The only dish of Texas BBQ’s Big Three to put pig in the spotlight, Central Texas’s pork ribs—generally spare ribs—are smoked just enough so that the meat is moist and toothsome, but not “fall off the bone” tender, with a nice blackened skin and rich smoky flavor. They're another must-eat in the Austin area.
A note about Central Texas BBQ: This variety of ’cue is attributed to the German and Czech settlers who brought European meat-smoking traditions to the area—primarily to the towns of Lockhart, Luling, and Taylor, each within about an hour’s drive from Austin—in the mid 19th century. The holy trinity of this brand of BBQ is smoked brisket, sausage, and pork ribs; these meats (among others) will be offered everywhere. Only a local—or someone else with frequent and easy access—is likely to go from joint to joint and not giddily order all three of these meats. (Thankfully, meat is sold by the pound here, so you can ask for as much or as little as you want, making it ideal for grazing at multiple places.) Rather than lump these meats all together, we are listing them individually so that we may spread the love among several worthy BBQ spots. Don't miss our separate write-ups about Central Texas brisket and sausage.
Where: City Market (830-875-9019; 633 E. Davis St., map) in Luling, a town about 44 miles south of Austin (or 15 miles south of Lockhart) that’s known for its decorative oil pump jacks, annual “Watermelon Thump” festival, and quality BBQ. City Market is true to its name: The front of the space is a true market, with a bunch of tables for no-frills dining beyond and a closed-door, smoky pit room in the back. You order your meat within those blackened walls.
When: Daily, 7am-6pm. Cash only.
Order: The pork ribs ($13 a pound) here boast all the ideal qualities: tender meat with smoky, porky flavor, the right amount of fat, and a crisp, tasty exterior “bark.” Ours were served a little wet, with what seemed to be a light basting of sauce on the top center of the ribs (we’ve heard reports of customers receiving completely dry ribs here as well). The beef sausage is also a standout. Like most of the other meat joints in the region, you are served on butcher paper with limited utensils, pickles, onions (pearl, in this case), jalapeños, and your choice of white bread or crackers; more unusually, the tangy house BBQ sauce on the tables is delicious.
Alternatively: The pork ribs are terrific at Franklin Barbecue (900 E 11th St., map), the excellent BBQ joint that grew out of a former highway-side trailer, and they’re pretty good at the popular (read: touristy) Salt Lick (18300 Farm to Market Road 1826, map) in Driftwood, a fun BYO spot 22 miles southwest of Austin that’s kind of like the Disney World of Hill Country BBQ (still, there’s great BBQ sauce, peach cobbler, and pecan pies, and it’s convenient to area wineries).
For a fancier, still-delicious take, try the oak-smoked pork ribs—locally sourced meat that’s rubbed with fennel and coriander and maple-glazed—at Lambert’s (401 W. 2nd St., map) in downtown Austin. And if we start talking beef ribs, look no further than the legendary Louie Mueller Barbecue (206 W. 2nd St., map).