BBQ City Limits: Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Q

 
 
An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
 
Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q
2451 S. Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360). 329-5554, more locations at www.rudysbbq.com.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. p.m. Monday-Thursday. 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Barbecue starts at 10:30 a.m. daily.
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 03.24.12
 
With more than 25 locations in Texas from Brownsville to Amarillo, chances are good that you’ve had an uneven relationship with Rudy’s.  Something to know about the four Austin-area locations is that they’re run by K&N Management, the same company behind the four-store Mighty Fine burger chain. I spent a day with two of their top guys a few years ago, and they apply the same procedure-driven management and bottom-up accountability to barbecue as they do burgers. At least around here, you have a chance that one Rudy’s experience will be the same as the other three in the area.
 
That’s not to say it’s always great. We come to Rudy’s after soccer quite a bit, and one night I took an order of gamey-tasting ribs back, and a chest-thumping manager wanted to charge me the price difference for the .13 pounds more my replacement ribs weighed. I asked for my money back and he relented, but acted like he was doing me a big favor. But most days I dare you to find a more ebullient crew, so happy to help you navigate the order-by-the-pound system that they might bound over the counter and hug you at any minute.
 
And when you order by the pound, you need help or you wind up with $60 worth of food for the four of you and a doggy bag to take home. Who really knows whether they can eat a quarter- or half-pound of brisket with their third-of-a-pound of ribs and half a sausage? At Rudy’s, if you ask for a single serving or just one rib, that’s what they’ll load into your black plastic crate.
 
I’ve come to expect little from lean brisket ($12.98 per pound), and Rudy’s holds to the stiff, dry model. But the smoke flavor is solid and you get a trace of the black-pepper rub on the tiny remainder of fat on the rim. For 40 more cents a pound, the moist brisket looks and tastes like it came from a different restaurant, a better one. It glistens with fat and knobbled ridges of lean under a prehistoric crumble of black pepper, fat and spices. The best 40 extra cents you can spend at Rudy’s. Sliced pork loin ($14.18/pound) held to the same model as the lean brisket in texture, but it carried a paprika-like rub that balanced the dryness with good cookout taste.
 
When you order half a jalapeño sausage ($2.44) at Rudy’s, it’s the size of a State Fair corny dog, sliced clean down the middle so you can see the ridges of green pepper like you see in olive loaf, with flecks of black pepper in tightly packed meat with a kielbasa-style casing. Ask about ribs, and Rudy’s gives you three answers: babyback, regular and St. Louis style. The regular long ribs ($10.78/pound) are right down the middle for quality among the best and worst I’ve had so far. They have a consistent light brown color and a matte red finish on both sides. They’re trimmed to keep the fat down, and they carry that “wingtip” with three buttons of cartilage and an extra pointer of lean pork. St Louis style ribs ($11.78/pound) are the same, minus the wingtip.
 
I have a love-hate relationship with ordering by the pound. I always spend more than I would with a prebuilt combo plate. For example, a real Texas cowboy’s lunch of quarter pounds of moist and lean brisket and pork loin, two St. Louis ribs and one regular pork rib, a half-link of sausage, two sides and pudding cost north of $27. On the upside, it’s enough to feed two urban cowboys like me.
 
Two sides: Creamed corn ($2.34) is like condensed cream of mushroom soup with crunchy kernels and sugar, lots of sugar. A side of beans ($2.04) is so full of brisket and smoke that it could sub as one of your barbecue sides, and it’s white bread’s best friend.
 
Dessert: Banana pudding ($2.44) is packed with browning fruit and half-soaked vanilla wafers. These are not bad things for banana pudding to have.
 
Sauce: Even a well-run operation of this size has its institutional moments, and Rudy’s “Sause” is a corn-syrup and vinegar mess, like a candy glaze made with tomatoes that accidentally had black pepper spilled into it.
 
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Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)