Stiles Switch (Austin, TX)

After a rather successful outing at JMueller BBQ, our BBQ crowd decided that our next stop would be another relative newcomer to the Austin BBQ scene: Stiles Switch. Stiles Switch opened up late last year on North Lamar towards the north end of Austin (in the Allanwood/Brentwood area, down the street from Black Star Beer Coop, which Carol and I had enjoyed the night before). For those of you that recall the cult 1993 hit Dazed and Confused staring Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, and others, Stiles Switch is actually located in the same storefront that was the cheezy pool hall (The Emporium) in that film. Stiles even has a few stills from the film located in the dining area.

But our trip was not about mediocre 90s films, it was about BBQ, and BBQ is what we got. One of the nice things about Stiles Switch is that unlike many of the BBQ joints that are set up like butcher shops or food carts, Stiles Switch actually runs a full BBQ restaurant. They’ve got a reasonably fast line, plentiful food (so none of these sorts of “run out at 2pm” dramas, or people standing around carrying “Last Man Standing” signs), a reasonable number of beers on tap (particularly focusing on local beers), and a lot of seating. The result is that you can go to Stiles Switch without a lot of drama, advance planning, or doubt. So we showed up, waiting in line for about 5 minutes (staring at the Dazed and Confused stills), and placed out standard order of brisket (fatty and lean), sausages (Stiles carries three types!), pork ribs, and a beef rib.

But enough about restaurant operation and logistics… how was the meat? The short answer was pretty good, with the meat generally being cooked right, retaining some good texture and moisture. The long answer, however, is that Stiles Switch ended up frustrating me (and most of the rest of our group) just a bit by getting things mostly right. What worked here was the overall level of cooking: the meat was cooked to the point of being thoroughly tender, but not dried out or leathery, with the ribs in particular being cooked the way I really like them (tender, but not yet falling from the bone). The interior of both the brisket and ribs had a really nice moisture level to it. The brisket and ribs also had a particularly good and flavorful bark on them. And the spicing on the sausages was very flavorful. There’s obviously some good BBQ cooking going on here. But one thing was distinctly missing. The missing ingredient was smoke. I like a good, solid smoke note to my BBQ, and it wasn’t very prominent here. With the brisket in particular, the resulting flavor was a bit more “slow-roasted beef” than “smoked BBQ”.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about Stiles, but they aren’t yet in the same league as, say, Franklin, JMueller, or the Lockhart joints, at least judging from this visit. I’ll still say that Stiles is doing an impressive job overall. For a place that’s basically been around six months (although I heard that the pitmaster at Stiles is another veteran from Louie Mueller’s, so this isn’t a complete rookie operation), they’ve got a decent product they are serving, and a lot of potential. To be honest, if I lived in the area, I’d probably come here a fair bit, since they offer a rather good combination of quality and accessibility. Right now, Stiles is “good”. I think with a little tweaking, they can be “great”

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