BBQ City Limits: Smokey Denmark

An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
Smokey Denmark
3505 E. Fifth St. (map),, 512-385-0718
Hours: 11am-2pm Mon-Fri
► DECEMBER 2016 UPDATE: The Smokey Denmark truck is shutting down Dec. 16. The sausage company will operate as usual.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 07.17.14
A honky-tonk band called Horse Opera was playing “Dead Man Walking” as I walked up to the Smokey Denmark barbecue trailer. For Fed Man Walking, was that an omen or a vision? A sign, to be sure, the same way the trailer is a living billboard for the sausage factory behind it, the factory that makes sausage for so many other places, among them Kerlin, Stubb’s and Best Wurst. The charming red and white trailer — which looks like a font-sampler playbill for an old-time bluegrass show — is a way for Smokey Denmark to step out of its role as a backup singer and take the lead, with Bill Dumas as the bandleader.
Sausage is Smokey Denmark’s  “Freebird,” of course, and Dumas holds up the lighter while it plays, giving the links just enough color and smoke. The hallmark links are tight, dense, peppery and hypertensive red, a blend of beef and pork with a case that snaps but doesn’t make a big deal out of it. The sharp cheese and jalapeño version steps outside the barbecue lines, but we’re inclined to follow just to see what happens. A recent Friday brought boudin to the party, with rice and herbal heat in harmony.
(ABOVE: The Smokey Denmark trailer is a brand ambassador for the company’s sausage. Bill Dumas cuts with knives from the old Armour packing plant in Fort Worth. AT TOP: A sampler of barbecue from the Smokey Denmark trailer, clockwise from left: pork ribs, jalapeño creamed corn, brisket, barbecue sauce, jalapeño-cheese sausage, boudin, house original sausage, potato salad and pinto beans.)
But this wouldn’t make much of a story if the Smokey Denmark trailer were just a warmup box for the factory. It’s a full-on barbecue lunch, with brisket, pulled pork and good sides. Fridays are a party, with pork ribs and live music under the trailer’s sprawling pecan tree. “Barbecue is an art,” Dumas said, comparing it to music and design, a blend he’s cultivated over the years through friendships with musicians and poster artists. Barbecue’s been a passion for most of his 46 years, but Dumas began running the trailer just a month ago for Smokey Denmark, where he started on the loading docks. When the trailer needed a new pitmaster, they turned to Dumas, who towed behind him years of experience catering barbecue from the Klose rig that’s still parked out front. True to his Fort Worth roots, Dumas slices his barbecue with a set of knives passed down to him from the Armour meatpacking plant that shut down there in 1962.
On to the barbecue. The brisket was a study in contrasts, with a silken ebony ribbon of soft bark over meat that ran almost ivory at its heart, rimmed by a modest blush at the edge. On the moist end, the fat was the color and texture of antique tapioca, underdone but full of flavor. The meat itself held close together, more like the dense texture of a ham rather than the loose-fibered accordion of brisket. On a second visit, the brisket had more color inside and less bark outside, respectably moist but still in a kind of teenage rebellion against the mellow brown ease of middle-aged brisket. Nonetheless, a teenager with classic potential.
Pork ribs were as lean and dry as blushed suede outside and alabaster inside, with just the right bone-to-surrender ratio. There was very little rub or glaze, but what was there gave the ribs the character of country bacon with a suggestion of syrup-style sweetness up front. It’s a rib for people with good table manners, the ones who don’t wear their lunch on their sleeves.
(ABOVE, from left: The honky-tonk band Horse Opera plays at the trailer on a recent Friday. A pulled pork sandwich with Carolina mustard sauce, Hog Wash, barbecue sauce and jalapeño relish. The cherry sparkle of Cheerwine soda is barbecue’s natural ally.)
While his menu commands overall respect, Bill Dumas makes his stand with pulled pork. The meat itself glowed from ivory to coral to campfire shadow, torn in spontaneous petals of flesh and fat and bark like a whole-hog roast. It was sweet, smoky and tender, and Dumas came out swinging with two sauces purpose-built for the job: a thick, sweet, radioactive orange Carolina mustard sauce and something he calls Hog Wash. It shimmered with apple cider vinegar but got its swerve from tomato, hot sauce and an unlikely but perfectly logical brace of apple jelly. Combined with Hog Wash, Carolina sauce and chopped jalapeño relish on a sweet kolache bun, the pulled pork made a sandwich that’s more than a brand ambassador for Smokey Denmark — it’s the king.
Sides: No picnic would turn down the cool mayonnaise slaw or the mustard potato salad with big celery crunch here, but the pinto beans and jalapeño creamed corn are the show. The beans growl in low mahogany tones with pepper and meat trimmings, with a liquor that cries out for all the white bread you can find. The corn pops with bright golden kernels, black pepper and jalapeño bits with all the flavor and just enough fire, set off by sweet cream that brings to mind the nursery rhyme about peas and honey and keeping them on your knife.
Prices: Brisket is $14/pound. Pulled pork is $12/pound. Sausage is $2.75-$3 a link. Sandwiches run $7.50. A rib plate with side and drink was $12. Sides are $2.50.
Dessert: In the absence of banana pudding, I’ll take the cherry sparkle of a Cheerwine soda from a big slushy tub any day. 
Sauce: If Smokey Denmark’s ribs are like breakfast bacon, the sauce is the syrup, rich with reduced molasses sugars in a thick, mild tomato base. I’m inclined to stockpile the Hog Wash and mustard sauces for days of pork and circumstance.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits