BBQ City Limits: Slab BBQ
An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
2330 San Antonio St. 512-771-7357, www.realdopebbq.com.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 10.21.13
May 2014 update: The Slab trailer has closed for the summer. A sign out front says the business hopes to open a storefront at U.S. 183 and Burnet Road by summer's end. They plan to reopen the trailer "closer to August." (Read the full story here.)
Slab BBQ would have made more sense as a Sandwich City review, given that its menu is a study in the art of meat and bread. But this much smoked meat demands an accounting, a hard look to see if a trailer can mind its Bs and Qs.
Once upon a time, this two-man trailer at 24th and San Antonio in the heart of the UT hive was called the Sugar Shack. It shed a more cartoonish look in favor of black and orange to become Slab, a color scheme more suited to the Longhorn foot traffic. It’s a grab-and-go place, unless you’d like to eat at a table inches away from the ordering window or one of the dollhouse picnic-tables-for-two chained to the fence along San Antonio.
Might as well start with the elephant in the shack: The Donk. For $10, you get everything they’ve got: pulled pork, chopped brisket, shredded chicken, Smokey Denmark sausage, coleslaw, queso and jalapeños. I get winded just describing it, and the Donk itself has to lie down in a paper boat, much too overfed to stand under its own weight. This isn’t a sandwich so much as a full-pound combo plate taking a nap, its head nestled in a soft jalapeño-cheese bun.
Don’t tell the purists, but I had a great time mixing and matching my way through the boat. All the meats were as soft and neutral as the bun that cradled them, save for the hardy casing that bore Smokey Denmark’s dense campfire weave. Mustard coleslaw lent a twangy crunch, and the queso effectively unified the disparate animal kingdoms. We used to call all the sodas mixed together a “suicide.” This is that, for barbecue.
But let’s break it down with sandwiches specializing in just one meat. The Slab’s Notorious P.I.G. ($6) loaded pulled pork and mustard slaw onto a white or jalapeño-cheese bun, both of which were good choices, more like sturdy bakery rolls than lazy picnic buns. The pork was tender, fatty and flossy, with the kind of freshness a low-volume operation should always hit. There’s a small screened smokeshack on the side of the trailer, and meats are held in a warming cabinet under foil, then pulled and dressed to order. But I’ll say this about the pork and extend the challenge to all the meats here: Give me more smoke. I can make a good roast beast at home. I come to the experts for the smoke I can’t create in my suburban kitchen or underequipped backyard.
The most bountiful and basic Slab sandwich was the O.G. ($6) just good chopped brisket with onions and pickles and a dash of Backyard Red, one of four sauces they make themselves. Of those, the Gold Rush ruled, a complex mustardy stew with the bristle of cracked black peppercorns. Each sandwich was soaked in its sauce, to the point of distraction on the ChickN.W.A. ($6), already saturated with slaw. It fell apart on the first bite, scattering ribbons of tender shredded white meat like a flock of startled ... chickens.
Sliders solved that problem. Two of them cost about the same price as one full sandwich on sweet, yeasty rolls. One of those sliders, El Jefe (2 for $8), was a pimped-out version of the brisket sandwich with thick melted queso and jalapeños. This isn’t the brisket of old men and legends, so I saw no harm in turning it into BBQ nachos on a bun. But queso couldn’t turn a slider of pulled pork and sliced sausage (2 for $7) into the worthy Cubano the “Tony Montana” promised.
The man working the window let me mix and match sliders, easing me through my indecision. He was cool throughout my six-sandwich experience, genuinely appreciative that somebody would fight the rain to be at his trailer on a weekday. That’s worth at least one “Q” all by itself.
Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits
(TOP: Sandwiches from Slab BBQ, clockwise from top left: El Jefe slider with brisket and queso, ChickN.W.A. with chicken and coleslaw, Notorious P.I.G. with pork and coleslaw, spicy red, Gold Rush and Backyard Red sauces, the Donk with every Slab BBQ meat, the O.G. with brisket and a Cubano-style slider called the Tony Montana. INSET, from left: The O.G. with brisket and pickles, the Slab trailer and a pair of sliders, with El Jefe on top and the Tony Montana on bottom. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)