Austin’s Top 8 BBQ beef ribs

By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking

1. La Barbecue. Beef short ribs are the big bad wolves of barbecue. They’re expensive for cook and consumer alike; one substantial rib will blow your house down for $25-$35. And all that fatty chuck sitting on top of the bone is an invitation to the Seven Dwarves of BBQ sins: gamey, flabby, chewy, stringy, jerky, greasy and charred. Which would make La Barbecue’s John Lewis what, the Handsome Prince? A Knight in Iron Armor, maybe, fighting the good fight with a rib that brings top-to-bottom smoke, hard-candy crunch, noble textures and tempered fat beneath a toasted shell of salt and pepper. La Barbecue can’t stabilize the kingdom’s beef prices, but it can make even bad metaphors come true. September 2015 update: 1906 E. Cesar Chavez St. next to Stay Gold (map),
2. John Mueller Meat Co. Don’t call it a steak, don’t call it brisket-on-the-bone, and for God’s sake don’t call it roast beef. Right at the point where this short rib’s smoke ring meets the crust, there’s a field of caramelized meat like candied floss, bright with an alloy of sugar, fat and smoke. Barbecue’s answer to cotton candy, complete with a handle. 2500 E. Sixth St. at Pedernales (map),
3. Micklethwait Craft Meats. Tom Micklethwait bucks a trend toward beef ribs as big and sloppy as redneck buckle bellies. It’s thick and primordial in its fire-blackened armor, but tight and disciplined in the same craft-driven style as the trailer’s sausages, held in place by rendered fat rested just long enough to re-form into adhesive amber. 1309 Rosewood Ave. (map),
4. Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew. A confederacy of salt, pepper and smoke with textures like churned butter, hardtack and toasted sorghum. Not always the prettiest short rib on the block, its beauty lies in a burnished tawny honeycomb of caramelized meat and fat along the ridge near the bone. 6610 N. Lamar Blvd. (map),
5. Kerlin BBQ. Beef ribs separate the men from the boys in barbecue. And Kerlin’s rib is a study in the gentlemanly — and sometimes too genteel — art of pecan smoke, executing the neat trick of being tender and fatty with a rough, salty crust in a uniform shade of mahogany, all at the same time. 1700 E. Cesar Chavez St. (map),
6. Blue Ox BBQ and Pancake Cabin. A Stanley Kubrick experience, with a bone the size of a prehominid warclub. The meat clings like a hornet’s nest to that bone, less of a barbecue monolith than a braised rib roast on a stick. But still, a joyful carnivore’s banquet. 1505 Town Creek Drive at the Buzz Mill coffeeshop (map),
7. The County Line. For some of us, the beef back rib at the County Line was our first Flintstonian barbecue moment. Back ribs tend to be leaner than short ribs, with the meat crowding between the bones rather than piling on top. They’re the best thing coming out of the smoker here, a beef version of bacon, striated with layers of fat and fibery lean. Tearing through it awakens a primal joy, coupled with a lingering tobacco afterburn like a lost pack of Chesterfields. On the Lake at 5204 RM 2222 (map) and On the Hill at 6500 Bee Cave Road (map),
8. Bert’s Bar-B-Q. A disciplined back rib with an antique rose finish and beef in waves of color graduating from cedar chest to melted amber glass. This reliable, no-frills operation recently returned to its UT campus roots, but the beef rib is only available at the Far West shop. 3563 Far West Blvd. (map),
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)