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Photograph: Courtesy La Barbecue

The best BBQ in Austin, Texas

For delicious brisket, ribs, sauce and sides, look no further than these spots for the best BBQ in Austin, Texas.

James Wong
Written by
James Wong
Contributor
David Brendan Hall
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If there’s one kind of cuisine Austin does best, it’s barbecue. Of the many things to do in town, chomping on slabs of meat ranks high on the agenda for tourists and locals alike. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that the brisket here is tender, the ribs juicy, and the sides as flavorful as the main event: corn on the cob, coleslaw, mac & cheese, and green beans, by the pint with extra butter…that’s how we do it in Texas! Austin’s pitmasters are some of the most talented on the restaurant scene. Most utilize Central Texas BBQ traditions like smoking, salt and pepper rubs, and heat, while a few update them with modern twists, all executed with plenty o’ Southern TLC. Ready to get the meat sweats? Here are the best BBQ joints in Austin. When you’re done, you’re gonna want to head to some of Bat City’s best bars for a refreshing beverage or walk off those calories with a hike on one of the many trails.

Best BBQ in Austin

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • East Cesar Chavez
  • price 2 of 4

The women-owned pitmasters have taken over as Austin’s go-to for barbecue—you’ll nearly always see lines around the block on weekends and evenings. La Barbecue’s recipes are uniquely their own. They cook their brisket low ‘n’ slow over Texas post oak for 14 to 16 hours for the ultimate melt-in-your-mouth experience that no BBQ shack can rival. The meat is sourced locally, lovingly grass-fed, and completely free of hormones. Come hang on the East Side joint’s patio, surrounded by picnic tables with some enormous old trees for shade, accompanied by something from their hefty beverage menu.

Barbecue and food trucks in Austin go together like LeRoy and Lewis. After working the pit at Freedmen's, native Austinite Evan LeRoy launched a food truck, LeRoy and Lewis, with partner Sawyer Lewis, offering dishes like cauliflower burnt ends and new school BBQ sandwiches with inventive sides like house-made kimchi, braised cabbage, and kale caesar slaw. The truck is located inside the fence of Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden. All meats are served from the food truck on a first-come, first-served basis. Tip: say yes to the cheddar cheesecake if you still have space. Heck, say yes, even if you don't.

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  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • East Austin
  • price 2 of 4

Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew looks and functions like a typical restaurant: It’s decked out with simple, trendy wooden tables, has a pint-house feel, and cooks enough food to make sure everyone who visits within operating hours gets fed. But the care of pitmaster Lance Kirkpatrick makes the difference. With 15 years of cooking under his belt, Taylor, a Texas native, ensures that the traditional Central Texas-style elements—salt and pepper rub, post-oak-wood smoking, and homemade everything—translate to spectacular quality, down to the last slice. A few extra ingredients—New Mexico chili powder and a hint of citrus—make for some standout BBQ flavors. 

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Central East Austin
  • price 2 of 4

The tales are true: If you want to eat at the actual restaurant (as opposed to sampling the goods via catering), you will wait at least two hours to reach the front of the line. So, is it worth the hype? Mostly…. Famed pitmaster Aaron Franklin’s brisket is top-notch—all prime cuts—and comes sliced as thick as some beef ribs; the pork spare ribs are slightly more peppery than most, making for a satisfying kick, and though one might not suspect this; the turkey is great. To make your wait worth every second, skip the sides and stick with the meats.

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  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Central East Austin
  • price 2 of 4

Line too long at Franklin? Head five minutes farther east to Micklethwait Craft Meats, a tiny, one-pit trailer with a handful of picnic tables situated in an unsuspecting East Side lot. You won’t wait for eons, but you do need to arrive within the first couple of business hours to ensure a taste of pitmaster Tom Micklethwait’s goods—they often sell out quickly. What to go for? A bit of brisket (stands up splendidly to the knife and fork test), some of the smoky, extra-peppery pork spare ribs, and a beef rib. Heaven.

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • East Cesar Chavez
  • price 2 of 4

Though Bill Kerlin and his wife Amelis relocated to Austin from Arizona, now their meats are among the most enticing in town. They employ the standard Central Texas methods, and those certainly succeed. Post oak makes for less smoke penetration in the brisket and pork, which better preserves the meats’ natural flavors; pork spare ribs feature a pepper-heavy rub and formidable bone-to-meat ratio; and sausage delivered daily from Smokey Denmark’s down the street is spicy-sweet and juicy throughout, without ever crossing into way-too-rich territory.

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  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Bouldin
  • price 2 of 4

It’s the same family as Lockhart, Texas’s famed Black’s BBQ—twins Michael and Mark, nephews of third-generation founding pitmaster Kent Black, run the cooking here—but they insist it’s not the same product. The brisket in particular, though it uses the same simple salt and pepper rub, is almost chocolatey in its richness—delicious, but realistically an entrée-dessert combo. Almost everything else—down to the sides, the way they’re displayed cafeteria-style, the checkered table clothes, you name it—is identical to the Lockhart location. Only three times bigger.

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Convention Center District
  • price 2 of 4

Food aside, Iron Works BBQ is worth a visit solely for its history. A family of actual ironworkers constructed the building in 1922 using materials from the original State Capital building left in an onsite landfill. The family of pitmaster Aaron Morris opened the restaurant there in 1978 and has since gained notoriety for their recipe, “a traditional Central Texas blend of salt and pepper with paprika and few other secret ingredients.” Those flavors are best experienced by sampling the beef ribs, which are back ribs instead of the much-more-common short ribs. If you go for the brisket, get the fatty—the lean cuts are salty to the point of dry mouth.

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  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • price 2 of 4

The Salt Lick, which is technically located just outside of Austin city limits in nearby Driftwood, is one of the most sought-after by tourists. The reasons why are somewhat of a mystery. Yes, the fatty brisket is mouthwatering, and the beef ribs have an almost turkey-leg-richness to them. And, of course, the authentic Hill Country vibe—screened-in porch seating with large, family-style picnic tables adjacent to the bustling pits—is ideal. But the drive to and from is brutal, and every meat is served sauced, a huge taboo among Central Texas BBQ aficionados. Sauce is fine in some cases, but it needs to remain optional.

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Ford Oaks
  • price 1 of 4

As one of the only worthy craft-quality BBQ spots south of Highway 290, Valentina’s is a savior for Southsiders seeking succulent meats. True to Tex-Mex tradition, there’s a taco version of almost everything (or fresh tortillas served your by-the-pound cuts), and they’re even open for breakfast. Mesquite wood instead of post oak adds a savory smokiness and the brisket’s bark retains a fantastic crunch, even if some bits were too salty. Valentina’s may not quite be worth an out-of-the-way trip for everyone, but for barbecue-breakfast maniacs, it’s heaven.

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