An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
Blue Ox BBQ & Pancake Cabin
APRIL 2015 UPDATE: Blue Ox has left the Buzz Mill and is looking for a new space. Check their Facebook page for updates.
The Blue Ox and the symbiotic Buzz Mill coffeehouse next door have evolved into a woodworker’s core sample, with rough-sawn picnic tables, shaggy cedar fenceposts, lacquered stand-up tables and long Valhalla benches. It smells like a mix of heartwood, summer breeze, sand and barbecue out on the patio. A picnic set to Waylon Jennings singing “It Ain’t Me, Babe.”
My first report from the Blue Ox in February this year showed real promise, and the ongoing buildup of the courtyard around it — along with a shiny new black trailer — suggest that Chase Palmer’s operation is growing with it.
A few Austin shops have made a name with beef short ribs, but a Blue Ox beef rib is more of a Stanley Kubrick thing, carried by a bone the size of a prehominid warclub. Easily a pound and a half, the meat clung like a hornet’s nest to that bone, rippling with fat and lean as if the layers had been shuffled together by a dealer’s hands. And it cost north of $25 all by itself. Long, lithe and softly fibered, the meat was a soft-jawed carnivore’s banquet. But that overstuffed bounty also meant less relative surface area for the smoke to work through, and it became less of a barbecue moment than a braised rib roast on a stick.
Brisket cut from the moist end was flabby the way you like it to be, but it was pale and crumbly, like the cut wasn’t made fully against the grain, leaving fibers and shag through the middle. The crust was salty and spicy hot, soft as an apology save for the stray nugget of pepper and salt fused together by the heat.
Short and dense, the pork ribs brought meat the color of a tanning salon membership, blushing at the edges beneath a skin like cured tobacco. The flavor drew more on general dry heat than salt or pepper, and the meat pulled too cleanly away from the bone. I like ribs with a little rebel cling left in them.
With a rusty orange aurora, Blue Ox’s sausage behaved more like German links than Texas hot guts, with a bratty overbelly instead of a leaner Lone Star shred. There was aromatic spice on the first bite and good heat on the back end, but I couldn’t taste smoke, and I wondered if its blotchy blush was a simple case of undercooking.
Brisket, pulled pork and ribs are $7 a half-pound. Pork tenderloin is $10 a half-pound, and sausage is $4 a link.
Blue Ox’s hot German potato salad ($2) is a star among Austin barbecue sides, with firm diced potatoes bristling with mustard and vinegar and fortified with bacon and boiled egg. It’s not one of those civilized, acid-balancing side dishes like cole slaw. This is full-bodied support for the barbecue, shouting down from the gallery to amplify the chaos.
(TOP: Clockwise from top left: Pork ribs, beef rib, brisket and sausage. INSET: Warm German potato salad. BELOW: The Buzz Mill courtyard around the Blue Ox trailer is a woodwork in progress. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits