Like an orchid kept in the closet, it took Mike Sutter taking his leave from his food critic’s post at the Statesman to flourish. The brass at Austin’s daily did a terrific job of keeping his best work bottled up as is evidenced by his post-daily newspaper output.

He’s blossomed. While is hardly a blog, his efforts are more rigorous than all but a handful of Austin’s food writers, he still updates it frequently and works in areas that are typically thought of as being prime blogosphere real estate.

Sutter loves to latch onto a micro-subject and gnaw and chew and wallow it, much like a blogger would, with one important difference: He can actually write.

So we read with great interest, as many folks will, his latest installment pertaining to the world of Austin barbecue. This is a topic we’ve been exploring since the early 90s when we made that fateful first odyssey through Lockhart, Taylor, Austin and Elgin.

Prior to that, the rigors of our studies had been confined to the smoked pork houses of Tennessee,North Carolina and Alabama with the occasional roll through the mutton belt of Western Kentucky.

But the pure foodways of the old-school central Texas meat markets scarred us for life. We’ll never be the same.

Mike Sutter’s top ten is a good one but, as with all lists, it’s not perfect.

In the number one spot he’s placed John Mueller. The legendary offspring of Bobby Mueller {RIP} would just as soon punch you in the mouth as serve you a plate of brisket but that’s alright by us. He’s without peer in Austin for a few reasons the most important of which being his mastery of the most difficult form that central Texas barbecue offers: hot guts sausage. It’s easy enough to call up Smoky Denmark in the morning and order a case of this n that, throw it on a plate and just sort of call it a day’s work. But Mueller’s the last of a dying breed. An artisan practicing a craft. He’d no more bring in a commercial link than he would take shit off a mouthy patron.

We figured this out years ago after a few Mexican stand-offs at his old joint on Manor Road.

It’s a bit of a shocker to see Aaron Franklin coming in #2 in Austin when he’s been recognized as being the best in the nation by every food writer who ever put a fork full of brisket in his gullet. We still hold fond memories of walking down the block from hq in French Place to the old trailer before the men at Shaggybevo made the line untenable.

Stiles Switch in the number three spot strikes us as being accurate. The team at Thorndale Meat Market is doing this joint’s old school sausages and Lance Kirkpatrick on the pit is a force to be reckoned with. Lance’s time spent under Bobby Mueller up in Taylor places him near the top of Central Texas pit bosses. If you order carefully and your timing is right you can get superb smoked meats from Stiles Switch.

Mann’s Smokehouse is a bit of an outlier at number four. We’ve always had good barbecue there but have never walked out the door just blown away. It’s solid but is it the fourth best in town? No. Mann’s is really more of a meat n 3 than it is a pure barbecue house. They pay a little more attention the sides and we love their gallon-sized glasses of sweet tea they sell for a song.

Live Oak Barbecue comes in at number five. Perhaps the reason being is how much the restaurant has improved since opening. Their first few weeks were pretty rough as their pit boss [whom Sutter refers to as “pitmaster”} sorted out the dynamics of the smoker. Recent visits have found big improvements across the board in their smoked meats. We collapsed onto the floor however when we read that “Their vinegar-and-dill cucumber salad stands among the best barbecue sides in town.” Maybe if you want an express ticket to a diabetes treatment center. Sugar and cucumbers are natural enemies. People who combine the two are dangerous and need to be stopped. This is why we have dill pickles. This is why “bread and butter anything” is to be avoided at all costs.

Ruby’s Barbecue clocks in at number six. We dearly love this restaurant. Their sides are splendid, the ambiance is unmatched and they put out the best smoked chicken plate in town. When we have out of towners who don’t mind spending some money {it’s expensive}we make a beeline for Ruby’s. It’s the only joint in Texas where you can listen to Furry Lewis, get served by a worker who’s largely held together by their tattoos, and eat a side salad with the best dressing we’ve found in Austin. We’ll go to our graves dreaming of that gorgonzola.

Bowie Market inside Whole Foods at number seven. Haven’t been. Ain’t going.

At number eight it’s Texas Rib Kings. After a brutally depressing discussion years and years ago with the owner about the nature of barbecue, pure wood fires, Texas foodways and the rise of the gas powered smoker, this place has been strictly off limits. It may very well be divine but they’ll not see a penny of our brisket money.

Sam’s Barbecue could have been ratcheted up a few notches from their number nine position. Although, like Sutter, part of it may be due to sentimental reasons. We still remember a brisket lunch there from around ’92 or so. The Bad Livers were at one table and we were picking up some to-go food to wolf down before going to see Doug Sahm that night. We walked outside and somebody had piledrived a big nice wedding cake in the middle of the blacktop on Poquito.

Would have loved to have gotten the back-story on that.

Iron Works at number ten is a stretch. It’s one of the best feeling restaurants in town but the part where the rubber meets the road; the meat, has never satisfied. Maybe it’s time for another visit but at our last meal there you could taste the indifference in their food.

You could shuffle this list around a little bit and throw Willie’s and Ray’s in there and it would be more to our liking. That’s the fun thing about lists. Somebody’s always going to think your list is fucked up and their list is the one true way to rank a group of favorites.

And it’s too bad about Whole Foods having barbecue described so eloquently “The volcano runs deep into the meat with a flowing stripe of angry tannic red smoke and islands of lean the color of roiled loam tumbling along tributaries of near-molten fat.” Cause we still ain’t going.

further Texas barbecue

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