BBQ City Limits update: Stiles Switch
An ongoing series of reports on barbecue in Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew
6610 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-380-9199, www.stilesswitchbbq.com.
Hours: 11am-9pm Tue-Thu, 11am-10pm Fri-Sat, 11am-9pm Sun. Closed Mon.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 03.26.13
Stiles Switch is my go-to for BBQ without the BS. They’re open when they say they’re open. They cook enough meat to last the day. Even if the line wanders the 15 yards to the door, pitman and slicer Lance Kirkpatrick keeps it moving without sacrificing an affable sense of ease. I can dodge in, get a half-pound of moist brisket and be out the door in five minutes most days.
In the weeks after John Mueller’s trailer went dark last year, I took comfort at Stiles Switch. Kirkpatrick trained under John’s father Bobby Mueller in Taylor, and his brisket wears its black-pepper armor like a coat of arms. Its shell is like a gatekeeper that lets the smoke in but keeps the juices inside for a mellow glow, whether you ask for moist or lean. It’s safe to ask for lean here. It’s protected by a quarter-inch fatcap, because this isn’t a salad at a day spa. Lean just means less fatty, and that’s all it ever needs to mean.
Consistency is the key word for sausage at Stiles Switch. All three varieties are the same ruddy round links every time, whether they’re the spicy Switch Original, the only-slightly-less-spicy Thorndale or the jalapeño-cheese. But the Switch is best, with a pop-tight casing and a peppery, high-fat core that’s dense without being chewy.
The beef rib was a wreck to look at. Blackened on the outside, yellowed at the fat line, a knotted tangle of wet gray rope in the middle. Like it had been sawn with the dull edge of the blade. But there were hints of what lay in store. A layer of hellfire red tucked under the charred rim. A burnished tawny honeycomb of caramelized meat and fat along the ridge near the bone. The bellwethers of an ugly duckling rib that would blossom into something beautiful, with rustic fibers of beef woven through rendered fat. A confederacy of salt, pepper and smoke with textures like churned butter, hardtack and toasted sorghum.
Take away every good thing I said about the beef rib and you’re left with the pork rib, a withered pillar of dry salted pork, blushing red not because of great smoke but shame. Shame at looking, tasting and having the hidebound pull of a Slim Jim. I might have cast a shadow over pork ribs here for being tough and underdone in the past, but at least they had big, meaty integrity. Not this time — and this time, like every time, counts. To be fair, I tried them again a few days later with the same result, outdone in their dessication only by pork loin as stiff as sliced post oak. (Update: How Stiles Switch ribs worked their way into the Top 5)
Prices: Meat is priced by the half-pound or plate, with brisket at $7.50, pork and beef ribs at $7 and turkey or pork loin at $6.50. Sausage is $2.95 a link. A two-meat plate with two sides is $13.
On the side: After so many half-baked sides at more than 40 barbecue places in Austin, I’ve come to appreciate Stiles’ corn pudding, turning cornbread into a warm doughnut scoop with whole kernels like jimmies ($2.50/serving). Beans walk in familiar salty brown territory, and potato salad’s just another picnic. But coleslaw with lemon vinaigrette is a bright, crunchy palate cleanser between bites of barbecue ($1.75/serving).
Dessert: Save the calories you’d spend on peach cobbler as thick as sweet rubber cement and spend them on another helping of cornbread pudding.
Sauce: It’s as thick as strained chili as it starts to cool. But when it’s hot, this sauce glows with onion and garlic and oil, with enough finishing spice to wake up the brisket the next day or put the leftover pork ribs out of their misery.
Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits
(TOP: Clockwise from top left: Moist brisket, lean brisket, sauce, beef rib, Switch Original sausage, pork ribs, peach cobbler, beans and corn pudding. INSET: I can’t recommend either the pork loin or pork ribs. The Stiles Switch building is part of the Violet Crown shopping center where “Dazed and Confused” was filmed. The dining room — and more important, the barbecue pits — are big enough to accommodate customers all day long. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)