Barbecue Joints in and Around Austin
Most folks around these parts are wild for barbecue so we decided to provide you with some information for around 40 BBQ joints in and around Austin. The reviews found below are based primarily on comparisons of the moist brisket and pork ribs available, but we also will give you a heads up as to where you can get some really good beef ribs.
Remember the rule about sauce: it is not that you should never put sauce on the barbecue, the rule is that you should never eat at a place where you HAVE TO put sauce on the barbecue or else it will be too dry or there won’t be enough flavor. In any event, you can always use the sauce to dip the white bread in, or to add to the beans for more flavor.
Exceptional (Attendance is Mandatory)
All of these barbecue joints are serving up some outstanding brisket and ribs that are always absolutely delicious. The moist brisket at each place has a full, rich flavor unlike what the vast majority of barbecue joints have offered up until relatively recently. Another common characteristic about these places is the brisket is always very tender and never dry. If you still think Lockhart is the standard bearer when it comes to producing the best barbecue in Texas you need to try the four Austin joints in this category. They will redefine what you should come to expect from truly extraordinary barbecue.
Franklin, Austin: They serve up absolutely luscious moist brisket and ribs in this brick and mortar structure – the meat has just the right amount of post oak smoke flavor and both are cooked to perfection. The bark on the brisket is sweeter than at some of the other places, but certainly not too sweet. In fact, it is just right. The ribs are a work of art with a lip smacking combination of taste and texture. Together, this brisket and rib combo is stunning and it arguably is the best in the Hill Country, depending on personal taste. However, many people think it is not worth the 3-5 hour wait in line given what the other folks in the region have to offer with much less of a wait, if any. In any event, you should go here at least once or you won’t be able to say with certainty who you believe has the best brisket/ribs combo. Some folks make a big stink over the fact that Franklin does not make its own sausage. Anyone heard complaining about that should be barred from serious discussions regarding where the best barbecue can be found. Nobody but nobody would pick the place that has the best sausage in town over the place that has the best brisket, unless of course you live in Elgin. https://franklinbarbecue.com/
Freedmen’s, Austin: This restaurant is a great place to go because there is hardly ever a long wait, the brisket is absolutely outstanding and the pork ribs are pretty stinking good as well. The brisket is tender and has more of a smoke infused flavor than most other places. The ribs also are tender, they are very flavorful and they have an enticing bark. The brisket is very tender and the perfect amount of fat has been rendered from it. On a particularly good cut you can separate the velvety meat by simply running the fork over the brisket. For whatever reason this place does not get as much publicity as some of the others in this group, which is surprising given how consistently divine the food is here. Don’t expect to see regular pickles on your plate, they will bring you something pickled but it won’t necessarily be the dill slices you are used to unless you ask for some. To make things even better, the slaw is pretty darn good as well and they serve homemade bread to dip in their sauce. The only knock on this place is it can get hot during the summer because there is no A/C, and there is a noticeable lack of parking during peak hours. However, you should not let those minor shortcomings keep you from coming here to enjoy some truly marvelous barbecue. They changed pit masters in August so we will have to see whether they will be able to keep up the high quality they have come to be known for. http://www.freedmensbar.com/
Louie Muller, Taylor: This is the grandpappy of tremendous BBQ in Central Texas. The pit masters at this place over the years pioneered many of the techniques that the best barbecue joints have come to embrace. The beef rib is legendary and boy scouts have been known to sing its praises while sitting around the campfire at night. On top of all that, the brisket and pork ribs are very flavorful and perfectly prepared in the post oak smoker. The food is so satisfying you should order brisket and both types of ribs during every visit, which should be no less than once per year. One other thing, the building is exactly how you think an old BBQ joint should look and smell. This place has the perfect combination of mouth watering barbecue and authentic atmosphere. http://www.louiemuellerbarbecue.com/
Micklethwait, Austin: This trailer is known for its scrumptious variety of handmade sausages served on a rotational basis, but the moist brisket and pork ribs are top notch as well. They also serve homemade moon pies. The brisket here is always tender and full-flavored, however, at times it is not fully rendered just so you know. The pork ribs have a heavenly bark and even though they are a little sturdy for some, they are consistently delicious. On top of that the beef ribs and the occasional pulled goat really help to cement this trailer’s inclusion in the top category of barbecue joints. They also have some really good jalapeno cheese grits here if that sounds interesting to you. http://www.craftmeats.com/
Opie’s, Spicewood: If you like Cooper’s in Llano you definitely will like this place because they are virtual twins, but we think the food is a little better here. The biggest differences are that the warming pit is inside the building and here the BBQ is prepared by using indirect and direct heat/coals for the cooking so it has a little richer taste than over in Llano. The pork ribs have a really nice bark and are always really flavorful, but at times can be a tad bit greasy. Putting that aside, the brisket here is superlative with a nice mesquite smoke flavor and the bark is perfectly rendered. Just like with Cooper’s tell them not to use the electric knife on your moist brisket because that will only make the beef dry out faster. Remember you can’t take any butter beans home with you if you are dining in, the pinto beans are served at a temperature that is about one degree below boiling, and the tater tot casserole is certainly worth a try. http://www.opiesbarbecue.com/
LA Barbecue, Austin: If you are of a mind that great food can’t come from a trailer it is because you have not been to this one. Don’t let the name fool you, they provide some really good moist brisket and pork rib combo when they are dead on. Maybe it is the pickle juice and mustard they use that make the brisket so darned delicious, it is hard to say. The ribs have a scrumptious pepper-based bark, are almost slide off the bone tender requiring just the right amount of pull to remove the meat, and they are deliciously sweet to just the right degree. As if all that wasn’t enough, they make some really good beef ribs here as well and the potato salad certainly is above average. You should know, however, that since John Lewis left as pitmaster every now and again the brisket has not been rendered enough, although it is always flavorful and tender. http://www.labarbecue.com/
Very Good (Attendance is Strongly Encouraged)
These places are just a step down from the big boys in the exceptional category, but they are still serving up some really good barbecue that is not to be missed. Do not ever pass one of these places by without at least stopping in for a ¼ pound of moist brisket or a couple of pork ribs or you will regret it after talking to folks who have eaten there recently.
Brown’s, Austin: They have really good brisket with a little extra layer of smoke than most places have, and the pork ribs are encapsulated in a fabulous glaze that will keep you coming back for more. Both the brisket and ribs are always very flavorful and satisfying at this trailer. The brisket is always very tender, and they have gotten much better at rendering most of the fat out of the center of the cut. The pork ribs have a little pull to them in order to remove the meat from the bone, but not too much is required. The ribs typically are rendered to just the right amount. This is some excellent barbecue and you really should try it out before the crowds start to head this way. With just a little more consistency this place could climb its way up to the exceptional category. It is that good. Be sure to try the cabbage while you are here because it too is above average. https://www.facebook.com/BrownsBarBQue
Terry Black’s, Austin: They are still working a few things out at this location, but they have been steadily improving since opening and they have really good BBQ here, especially the brisket which has a nice smokey flavor and is pretty darn tender. The pork ribs have an enticing glaze to them and are consistently flavorful without being too greasy. If they keep improving their cooking technique this restaurant also could end up in the exceptional category before long, assuming the neighborhood group is not successful in shutting them down. http://terryblacksbbq.com/
John Mueller, Austin: [John is closed, not sure when he will be back open.] At this trailer when the brisket is good it is really good, but often it is not as tender as the brisket up in the exceptional category. The brisket is, however, always very flavorful and the heavy pepper-based bark is adored by many and disdained by others because of its thickness — which is merely a matter of personal taste. The pork ribs are always very satisfying and the beef ribs stack up against any in town. You definitely should come here to see what all the talk is about. If you don’t see John it probably is because he is poking around the pit or the wood stack or maybe he had to go pick up something across town. One other thing, don’t get in line before John is ready for you to do so or you will get more than a scowl from him. http://johnmuellermeatco.com/home/
Kent Black’s, San Marcos: The brisket at this restaurant has a really nice pepper bark and the meat has a flavorful smokey tint and is very tender. They could do a little better with rendering out the fat, but this is some really good brisket. The spare ribs can be a little greasy at times and could be a little less sturdy, but they do have really good flavor. The baby backs are AOK. If you had to pick between what they have to offer, you probably would be better off by ordering the baby backs and the brisket. As an added bonus, they have a nice outdoor seating area and the train comes by periodically for your entertainment. http://kentblacksbbq.com/
Cooper’s, Llano: Solid old school Central Texas brisket and ribs is what they serve at this restaurant, but keep in mind that the big chop is pretty dry. They still are making some of the best old style barbecue in the region if you are looking for brisket that does not have a thick bark or for ribs that are prepared in more of a savory style than at some of the newer barbecue joints. Some folks will not include this place on their list of favorites because they use direct coal heat rather than an indirect method of smoking the meat, but the end product is still pretty darn good. One thing folks like about this place is you get to pick out the exact piece of meat you want from the warming pit. Here is a tip, no matter how much brisket you order have them serve it to you in one slice and don’t you dare let them cut it up with the electric knife they are so fond of. That will help keep the meat from drying out and you will be able to remove the excess fat from the brisket. http://www.coopersbbq.com/
Cooper’s, New Braunfels: This restaurant will remind you of the one in Llano. It has pretty solid brisket, but it can be a little too sturdy and fatty at times. The brisket does, however, have a tasty bark and the meat is very flavorful. The ribs are the old school savory style and they are a tad firm but they are rich with flavor. Same as in Llano, don’t let them cut up the brisket with their electric knife or you won’t be able to avoid the fat that has not been rendered from the brisket. http://coopersbbqnewbraunfels.com/
Kerlin’s, Austin: The brisket is very flavorful at this east side trailer, but not tender enough to be rated as exceptional. The ribs on the other hand are tremendously tender and flavorful and are right on target. This is one of the places where the pork products are a little more satisfying than the brisket so be sure to sample the ribs and pork shoulder during your visit. For an added treat go ahead and get a beef rib because they do them up right at this trailer, and the blue cheese coleslaw is an interesting variation on a standard dish you might want to consider ordering. They serve BBQ only on Friday-Sunday and they also allow you to phone in orders. Another good reason to come here is their kolaches. The brisket kolache is little more than a chopped beef sandwich without sauce, but the sausage/cheese/jalapeno kolache is certainly a step above the ones you are used to ordering up in West because of the superior meat they use here, and because of the much appreciated bread to sausage ratio in these kolaches. The barbacoa kolaches also are really flavorful. However, you should call or click before heading this way to see what kind of kolaches they are serving. http://www.kerlinbbq.com/
Valentina’s, Austin: The brisket at this trailer is very tender and has a rich, smokey flavor. At times it is rendered to perfection, but that is not always the case. The pork ribs are really flavorful as well, but they are seldom on the menu (try Wednesdays and maybe on the weekend). As an added attraction, the homemade tortillas are a really nice substitute for white bread when it comes time to dip something into the BBQ sauce they make here. They offer barbecue tacos, but the best bet is to buy meat by the pound. The smoked corn is awful good as well if you are looking for a nontraditional side. This place serves up some really good barbecue and you should absolutely come by to see where it falls on your list of favorites. http://www.valentinastexmexbbq.com/
Hays County, San Marcos: The decor in this place is a joke, but they do serve up some flavorful and tender pork ribs that have a delicious bark. The brisket is above average, but it is neither tender nor flavorful enough when compared to the places in the exceptional category. Your best bet would be to order more pork ribs than brisket and you should not be disappointed with your meal. http://www.hayscobbq.com/
Cranky Frank’s, Fredericksburg: They make some really tasty moist brisket here. It is flavorful and properly rendered and has a light smoke taste to it. You don’t have to hurry to eat it because it will not dry out in 5-10 minutes like some of those places in Lockhart. The pork rib is of the savory variety and the St. Louis cuts are typically flavorful, but can be a tad bit greasy at times. If you are tired of eating brats this is the place to go in Fredericksburg to stock up on some very good barbecue.
Good Enough (Attendance is Encouraged at Least Once so you can Judge for Yourself Whether to Return)
Most of these places are from the old school best of the best Central Texas barbecue joints that maybe your grandparents first told you about. However, times have changed and while there is nothing wrong with the eats at any of these places none of them have stepped up to deliver the goods like the folks listed in the two categories above do on a consistent basis.
Kreuz Market, Lockhart: Maybe around 10 years ago it was Kreuz v. Black’s battling it out for numero uno (if you excluded Louis Mueller from the mix that is), but how the mighty have fallen. This is good old fashioned Central Texas barbecue, but the brisket will not be as tender and flavorful as those described above. The pork ribs are savory and pretty dog gone good, but they lack the complementary glaze and richer flavoring found at some of the other places. The pork chop typically is a stand out on the menu and definitely worth your consideration. It isn’t what it used to be years ago, still this is the best barbecue joint in Lockhart (especially for pork) so you definitely should drop by, just don’t ask for any sauce or you might get a dirty look from behind the counter. There, let the Lockhart BBQ debate begin if you think others in town are better. http://kreuzmarket.com/
Black’s, Lockhart & Austin: These two are lumped together because the barbecue served in Austin is cooked in Lockhart. The brisket here has been consistently good for years and is nice and tender, but it will be more fatty and less flavorful than the barbecue joints in the first two groups. The pork ribs, on the other hand, usually are full flavored and tender, and the beef ribs are a crowd pleasing favorite. The argument could be made that this is the best barbecue joint in Lockhart, at least with regard to when it comes to the beef dishes. http://blacksbbq.com/
Smitty’s Market, Lockhart: Over the last few years this place has become really inconsistent, especially on the weekends. The moist brisket can come out too dry and annoyingly tough at times. The pork ribs are much more sturdy than at the top notch joints and they could be more flavorful. The best thing about this place these days is the atmosphere and going here for lunch on Tuesday or Wednesday when it will not be as crowded. That said, the next time you go to Lockhart on a weekday you might as well go to all of the big three BBQ joints in town, order a 1/4 lb. moist brisket and one pork rib at each and then judge for yourself which is the best and whether any of them deserve the kudos reserved for the kings of barbecue. http://www.smittysmarket.com/
Schmidt Family, Bee Cave: The food here is about the same as at Krause’s in Lockhart and that is no surprise because they are both run by the same family. The brisket did not have enough of the fat rendered and it could have been more tender, but it had a little more flavor than the food in Lockhart. The rib was savory and solid, but only a little above average. http://www.schmidtfamilybarbecue.com/
Salt Lick, Driftwood: This is some good, not great, Central Texas barbecue that is served at this restaurant. However, when you order family style the first plate of brisket is always better than the second and the moist brisket is not sufficiently rendered. The pork ribs are tasty, but pretty much middle of the road. Your best bet is to order by the pound or else this place is a little pricey. If you order the moist brisket, make sure they don’t bring it to the table with sauce on it. Same as Smitty’s regarding atmosphere being the best part of the trip out here. If the food tasted as good as it looks in their famous warming pit photos this place would be included in the exceptional category, but it does not. http://www.saltlickbbq.com/
Busbee’s Bar-B-Q, Bandera: They serve old school moist brisket and pork ribs here so the brisket might not be as tender as you prefer, and the ribs are standard fare. Absolutely nothing wrong with the food, but certainly nothing spectacular to be sure. This is another place where you might be better off ordering more ribs than brisket. This is a good place to eat if you are miles away from the really good stuff and don’t feel like driving any further, but don’t expect to be knocked out of your seat. http://www.busbeesbbq.com/index.html
Southside Market, Elgin: This place is in Elgin so of course it is better known for its sausage, which is always too darn greasy. The moist brisket is better here than at the other famous place in town, but it can come out either a little dry or too firm at times. https://southsidemarket.com/
County Line, Austin: Pretty good ten years ago, but that was ten years ago. This is good standard barbecue, but there is nothing special about the brisket because they specialize in lean cuts, and the pork ribs served here these days are pretty average as compared to the newer BBQ joints. The beef ribs, on the other hand, are full-flavored and well worth exploring if someone else suggests coming to this restaurant. http://www.countyline.com/
Rudy’s, Various Locations: You’ve been there, you know the story, this is a chain of passable Central Texas style barbecue joints that folks who have not yet been to barbecue nirvana really enjoy. The rule of thumb is that if you find yourself in a town where you know nothing about the restaurants and they have a Rudy’s, it is a safe bet you will enjoy your lunch here. http://www.rudysbbq.com/page/home
Stiles Switch, Austin: The brisket is tender and flavorful, but it is not always rendered sufficiently and at times it will dry out too quickly. However, the beef rib at this restaurant always is full flavored and right on the mark. The pork ribs have a rich flavor, but at times can be a little greasy. Still, this place is putting out some above average barbecue and it definitely is worth a visit. http://www.stilesswitchbbq.com/static/
Cooper’s, Austin: The moist brisket was not tender and not nearly enough fat had been rendered. Still, it was pretty flavorful and the bark was right on the mark. The pork ribs are of the old school savory variety and they had good flavoring and were not greasy at all, but they were not tender. The beef rib was very good. Unless they make some vast improvements to the moist brisket there is no reason to order it. They key is to not allow them to carve up the moist brisket with the electric knife because all that does is hide the flaws and it dries out the meat. Also, it probably is best to not go first thing in the morning because it tastes like they might be serving yesterday’s brisket instead of using the day old meat for chopped beef sammys. http://coopersbbqaustin.com/
The Slab, Austin: The ribs at this restaurant are really good, and if you ask nicely they will sell brisket by the lb. even though this place specializes in sandwiches. Also, the brisket can come out without a whole lot of flavor at times so you might have to dab a little sauce on it. If for no other reason it certainly is worth your time to come here to enjoy their delicious pork ribs, but tell them you either don’t want any glaze or at least have it served on the side. http://www.realdopebbq.com/
Pedestrian, but Folks Still Like to go Here (Attendance not Encouraged)
These places make so-so barbecue, but folks continue to go there to eat.
Bert’s, Austin: Run of the mill old fashioned Central Texas barbecue which will just barely get the job done, but be sure to stay away from the processed turkey. Their specialty at this restaurant is the T Man which is brisket, beans, sausage and sauce served in a boat if that tells you anything, and it should. Although this might come as a surprise, their beef ribs are pretty good. http://www.bertsbbq.com/
Green Mesquite, Austin: The catfish here is better than the brisket, just sayin. Your best bet BBQ wise at this restaurant would be the baby backs. http://www.gmsouthpark.com/
Iron Works, Austin: Folks from Ohio visiting the convention center will like this place (ooops, they also think the River Walk in San Antonio is a big deal), but the moist brisket starts to dry out in less than 45 seconds and the ribs are just ordinary. The best part of dining here is the atmosphere at this restaurant and seeing whether the tourists can figure out how to open their bottles. http://www.ironworksbbq.com/
Meyer’s, Elgin: This primarily is known as a sausage restaurant so it is not a big deal for the brisket and rib geeks because those dishes are an afterthought and not very flavorful at this location. http://www.cuetopiatexas.com/home.htm
Stubb’s, Austin: The moist brisket at this restaurant should not have been served other than as a chopped sandwich, and they specialize in serving plates and not by the lb. The pork ribs are pretty good here and you would do well by ordering them and forgetting about the brisket. http://www.stubbsaustin.com/
Don’t Bother (You are Encouraged to Avoid)
Unless you have a hankering to dip some bread in barbecue sauce, eat a bunch of pickles and have some potato salad and beans for lunch you would be better off skipping these places because the brisket and pork ribs are not very good — meaning they will come out very fatty, tough, dry, not very flavorful or some combination of the four. Some places do have redeeming value, as mentioned below.
Smokey Denmark’s, Austin: The brisket is too sturdy and not all that flavorful. The ribs are OK, but no big deal. Best to skip both of those and go for the beef rib, which is really good.
Hart’s Firehouse, Lampasas: The brisket is not very tender and the ribs do not have much flavor to them. Other than that the food is fine.
Pok E Jo’s, Austin: Catering grade barbecue with a hint of they could do better if they wanted to with the brisket.
House Park, Austin: You might not need teeth to eat their beef but you probably will need a knife, fork and plenty of sauce.
Laird’s, Llano: Some locals swear by this place but it must be because it is not as pricey as Cooper’s, you don’t have to wait in line, and Laird’s actually smokes their meat rather than cooking it over coals like at Cooper’s. Still, this is pretty mediocre at best and the brisket was too firm and without much flavor.
Fuschak’s, San Marcos: Never been to a restaurant that serves good barbecue, and that also serves a lunch buffet and fajitas, and that certainly would include this place.
Sam’s, Austin: You have no reason to be at this restaurant unless you are wanting to go eat after 1:00 a.m. Probably better to order the lean brisket and go ahead and reach for the sauce.
Its All Good, Spicewood: No, it is not. Everything is too greasy and not very flavorful.
Bill Miller/Richard Jones/Dickie’s, Various Locations: That these restaurants are still in business is mind boggling. You are better off ordering anything other than what they bill as BBQ at these locations. In fact, you will be better off eating at the place across the street, whatever it is.