Where to Feed the Guy Who Wrote the Book on Meat

Visiting author Bruce Aidells goes to Stiles Switch Barbecue

This past Sunday, my old buddy Bruce Aidells was in town appearing at the Texas Book Festival and he contacted me about getting together to strap on the feed bag while he was in town. I was tasked with figuring out where and what to eat.

Bruce hails from Berkeley, so he can get better Asian and as-good Latino chow close to home, and pretty damn good soul food from Oakland; the one thing that he can’t get in the Bay area is good Texas barbecue. On a previous trip here we did a 7-stop barbecue tour that damn near killed us from barbecue overdose, so I know he loves to get his ’cue on when offered the chance. I also knew the chances of Aaron Franklin or John Mueller having anything left by 4pm on a Sunday afternoon were slim to zero, so I opted for Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew. It’s been a while since I had been there, and I thought Bruce could appreciate their brisket, the sausage, and the beef ribs.

Stiles Switch sits in Austin’s original shopping center, the gloriously old Violet Crown (1951), at the corner of Brentwood and N. Lamar. The whole area is slowly gentrifying and getting hipper, and Stiles Switch sits just a block north of a true Austin landmark, Eddie Wilson’s Threadgill’s restaurant (opened originally as a Gulf filling station in 1933 by Kenneth Threadgill, and the spot where Janis Joplin developed her musical chops). Stiles Switch has been opened about 10 months now, a project of three Taylor, Texas guys, all with solid backgrounds in Centex BBQ: owner Shane Stiles, manager James Jackson, and pitmaster Lance Kirkpatrick. We went in and Lance was manning the counter, so after introductions, we told Lance to do his darndest. We got a tray with an assortment of meats and a couple of sides.

A bite of everything at Stiles Switch (Photo by Mick Vann)

Their beef chuck rib has impressed me before and impressed me again: it has a thick bark enclosing unctuous tender beef that melts in the mouth. The brisket has gotten better since my last visit. “We have the smoker dialed-in and well-seasoned now,” says Lance. We got slices from the fatty end, the point, and it had those delightful sugar cookies clinging to the bark, a deep smoke ring, meltingly tender texture, and great flavor. We tried two sausages, the Switch Original, which has a nice spicy zip to the seasoning, a medium-coarse texture, with a good snap to the casing and great smoky flavor, and the jalapeño-cheese; good, but not on a par with the Original. Lance’s pork ribs were also fantastic: a thick, smoky bark with rich porky flavor and just enough resistance on the bite. Excellent ribs, beef and pork, great sausage, and the brisket got better. I’m not much of a sides guy, but the mac ‘n cheese was okay, as were the two versions of slaw (creamy and lemon vinaigrette); compliments in that department.

Briskets on the Stiles Switch pit (Photo by Mick Vann)

When we had scarfed it all down, Lance offered Bruce a look at the Klose smoker out back (Dave Klose is the premier builder of barbecue smokers in the country, and an old acquaintance of Bruce's). It’s a work of welding art, and now that Lance has it dialed-in and seasoned-up, I think the barbecue has improved. Lance pointed out where the second Klose pit was going to go, a trailer unit that can be driven to catering gigs and competitions.

Lance Kirkpatrick showing Bruce Aidells the Klose pit at Stiles Switch (Photo by Mick Vann)

All in all, a gorgeous fall afternoon, topped off by some excellent barbecue as we talked wagyu hybrid briskets, comparisons between the oak wilt here versus the California wilt, the realities of the food book publishing biz and the rise of ebooks, and how the Koreans are buying up all the chuck ribs from the US, causing the price to skyrocket. Good seeing Bruce again, and nice doing it over some delicious Centex barbecue. For my recent review of his book, go here.

Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew
6610 N. Lamar, 380-9199

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