Eight years ago, Jess Pryles was a cupcake baker in Melbourne, who had never been to Texas. Now, she is a full-time Austin resident and multi-red meat and media personality: blogging, judging barbecue competitions, serving as a brand ambassador, and sharing recipes. She also founded The Australasian BBQ Society, hosts the Carnivores Ball, and presented at Foodways Texas and Texas A&M’s infamous Camp Brisket. Most recently, Pryles came out with her Hardcore Carnivore Black rub, a steak seasoning with high barbecue pedigree, made with food-grade charcoal.
For Barbecue Week, Eater chatted with Pryles about her well-marbled life and work, including her history with John Mueller, her favorite joints in Austin, and more.
How does an Australian end up obsessed enough with Texas to move there?
Jess Pryles: I visited Austin eight years ago and had my first taste of Texas barbecue. That plus the awesomeness of the city was enough to keep me coming back. Initially it was about wanting to eat more barbecue, and then, wanting to learn more about how it's made. Then it hit peak Friday Night Lights "Texas Forever!" status, and I knew I wanted to be here full time.
What was that first taste of Texas barbecue?
Pryles: It's actually defunct now: Artz Rib House on South Lamar.
What did you have?
Pryles: They were doing beef ribs well before anyone else [in Austin at that time] was. In hindsight, it wasn't the best beef rib that you can get compared to what's around now. But, at the time, especially if you've never had smoked meat before, that first nugget off the end, where it's crispy and peppery and smoky and beefy, is enough to start you on a small religious pilgrimage.
You had Wayne Mueller from Louie Mueller at the last Carnivore’s Ball in Austin, but you were originally associated with John Mueller, who cooked at the first one.
Pryles: John was the first person to teach me intensively about Texas barbecue. And I will say that the man could cook. There’s just a lot of other factors in his personal life that dictate the quality of his cook on any given day. I ended up working for him in the context of managing his social media. But, as is attested by most everything you can read in Travis and Williamson counties, and the stories you hear…you find out things are true, and you also find out the hard way. I'm pleased to have learned what I learned from him, and equally pleased to have moved on and gotten to spend time around quality people who cook equally as good food.
His joint doesn’t appear anywhere on your list of Austin barbecue.
Pryles: That's not a personal vendetta. It's a comfort zone in terms of recommending him to other people. However, the rest of the list is a full-blown guide that I try to constantly keep updated. There's usually three or four people in the "superstar" sphere, and it goes all the way down to the "reliables" kind of thing. Which is like, "hey, I'm coming to Austin for SXSW, I don't want to leave the downtown area."
I get asked all the time, what's your favorite barbecue place in town? The most important thing that people have to realize is, you're only as good as your last cook. Even the good guys have off days, y'know? That's why I try and keep multiple options on that list for people.
If tomorrow was going to be your last barbecue meal, where would it be?
Pryles: I would want a beef rib from Louie Mueller's, brisket from Freedmen’s and, believe it or not, chicken from Hays County Barbeque. It's that good there. Everyone's going to hate me for this, but I'd pick all my hog from outside of Texas. I do prefer how they treat piggies in other states. But no one can beat us on beef. And Stiles Switch's cheddar-jalapeno sausage.
How'd you come up with the rub?
Pryles: I really enjoyed exploring my own abilities as a cook. The world does not need another pork rub, but I came across a few products that had charcoal in them and I had this concept to do a steak rub. The charcoal is completely safe—they actually use the same thing in hospitals, it's not just ground up briquettes. I wanted to make sure it was MSG-free and gluten-free, because a lot of barbecue rubs have MSG in them. But it's actually a grill rub, not a barbecue rub. My whole approach to my personal cooking and meat is enhance, not overpower.
Do you ever think about opening a barbecue joint?
Pryles: Hell no. I cook home barbecue. I have crazy respect for what the guys do here, especially if you've ever been to Texas in the summertime. It's guys cooking on all wood-fired pits who are really passionate about what they do, who are checking each piece of meat by hand, who are selling out at the end of the day, and it's not just flicking a button, and turning on a thermostat and letting a rotisserie spin.