BBQ City Limits: The Pit Barbeque

An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
The Pit Barbeque
4707 Burnet Road. 512-453-6464,
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 04.05.12

You can trace Austin restaurant history by the smells. The old Holiday House on Barton Springs left you smelling like boiled onions. At Jake’s, it was dirty oyster fryer grease. The Pit is one of those places. Its signature scent: post oak smoke. It rises up from the brick pit just to the right of the counter. The double-lidder with revolving racks has left its mark on everything in the wood-paneled dining room, a place frozen in time circa 1975. The smoke has seeped even into the edges of a framed poster of two little boys in overalls. One of them is saying “You been farming long?” I had that poster in my room as a kid, not long after the Pit opened in 1968.
A beef and sausage plate at the Pit is $8.59 with two sides, and I added two long, dense pork ribs for about $8 at $12.99 a pound. They’re a smooth matte-finished brindle with an easy smoke and meat that tears apart smoothly. But you have to get your teeth into the act, and that’s about where you want a rib. The smoke isn’t strong, but it goes all the way to the bone. In that saturated sense, it reminds me of this place, smooth and competent, with nothing new to prove to the people who jam the front counter at lunch. I’ve never seen a barbecue counter crew move this fast. There’s no frenzy, and I heard a few first names in the air for the regulars.
There’s nothing wrong with nothing to prove. It makes for journeyman-style brisket, tender without drying up, thoroughly smoked and rimmed with cosine waves of good fat and a crust that goes from red and stretchy to a firm char-black. It makes for sausage like most everybody else’s too, where most of the work was done by the sausage maker and the best a pitmaster can do is not screw it up. It’s a model that will work forever, but nobody will be moved to weave legends around it. Nothing to prove sometimes means nothing to gain.
Two sides: On a combo plate, “two sides” means choosing among beans, potato salad, coleslaw, banana pudding or cobbler. Any two. I like that idea. I’d have traded pudding for either the straightforward pinto beans or an oversweetened mayo potato salad with black pepper and pickles.
Dessert: The vanilla wafers get soggy anyway, so why not mix them right into the banana pudding? Good idea. With an easy balance of pudding, crumbled cookies and superannuated gray banana slices, this is what barbecue-joint banana pudding should taste like ($1.45).
Sauce: After all the metaphorical blood I’ve spilled over sticky-sweet barbecue sauce, I was both pleasantly surprised and let down by this yellow-brown sauce’s neutrality and annealed brown-gravy consistency. Because chopped beef is usually a chop-gun wedding of sauce and brisket, I was driven by curiosity — and the fact that every third person in line ordered two or three — to try a chopped-beef sandwich ($2.49). Its red-dirt color and working-ranch flavor was different than both the brisket and sauce, like they’d alchemized into yet another kind of barbecue, something old and new at the same time.
Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)