BBQ City Limits: Micklethwait Craft Meats

An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
Micklethwait Craft Meats
1309 Rosewood Ave. 512-791-5961,
Hours (updated 5/14): 11am-8pm or until sold out Tue-Sat; 11am-3pm Sun or until sold out.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 02.14.13

Barbecue operations of any stature tend to build reputations around the one thing they do better than anybody else. They don’t mean to specialize; it just happens. At Micklethwait Craft Meats, that specialty is sausage, a rotating menu of links and rings made by Tom Micklethwait himself. Sausage is what makes lunch possible at this compact East Side trailer, because the brisket spends the afternoon in the smoker, ready only when the sun starts its droopy-lidded descent toward dinner. Lunch is a limited bounty, with cameos by pork shoulder and loin chops, sometimes ribs, sometimes chicken. But always sausage.
(12/13 update: Brisket is now available at lunch and dinner.)
Four kinds of sausage were on the menu the night I walked up to find friend and fellow food writer Mick Vann already in the trailer, working his story for the Austin Chronicle. Word travels fast. The trailer’s been open only since December, thanks in part to a Kickstarter campaign that overshot its funding goal by a couple thousand dollars. The enthusiasm has translated into both good barbecue and good buzz, turning Micklethwait into a one-man band playing sold-out shows.
That night, kielbasa was a stronger carrier of smoke than the other three sausages, thanks to its mild spice and higher fat-to-lean ratio, swelling with homemade defiance in a snap-lock casing. Sausage made with beef and jalapeño looked and tasted like a roulade, with a pronounced exterior ring wrapping its ruddy embrace around a less blushy center where the jalapeño lay in wait. Lamb sausage delivered the most interesting flavor but was the least well-constructed, collapsing at the edges of cuts delivered by the sharp-knifed slicer himself, a shade too soft to hold its shape, like meatloaf in a casing. But good meatloaf, with lamb’s gamey playfulness brought to heel by pronounced green herbs.
Duck sausage with cherries bore the signature of a craftsman, ground and blended so fine that it became more like a muscular pâté in a sausage casing. The process takes more time, more mess, more care. It brings together duck’s fat and lean extremes, leavened with the sweet-sour curve of cherries. Yes, all that. And you thought it was just sausage.
With barbecue, the smoke can send different signals from day to day. The brisket bark was a proper burnt-toast brown and the meat fell in red-rimmed woolly fibers infused with good oak smoke. But the bright white fat at the core and edges of the fatty cuts signaled that this brisket needed more cook time to render properly. I’m looking for fat in that amber sweet spot between liquid and solid, and this brisket delivered fat more like alabaster.
Baby-back ribs, compact and lean compared to their low-on-the-hog spare pals, are a pit smoker’s rocky shoals. Bloody hard to steer away from the rough and rocky side, the way of the hard and dry and jerkified. The trailer ran aground this time.
But Micklethwait laid to rest the notion that pork loin has to be shorn of fat into the dense, dry hog log of the Sunday dinner table. In its full, fatty brown overcoat, pork loin here blushed pink as a ham at the edges, with pull-apart top layers over a moist, smoky alba-core. Pork shoulder is a more common guest on the menu, but the loin is worth a trip when it shows up. Micklethwait is fairly steady about posting the day’s meats on Facebook. They’re $13 a pound, or by the plate with two sides from $8-$12.
On the side: Micklethwait makes perfect picnic tableaux versions of potato salad — a balanced blend of mayo and mustard with red pepper and purple onion accents — and cole slaw, this one tossed with green and purple cabbage brought to full attention with lemon. The night my crew rolled up, Micklethwait was experimenting like a fad scientist with English cucumbers and, I’m not making this up, creme fraiche. A little cream, a little crunch, some acidic counterweight for the adipose overdose. They’re $1.50 a serving.
Sauce: A medium-thick hearty garlic red that might have doubled as marinara. How do you say “barbecue” in Italian?
Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits
(TOP: Clockwise from top left: Cucumber salad, cole slaw, fatty and lean brisket, sauce with a garlic-breath edge, duck and cherry sausage, kielbasa, lamb sausage, beef sausage with jalapeño, pork loin, baby-back ribs and potato salad. INSET: Tom Micklethwait makes his own sausage from his trailer on Rosewood Avenue, including classic kielbasa. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)