When Wurst Tex rolled onto the scene a year ago, it had some heavy competition: Austin's beloved Best Wurst not only alluded a likeness in name, but it had also already firmly planted its roots in the 6th Street district. But then, Wurst Tex did something unique: it added more than just traditional sausages to the menu, with its rattlesnake and rabbit sausage, duck and bacon sausage, and recently, elk sausage. Here, Sam Raver talks about choosing the sausages for the menu, why Texans love to devour their rattlesnakes, and plans to go brick-and-mortar so he can serve sausages greatest ally, beer.
So, why sausage?
To be honest, I’ve always been a fan of the food. For us, we were in the middle of a move coming back to Texas, and the concept really lent itself to not a lot of in-depth preparation, research, ingredients, or equipment. We wanted to have some simple we could approach, and grilling sausages just sounded like the best direction to go. It’s one of my favorite foods, and it’s just an easy concept to tackle. Well, easier than others I should say, but still absolutely delicious.
Do you come from a culinary background?
Other than waiting tables through college, I never really worked in a kitchen, but I’ve always been a fan of backyard cookouts and that sort of thing. So, no, I’ve never had any formal culinary training, per say.
Do you make your own sausages?
We don’t make our own. We considered it for a while, but it seemed almost too time consuming for us. We were trying to put together a business and make sure that our trailer would be operational at all times. But, honestly, we weren’t worried about that because we knew there were some amazing purveyors around town and different purveyors around that state that have put together some amazing recipes, the kind of recipes that really surprise you. So, we knew they would put together some amazing recipes for us.
How did you go about choosing the different sausages you were going to feature?
We were all about trying to find something unique and something that no one had seen before. But, we knew it was important to have the traditional sausages and include hints of exotic. I think that’s where people have separated us from other [sausage] places around town. We’re the only place you can get a rattlesnake and rabbit sausage or a duck and bacon sausage. But, at the same time, we offer things that people are used to, such as the traditional pork bratwurst and all these other hot dogs, even vegetarian hot dogs. We didn’t want to leave any eater out.
I want to talk about the rattlesnake and rabbit sausage. How did you come across that, and did you ever think that was almost too exotic to feature?
With Texas being home to a large population of rattlesnakes, we thought it would something people would be absolutely intrigued by. Honestly, people are almost proud to have them here. I’m not a big fan of snakes, but if I see it on a menu in a region they are indigenous to, you bet I’m going to try it. Since we’ve put it on the menu, it has been one of the biggest sellers. People almost jump at the chance to try it. I mean, we did question throwing something that crazy on the menu, but it proved to be a good instinct on our part.
Why include vegetarian sausage on what is otherwise a pretty meaty menu?
If you look at any menu nowadays, you will see vegetarian offerings everywhere. It has become much more of a popular diet than ever before, from even the most diehard foodies. Like I said before, we didn’t want to exclude anybody on our menu.
There was a time in the beginning, before we added everything we have on the menu, when one lady came up and she wasn’t unpleasant, but she was very matter- of-fact. We didn’t have anything all beef, and she didn’t eat pork and didn’t want the vegetarian sausages, so she said, “It’s not very nice of you guys to exclude anybody.”
It was right then that I realized, ‘Well, thank God we have the vegetarian, but we need everything we don’t have so we don’t exclude anybody else.’ Your customers are the best source to discover what you need on the menu and what you don’t. There going to tell you whether they like something or not; you just have to listen. It’s a great resource.
What are the makings of a great sausage? Are there certain staples or ingredients that really pull everything together?
The ratio of what you put into it is probably the most important step. What always makes a nice sausage, for me, is adding something that has a little kick to it, like jalapeños or maybe even a cheese.
Other than that, it’s really about how you cook it up. A lot of people prefer open flame, but I prefer to use indirect heat as much as I can and get a nice, even browning. If you do it right, you’ll get a great plump, juicy sausage that gives you that snap that everyone is looking for. I didn’t realize everybody was into this snap thing until I accidentally started cooking my sausages that way, and these people from Wisconsin were like, “You’re doing it right. It’s got the snap,” and I was like, “Cool,” and thought to myself, ‘what does that mean?’ So, running the business has taught me a lot about what makes a great sausage. I’ve learned things everyday that I didn’t know beforehand.
What’s the most unique sausage or wurst you’ve ever tried or made?
I tried an alligator one once. We were sampling it to possibly use it on our menu. One of the purveyors that was making sausage for us wanted us to try it because it was a new thing in his lineup. I thought it was amazingly unique, but it wasn’t for me at all. It was too swampy. It was a little dry and had a twinge of swamp water.
What are some trailers you eat at?
I’m a fan of Torchy’s Tacos; their food is wonderful. Our next-door neighbor is Mighty Cone, and I really dig them. They’ve become really good friends of ours, and they are just wonderful people. The New Orleans Po-Boy and Gumbo Shop is a place I’m really into right now. He used to be down at the Shell station on South Congress [Boulevard], and he moved to our lot about a month ago, and his stuff is amazing. It’s very traditional New Orleans food. I’ve always wanted to try East Side Kings.
What’s over the horizon for Wurst Tex? Do you ever think about expanding?
Of course. If you aren’t thinking about what’s around the corner, it’s counterproductive. We would like to incorporate into a small storefront where we can have beer, especially traditional German and Belgian beers to combine with our bratwurst. That’s our next endeavor.