BBQ City Limits: Terry Black’s Barbecue
An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
Terry Black’s Barbecue
Hours: 11am-9pm daily
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 08.28.14
The man working the leviathan trio of screened-in smokers in the parking lot of Terry Black’s called me in to have a look. As I took in three-bone racks of beef ribs, rings of sausage and a field of briskets, he kept drawing my attention to the pork ribs, lying in the sun like a Spring Breaker slathered in Hawaiian Tropic. An apparent favorite in a family of gifted children. And rightly so. They were role models for hard-candy glazing over sweet-churned fat and rosy lean that held on just enough to draw flavor and structure from the bone. Too sweet by a degree, but none the worse for it. A good start for the shop that opened in June at the old Holiday House/Vinny’s/South Austin Bistro/Peso & Buck’s building on Barton Springs Road.
Owners Mark and Michael Black come from the famous Black’s Barbecue family of Lockhart, although Terry Black’s — named for their father — isn’t affiliated with the original. That one comes later this year, when their uncle Kent Black plans to open an official Black’s on Guadalupe. Clear enough? Nevertheless, given the shop’s Lockhart pedigree, I expected more from these tight little horseshoes of sausage. The regular sausage pulled some decent smoke and came across with good pepper and fat, but the casing was too tough to snap. The jalapeño variety tasted rewarmed rather than smoked, and it pulled a wobbly trifecta of mealy, rawhide tough and undercooked.
(ABOVE, clockwise from top: The dining room at 1003 Barton Springs Road has had a run of bad luck with Peso & Buck’s and South Austin Bistro closing in recent years. But for many years it was home to Holiday House and Vinny’s. Turkey is better than it has to be at Terry Black’s. A sampler from the cafeteria-style lie of sides and desserts. AT TOP, clockwise from top left: Pork ribs, pecan and peach cobblers, Sweet and Tangy sauce, original red sauce, jalapeño sausage, original sausage, fatty brisket, beef rib, barbecue beans and jalapeño creamed corn.)
Encased in thick fat and a salt-pepper crust at the top and tough connective tissue at the bone, I had trouble finding an entry point into Black’s beef rib, the center cut of a three-bone rack that weighed a pound and a half by itself and cost $26. I couldn’t just turkey-leg the thing, because it would have slid off the bleachy-clean bone at its core, so I finally just tunneled in from above. I found meat radiant with juice, loosely fibered and well-salted, with a smoke line that had just started to glow at the edge like the first rays of a dusty dawn. Good stuff, but about the same low-return value as cleaning a whole fish, where you wind up tossing the bones and skin and most of the rest to shake lose those precious grams of meat.
Still scarred by the cafeteria brisket of my youth, I tend to sidestep lean brisket because it starts rangy and dry and goes downhill from there, and fast. I violated that guideline at Terry Black’s and got the same result as ever. But the moist brisket showed its mettle as a player in Austin’s formidable market, with a macramé weave of flesh and fat beneath a supple pepper bark.
I’ve resolved to bring more barbecued turkey to these BBQ City Limits parties, maybe in sandwiches where it won’t disturb the grown-ups ($6.98). But Black’s turkey doesn’t need to hide under a bun, because the white meat glows with the more robust, juicy personality of dark, sporting a smoky exterior ridge as aggressive as a chain wallet. In its own way, every bit as good as the brisket and pork ribs.
Whatever your feelings about the meat or sides or the divergence of the Black’s family tree, this is another comfortable, air-conditioned, parking-lotted, all-day-everyday option for decent Central Texas barbecue in Austin, and that’s something to celebrate.
(ABOVE: Racks of beef ribs on one of the three big barrel smokers in the parking lot of Terry Black’s.)
Prices: Turkey and pork ribs $15/lb; brisket $16/lb; beef ribs $16.98/lb; sausage $12/lb (about $4 a ring). Sides and desserts $1.98.
On the side: The people who don’t buy into the side-dish pariah politics of Kreuz Market and Smitty’s in Lockhart appreciate Black’s there for its cafeteria line embrace of sides like mac and cheese, creamed corn and green beans alongside the trinity of beans, potato salad and slaw. The steampans at Terry Black’s cater to that same kind of audience. The pinto beans take top prize, full of chili spice, shredded meat and a thick brown cowboy liquor. Creamed corn is notable for its novelty, even if it‘s missing the snap of better examples at Scotty’s and Kerlin. I can’t throw my weight behind slaw, mac or potato salad, each a “C” student, with the potato salad in particular playing it tough and sloppy.
Desserts: Peach and pecan cobblers were a welcome sight in this realm of banana pudding, but neither rose much above assembly line competency. The pecan cobbler was really just pie with the slices churned together. Banana pudding won after all, a loosely whipped cookies-and-cream collective.
Sauce: Another selling point for Black’s in Lockhart is that they actually have barbecue sauce. Terry Black’s puts three on the table: A sweet red original throwing off garlic and pepper, a slightly less sweet “Sweet and Tangy” sauce with pepper heat and mustard pucker and an orange “Traditional Spicy” that tastes like Russian dressing if Central Texas had invaded Russia.
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