First of all, I would like to apologize for the quality of this picture. The light in Sam’s Barbecue (the old-style BBQ shop near 12th and Chicon) is low, which didn’t help things any, and I kinda got distracted by my half pound of mutton and forgot to take the picture until I had eaten nearly all of it.
Most of the BBQ places around Austin don’t serve mutton. I presume it’s because Texas barbecue has become a rather prissy and self-important affair. Most restaurant goers in Austin would rather be a few blocks away at Franklins eating a boneless and perfect piece of brisket. They would rather spend a couple of hours in line than spend a few minutes picking juicy and pungent mutton meat from the admittedly perplexing anatomical irregularities of a sheep.
I’ve had mutton several times now, always from an establishment that caters to either Mexican-Americans or African-Americans. And every time I get the mutton I discover some surprising, new, and inedible piece of animal. Sometimes it’s unexplained tubes. Sometimes it’s whole vertebrae. The piece of mutton I got from Sam’s this last time appeared to be a cross-section of ribcage, but there were also pieces of bone, or maybe hard cartilage, about the size and shape of golf pencils. They weren’t a part of any skeletal feature I’m aware of. There was also a sheet of membrane embedded in the meat. I’m thinking that it was part of some sort of sack that held the sheep’s innards, but that might be completely wrong.
Nevertheless, some of the juiciest and tenderest barbecue I’ve had. And it tasted a little bit like a sheep smells, the sort of thing that’s worth top dollar in cheese, so why not meat too?
I should also mention, in passing, the whole “shoplifted pants meat” scandal that had closed down Sam’s last year. I’m glad they’re re-opened, and I hope that being the target of a health department sting operation will only increase the credibility and prestige of the barbecue.