Thursday, April 29, 2010

Central Texas Barbecue Series: Iron Works BBQ

I fell a little behind along the book tour in my posts about other barbecue restaurants I've tried on the road. The thing is, of all that I sampled along the way, only the barbecue joints in Austin and Lockhart got me excited. Those places I tried in Atlanta and Birmingham were decent, but not wow. Admittedly, as things got busy, I didn't get to many places in those cities, so I don't consider my sampling to be ample enough for a scientific study.

But if ever there was a control group, it would have to be Central Texas. When I started this book tour, I made a point to leave some time in each city to chow down on the local barbecue. Austin required a longer stay, in part because I hadn't seen my cousin in ages, but also because of the sheer number of restaurants I wanted to hit was staggering.

I reached about half of my list. In Austin, I first went to Ruby's BBQ, which I reviewed here. Next on my list was Iron works BBQ. This place by far got the most thumbs up on twitter, so it was on my must-go list.
When El and I went to lunch at Iron Works, the first indication that it would be good was the full parking lot. The second was the deep smoke that hit us as we walked in.

We ordered at the counter, in full view of the smokers. They had an old pit for holding the meat, but I could see two Southern Pride smokers in the kitchen.

To be honest, I don't love these smokers. They are the standard for restaurants, but I often find something lacking in the 'cue. If you know me and my book, you know I don't take a hardcore stance on smokers. I also know what it is like to run a barbecue restaurant in a city, that has fire and health requirements that don't necessarily allow for a wood pit. But whenever I go to a joint with Southern Pride smokers, I find the meat to be on the dry side.

I hoped Iron Works would prove me wrong.

The meat man at the counter was genuinely friendly. I ordered a combo plate that had brisket, sausage, and a big ol' beef rib, plus sides. I also ordered the pork loin sandwich.

First taste went to the brisket. It was a center of the deckle cut (again!), so no bark on my slices, nor any lean. Like, Ruby's, it was good, but not great. I was beginning to think that this is what they throw at the tourists, and give the best stuff to the regulars.

The sausage....mmmm. Again with the sausage. Such a perfect blend of flavors, texture, and deeply smoky. Delish. I want to find sausage in Seattle like this. Or make it.

But the best part, the Queen Bee of the plate, was that beef rib. This baby was so thick, tender, moist, and flavorful, that I forgot all about the brisket. Beef short ribs aren't the easiest cut to serve in a restaurant. They vary in size quite a bit, even on the same rack, they have a fair amount of fat, which can off-put the customer and be tough if not given enough time, dry if too much. It's a tightrope walk. And they are expensive. Most people don't get that they are three times as expensive as pork ribs.

That's why we only do them as a special on Fridays at Smokin' Pete's (though, to be honest, we have them more than that. We only promise them on Fridays).

This beef rib had a lightly sweet rub on it, and cooked to perfection. It almost seemed liked they'd butterflied it, which is something I'll have to try when we get home. Baby girl wouldn't give up the bone.

The sides? Not much to write about. Potato salad from Sysco, or it just tasted that way. Beans, a decent scratch pinto bean that is typical in Texas. The plates were accompanied with white bread, as is the custom in Texas.

The pork loin sandwich? Hmm. I have to say I'd never put a smoked pork loin sandwich on a restaurant menu. There is so little fat in the loin that you can't hold it for any length of time before it dries out. I smoke it at home, and love it. In fact we did it here on Shauna and Danny Ahern's (aka Gluten Free Girl and the Chef) pork blog Pork, Knife & Spoon (more about that later).

The pork loin sandwich, which was dirt cheap at $4.50, was three slices on a naked bun. The meat was on the dry side, no matter how much of their tangy sauce I put on it. HOWEVER, the next day, slathered with mayo and pickles, by golly that sandwich was tasty. So what if it was on the dry side, it's pork loin! It still was flavorful and smoky, and...let me say it...gutsy.

But wait, there's more! Cobbler. Blackberry cobbler. Is there a photo? No. We dove into to that before I remembered to take a shot of it. Cobbler isn't all that photogenic anyhow. Not if it's good. Pretty cobbler never tastes as good as the messy homemade stuff. That's what this was. Messy, just the right of sweet to counteract the tartness of the berries, warm and gooey.

Overall, I liked Iron Works BBQ. It wasn't all perfect, but their beef rib saved the day. The ambiance was pure Texas; lots of wood, western memorabilia, an open air porch, overlooking a green space, comfortable and inviting. The service was friendly and relaxed. Plenty of extra touches like butcher paper on a roll labeled "Doggy Bag Supplies" were helpful and given with a wink. I like a place with a sense of humor. Iron Works doesn't take itself so seriously that they forget good service.

I'll be guest blogging a review of The Salt Lick on Man Up BBQ soon. My next post on Central Texas will be at the famous Kreuz Market. Is it all they say it is? Find out here.


  1. That plate of gorgeous barbecue looks mouthwatering. And really cute baby, too! lol! I'm a certified rib eater, whether it's pork or beef, I'll literally get my hands dirty. I wouldn't care less to the people on the next table, I'll really dig into that rib until it's shiny clean, lol!

  2. That's a noble profession. My daughter, even at her tender age, has chosen that career path!