Brad Copeland and his wife Barbara traveled to Austin to visit their daughter, son-in-law, and beautiful grandchildren (AKA: The Texas Chapter of Trailheads). And you know what they say, when in Rome, eat barbecue. Since Texas is the smoked meat nirvana, they wanted to sample the local fare.
Why is The Lone Star state adored for its wood smoked meat candy? Maybe it's from all those campfires out on the range, chuck wagon pop-ups along the trail, or perhaps just the well-publicized power grid issues.
On their last visit, they planned to experience the legendary Franklin Barbecue. With so much national attention and glowing accolades piled on Aaron Franklin's joint, the lines are long, and the pickings can be slim. Brad tried to attend this barbecue temple, but the brisket had sold out. He didn't stand in line since the star attraction was gone. Elvis had left the building.
That was then; this is now––there's a new sheriff in town. Texas Monthly published its list of the 50 best barbecue joints in the state, and #2 is Austin's InterStellar BBQ owned by John Bates. Bates claims boldly that: "The best barbecue in the world comes from Texas." (#1 is Goldee's Barbecue in Fort Worth, but the Copelands were happy to sample second best and save a trip).
Austin has more awarded joints than anywhere in the state. (Or is Texas a country?) The magazine's rating scale doesn't simply grade traditional fares like beef, pork, and chicken with standard sides but also the mix of new menu items embracing other cultural influences. Franklin Barbecue slipped to #7 on the new list, but we're sure the lines outside the place still run all the way to San Antonio.
Brad took his family to InterStellar for a Sunday smoked meat feast. They were sporting their official Trailheads gear (you can get yours here). There was a long line of ravished carnivores waiting outside before the barbecue joint opened. The hungry huddled masses (containing a few other Georgians) were craving their epic InterStellar experience. Many folks were intrigued by the charismatic people sporting Trailheads branding apparel and probably wondered who these cool kids were.
InterStellar was hospitable to the patient adults and rewarded them with free beer to pass the time. Even though the joint doesn't have a liquor license, giving out beer is legal. Yup, Texas is a whole other country. Kids had a choice of complimentary water or soft drinks (we're sure some kiddies were jonesing for Kamikaze shooters).
Brad ordered and discovered mouthwatering Texas barbecue isn't cheap. His $200 sampler tray was spectacular in smokey goodness, including almost everything except the pulled pork––this little piggie escaped the grazing Copeland family. There were no beef ribs available, which are standard TX fare. They feasted on brisket, pork belly (we guess that pig didn't make it all the way home), pulled lamb shoulder, and sausages. Plus, St Louis-style ribs. With so much care, quality ingredients, and careful, slow smoking, it's not surprising that the barbecue prices can evoke sticker shock.
You're not going to find the Mona Lisa in the bargain bin of Michael's.
The traveling Trailhead said they sliced the beef brisket before his eyes––we suspect someone stood by to mop up the drool. Brad declared it the best brisket he's eaten. The sides included scalloped potatoes with gouda cheese that drew rave reviews, jalapeño coleslaw described as "superb," and jalapeño poppers that "were to die for." The crew also scarfed some delicious mac 'n cheese that we suspect put a blue box of Kraft green with envy.
After grazing on some of Texas's finest smoked meats, The Copeland Family did what anyone who devoured a heaping pile of food would do––they went home and slipped into barbecue comas––a recognized smoked meats medical condition that has no known cure.
Trailheads wish the Copeland family a speedy recovery and suggest following up with another Austin barbecue visit to sample the wonders of its smoky culture. But next time, take a cooler and bring some back for the rest of us
Rating: Four Ribs*
*About Our Barbecue Rating System
Trailheads do not claim to be food experts, epicureans, or sophisticated palettes. We are hungry hikers who attack a selected barbecue venue and ravage our way through whatever smoked fare and fixings they're dishing.
Our reviews feature what we believe are the highlights of the menu we sampled. So our intent is not to trash talk the saintly folks who tend to smoldering smokers on hot, humid summer days. They are sacrificing themselves in the noble art of smoking meats and feeding the drooling masses. Many are independent entrepreneurs who are the backbone of this humming American economy.
Now that you know our standards, you may wonder why every barbecue place gets a four ribs rating. The answer is easy: our group has acclaimed designers, and they think the ribs graphic looks cool.
Who are we to argue? Enjoy.