When was the last time you had brisket so bad it threatened to put you off barbecue for a minimum of one year and potentially a lifetime? If you want to relive that feeling, motor on up to The Stallion, the venerable Airport Blvd meat n 3 that recently served me a brisket sandwich so bad I wanted to bring in Terry Funk from Amarillo to wipe the floors with their sorry excuse for a pit boss.
And now we eat.
As is the custom at Central Texas meat houses the counter man has no earthly idea what I'm talking about when I ask for an outside-slice brisket sandwich. I patiently walk him through it explaining that I covet the charred outer portion of the brisket, as well as the pearlescent layer of fat that rides just underneath the tawny hide.
He nods sagely; I pay and retire to the dining room where my platter quickly arrives. The brisket is explosively hot after a leisurely trip through a microwave. It's popping and spitting and has turned the nicely-griddled bun soggy as hell. I ask for sauce on the side and it comes on the side-in addition to coming drizzled all over the meat itself.
The brisket's disgusting. It's been cooked, chilled, sliced on an electric slicer then stored for god knows how long. It's old, gray, steaming hot, and borderline inedible. There is no "outside slice" there is no flavor, and the only fat is unrendered bands of gristle.
I begin suspecting the beef probably came from some downer cow one of the managers had hit in the roadway on his way to work one morning.
In 22 years of touring the barbecue parlors of Central Texas this stands as the sorriest brisket I've wedged in my gullet-ever.
As an interesting aside, The Stallion does offer some very fine french fries. Upon request, they'll hand-cut a potato and cook it properly in clear, hot oil. Under no circumstances should you eat the barbecue, but by all means pop in for a basket of those good, honest fries.
After a few days of soul searching; alternately reading Kierkegaard and Robb Walsh, I decided I could possibly be ready to eat brisket once more. I knew that this could be one of the more important decisions I've made in my adult life so I had to be reasonably certain this barbecue could provide a healing balm to my tattered taste buds.
Time to go to Stiles Switch.
In any other city in the USA, pitboss Lance Kirkpatrick's meat would easily be the finest in town (save Northport, Alabama) but in Austin, Kirkpatrick has to contend with John Lewis, das wunderkind of LA BBQ, as well as the old bull of Austin barbecue John Mueller, the recalcitrant East Austin meat man.
We're living in tough times when it comes to being the alpha pit boss.
Striding up to the counter, I order an outside-slice, brisket sandwich with plenty fat. The cutter nods and goes to work. HOLY FUCKING SHIT, Stiles Switch has trained their meat slicer! I'm given a bounty of charred outer flesh as well as wide ribbons of pure melting fat!
Stiles Switch has a professional meat slicer working for them!
Wonders never cease.
It amazes me that so many restaurants will spend 15 hours worrying over a brisket then hire some yahoo without walking around sense to slice their meat for them. It ruins it. An inept cutter on the block can destroy the entire business with sheer dumb-assery.
At $8.66 this is one expensive sandwich but let's face it; the old days of 2 brisket sandwiches for $5 are long gone.
I carry my colossus back to the table and begin plundering the beast. It's enormous. What seems like a pound of meat straddles the bun. Sauce, requested on the side, comes on the side as do good quality pickles and onions. The Highwaymen are playing; occasionally a worker strolls by to ask after my weal.
Service? In a barbecue joint?
Properly sliced meat in a Texas barbecue joint?
I'm ready to weep by the time I take my leave.
Austin Texas Brisket Wars Part 1: Sam's Barbecue vs Hoover's Texa Mexi Que BBQ Trailer http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/index.cfm/2013/3/16