiesta. Potato salad and slaw, sure, but also lima beans and turnip greens and fried okra. I had to try Brunswick stew, a fiercely Southern vehicle for dealing with leftovers. This one is like liquid meatloaf, heavy with the taste of ketchup and corn and tomato, a conveyance for spoonfuls of shredded pork, or what I’m guessing is pork. A dish of mac and cheese tosses elbow mac and short-cut spaghetti together in thick, oily cheese sauce with a hard-baked crust. Also, cornbread here could count as a side, a crescent moon as thick as an empanada with corn kernels and pepper like minerals to mine.
Dessert: An armor plate of vanilla wafers threw me off banana pudding. But truth is, I was drawn to the deep purple crumble of blackberry cobbler ($2.89). Like the best cobblers, it’s like a pie with a balance of crust and fruit and sweetness in every bite. Homemade ice cream is free on Fridays, and brownies are free on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Sauce: Mann’s goes light on the sauce if at all before the meat hits the carving board. Their sauce comes warm, a deep and thick tomato red with spice on the back.
Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)