Austin’s Top 9 BBQ pork ribs

By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking
1. Brown’s Bar-B-Que. Like so much at his trailer, there’s no secret to Daniel Brown’s ribs: He just asks Express Meat Service in North Austin for the biggest ones they’ve got. They’re worked into an easy glaze, with a steady, coral-shaded corona and soft-smoked meat like a pork chop on a stick. Smoke, pork, salt and pepper in time-honored balance. “We use salt and pepper on everything. That’s it. We don’t need all that other stuff,” Brown said. And that’s more than enough. 1901 S. Lamar Blvd. at the Corner Bar (map), Facebook page
2. La Barbecue. Wood, smoke, meat, repeat. Barbecue can follow that simple mantra into the sunset. Or it can take the colors of the sunset and paint whatever it wants, the way La Barbecue does with ribs. They’re a desert rainbow of colors — sandstone red, burnt orange, antique yellow — with a corollary spectrum of flavors: red stick candy, blackstrap molasses, iron pot aromatics. September 2015 update: 1906 E. Cesar Chavez St. next to Stay Gold (map)
3. Freedmen’s. Jalapeño jelly is an open secret in competition barbecue, a reliable way to lay down a sweet and spicy glaze for the judges. Freedmen’s lets us judge for ourselves, with a cracked candy finish over hydrated smoke and more than a token degree of heat. 2402 San Gabriel St. (map),
4. John Mueller Meat Co. Trying to get a closer look at the shaggy red smoke line and despite a glaze as sturdy as a pistol grip, I dropped one of John Mueller’s pork ribs on the ground. I ate it anyway. There is no 5-second rule in barbecue. 2500 E. Sixth St. (map),
5. Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew. When the Texas BBQ Posse called Stiles’ ribs the best in Austin last year, Shane Stiles e-mailed to ... let me know. In a previous review, I’d suggested his ribs blushed red from shame. I might have used the words Slim and Jim. I replied to Stiles with shame of my own for being such a tool, but the Posse’s call-shot ribs weren’t the same ones I’d gotten as an everyday Joe. What followed was a respectful conversation about suppliers, spice rubs, rib sizes and doing better work. Stiles Switch has done more than get better over six visits in the year since, cutting consistent ribs with good flavors of smoke, salt, pepper and paprika and the right textural mix of leather, silk, fat and glaze. 6610 N. Lamar Blvd. (map),
6. Kerlin BBQ. Short case studies in discipline, these St. Louis cut ribs wear a crust like a peppered fruit rollup. What they lack in shaggy spectacle, they make up for in toasted fat and a sorghum indulgence, like coffee and biscuits for breakfast. 1700 E. Cesar Chavez St. (map),
7. Franklin Barbecue. The velvet texture that works so well for Franklin’s brisket doesn’t translate as fluently for ribs, which fall away in folds from the bone. But the cooking process creates a finish like Grade B maple syrup, and syrup tastes great with pork. 900 E. 11th St. (map),
8. Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ. Mesquite does a weed-garden dance on ribs no other wood can do. Miguel Vidal counters the wood’s scrappy burl with a bark that’s equal parts sweet and spice. It works for spare ribs and babybacks alike. Wednesday nights only. For now. Updated May 2015: 7612 Brodie Lane (map).
9. Stubb’s Bar-B-Q. These long, meaty ribs with a woodshed crust like a second skin would sit comfortably at the adult’s table at a barbecue family dinner. They would even win some of the arguments. 801 Red River St. (map),
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)