BBQ City Limits update: Sam’s Bar-B-Cue

An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
Sam’s Bar-B-Cue
2000 E. 12th St. 478-0378, no website.
Hours: 10am-10pm Sun-Thu. 10am-3am Fri-Sat.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 04.11.13
Welcome to Sam’s celebration of yesterday. Yesterday’s sausage. Yesterday’s chicken. Brisket that would have been fine in the yesterdays before Franklin and Mueller.
And the cutter? He had no interest in slicing from any part of that newly unfoiled brisket besides the part directly in front of his knife. Not the ebony-crusted fatty end, just the pale, flaccid lean side that looked and tasted like cafeteria brisket. No special requests to differentiate lean from moist. “I cut it this way right here. I start on this side and go to that side,” was all we got for our efforts, no matter how deferentially we asked. That, and maybe some fatty scraps from the brisket he had cut for the guys in front of us.
Mutton always tastes like yesterday, even when it’s today. The spring lamb put out to pasture. But that’s part of its crooked charm, and a thin rack of mutton ribs was the day’s best offering, an even mix of sticky fat and gelatinous lean with bones like dollhouse popsicle sticks. Always on the verge of landslide, Sam’s pork ribs carried salt and smoke beneath their unstable crust. Good real estate on shaky ground, like a pork chop on a faultline. One good tremor left only the chalky bone behind.
The chicken was only a few hours way from turning into flap-skinned jerky, and the sausage looked like fingers after a long soak in the bathtub, a tub ringed with yesterday’s pit grease. It tasted like surrender.
When I put together Austin’s Top 10 BBQ last year, Sam’s rolled in at No. 9. Yesteryear’s review suggests what Sam’s can be on its good days, but mind this caveat: “Every list like this has a sentimental favorite, and Sam’s is it.” Sentimental favorite or not, barbecue like this will cost Sam’s its place in the Top 10.
Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits
(TOP: A $40 pile of meat from Sam’s Bar-B-Cue included sausage, brisket, mutton, pork ribs and chicken. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)