While there are infinite places to get your BBQ fix in Austin, Texas, there are only a handful of joints that achieve peak barbecue nirvana.
There are the traditional BBQ joints that unfailingly churn out slabs of fork tender brisket encased in a thick layer of smoky, peppery bark. There are those that artfully pull pork and chicken into succulent little shreds creating a canvas for a light brushing of tangy homemade BBQ sauces and propped up by an array of indelible sides. Then there are the eclectic BBQ joints that play fast and loose with the almost religious-like rules of Texas BBQ—and get away with it.
No matter what the style, the best BBQ in Austin is always ingenious in simplicity, defined by quality, and mind-blowing in flavor. It’s time for a road trip. Here’s where to find the best BBQ in Austin:
1. SLAB BBQ
SLAB, which stands for Slow Low and Bangin’, features bold flavors and new-school concepts that are a break from traditional Texas BBQ with mouthwatering pecan and oak smoked meats and award-winning BBQ sauces. Pitboss and Founder, Mark Avalos began SLAB in a food trailer in 2006, and has since expanded into two brick and mortar locations and has been featured on the Travel Channel for his famous “sammiches.” Newcomers are advised to try The Notorious P.I.G. loaded with pulled pork, mustard coleslaw, and Backyard Red Sauce, while gluttons for pain are challenged to conquer The Donk—a behemoth sandwich weighing in at over a pound and riding high with everything but the kitchen sink. You can find these not-so-delicate delicacies at one of their restaurants, via catering services, or by chasing down their food truck.
2. EastSide Tavern
EastSide Tavern is a modern rustic barbecue tavern where executive chef Cade Mercer has found the perfect balance of real smoked Texas BBQ and bar food as well as beer and cocktails. Ribs, pulled pork, poultry, and the ever-popular juicy brisket are all sold by the pound and offerings like the BBQ-loaded baked potato and the over-the-top Heartstopper burger with brisket, pulled pork, sausage, bacon, jalapeño, onion, and queso steal the show. Guests can enjoy a spacious rooftop with sweeping downtown views while cooling off with a frosé or indulging in some of the best BBQ in Austin. EastSide Tavern also promotes Austin’s best brunch with a whiskey-infused banana bread French toast made with Tullamore D.E.W. smoked banana bread and topped with an insanely delicious whiskey cream cheese whip.
3. Terry Black’s BBQ
An old school Austin barbecue joint boasting legendary status, Terry Black’s BBQ is a great, unabashedly hokey example of authentic and traditional Texas barbecue. Their “Brisket is King” mural says it all. Charred black brisket that’s perfectly pink and juicy on the inside takes the gold at Terry Black’s BBQ, and the chopped beef sandwich is another standout and a close second. The front of the house staff at Terry Black’s BBQ has an impressive encyclopedic knowledge of Texas barbecue, while fourth generation pitmasters tend the state-of-the-art smokers in the back of the house. And when it comes to sides, Terry Black’s has an unmatched level of quality and variety. Terry Black’s BBQ also presents the unique opportunity to get the full BBQ experience by joining the pitmasters on an impromptu pit tour of some of the best BBQ in Austin!
4. Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que
Cooper’s is a family-owned and operated restaurant that serves a taste of Texas Hill Country BBQ. Tommy Cooper started Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in 1962 with two pits in a dirt floor restaurant. The BBQ was served on trays and butcher paper, just as it is today in Austin. Named by Texas Monthly one of The Top 50 Barbeque Joints in Texas, Cooper’s consistently ranks high with their cowboy-style cooking done over direct coals. And in an era where BBQ is all about smoke and sauce, Cooper’s is all about the meat. If it’s your first visit, you’ll want the lightly glazed and perfectly porky ribs and the tender, moist brisket with a stratum of smoky fat and a coarse, beautifully seasoned crust. That is, if you don’t get the hefty beef rib, which masquerades as a chunk of blackened firewood and then proceeds to melt in your mouth.
5. La Barbecue
Thanks to a talented pit crew, high-grade beef, and a lot of love, La Barbecue delivers some of the best BBQ in Austin. La Barbecue specializes in Central Texas-style barbecue, slathering meats with salty and savory rubs. Masses of voracious meat lovers can be found congregating on the outdoor patio over smoky cuts, such as monster beef ribs that get their rightful share of adulation and buttery all-natural beef brisket cooked low and slow over Texas post oak for 14 to 16 hours. The beef at La Barbeque boasts an unrivaled level of quality that can be tasted as they source their beef from a local ranch, where it’s lovingly grass-fed and completely free of hormones. The edgy convenience store setting, paired with splashy murals from artist Xavier Schipani, also make La Barbecue an Instagram haven.
6. Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew
Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew hosts a nostalgic atmosphere that transcends back to the old Austin neighborhood style eatery which combines exceptional Texas BBQ and cold Texas craft brews. The walls of this charmingly funky joint are adorned with old school photography and signs and exposed rafters hang over communal tables, which set a scene that is equal parts honky tonk, barbecue, and dive bar. In addition to standard Austin BBQ offerings, such as their beef ribs that deliver a blackened, peppery crust contrasting a juicy pink-red interior, Stiles Switch has three types of sausage, all perfectly cooked and showcasing that satisfying casing snap. Pitmaster Lance Kirkpatrick works with a passionate team and sets the bar high with his “no corners cut” methods of preparation and selection of quality product.
7. Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
In the world of Texas barbecue, going fusion is a dangerous play, but Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ is proof that it can be done—and work to wondrous effect. This trailer serves up traditional Texas barbecue fare with a Mexican twist and it might just be the truest expression of the fusion of two traditional Texas foods. The tight-knit family who runs this ship has a reputation for treating customers as one of their own, and the crowd is no different. Chat it up with your neighbors in line and then find a seat at one of the umbrella-shaded picnic tables to sprawl out with your tray of Valentina’s barbecue, which comes in sandwich or taco form, or by the pound. Pitmaster Miguel Vidal’s mesquite-smoked brisket is at its best when tucked into one of their heavenly homemade flour tortillas, lightly crisped on the griddle, and served with homemade salsa and guacamole.
8. Micklethwait Craft Meats
Micklethwait has found the perfect sweet spot between paying homage to old-school Texas barbecue and innovating enough to turn the heads of traditionalists. After a career in baking, Austin-born Tom Micklethwait now slings some of the best BBQ in Austin including super peppery brisket embraced by a midnight-dark bark, rosy pork ribs, and a fat-slicked beef rib. Now, a few years and a lot of statewide press later, people from all over Texas gather around Micklethwait’s vintage Comet trailer in Austin. Beyond the standard fare, you’ll find rare offerings superlative victuals like pulled goat, barbacoa, and smoked sausages ranging from duck with cherries to lamb with tangerine zest. Perhaps most importantly, though, the cheese grits vie for the title of best side in the city. Oh, and leave room for buttermilk pie.
9. Lamberts Downtown Barbecue
Back in 2006, Lamberts Downtown Barbecue burst onto the scene with something different. It isn’t “real barbecue,” since you’re not ordering by the pound or eating off a cafeteria tray, but it still earns its strips as some of best BBQ in Austin. Tucked away in the gorgeously restored, high-beamed Schneider Brothers Building, Lamberts Downtown Barbecue is as eclectic as the dry goods store the space used to house, featuring brunch by day, and live music and classic cocktails by night. The menu is full of fresh takes on Texas classics and modern Texas cooking including the coffee-rubbed brisket, not to mention the crispy wild boar ribs, one of the city’s best happy hour appetizers. Lamberts Downtown Barbecue also serves up one of the best brunches in Austin. Think oak-grilled hanger steak with egg in the hole.
10. Kemuri Tatsu-ya
An izakaya—a Japanese neighborhood pub—may seem like an unlikely place to find the best BBQ in Austin, but in this izakaya-meets-smokehouse, anything is possible. The word kemuri translates to “smoke” in Japanese and at Kemuri Tatsu-ya, Texan smoked offerings like brisket and sausage are served alongside smoked mackerel and BBQ eel. In true izakaya fashion, grilled skewered meats like miso-marinated scallop and chicken tails can be found on every table. Tex-Mex flavors also make an appearance, as in the Tokyo street corn dressed with yuzu pepper aioli and cotija cheese. Even Kemuri Tatsu-ya’s interior is a hybrid of Japanese and Texan aesthetics with austere wood paneling and intimate booths reminiscent of the izakayas in Tokyo while Texas-pride taxidermy adorns walls.
11. Brown’s Bar-B-Que
In the competitive world of Austin BBQ, Brown’s Bar-B-Que is refreshingly down to earth. It’s just a bright red trailer trailer next to Corner Bar, some picnic tables, a man, and his barbecue. The man, Austin native Daniel Brown, smokes his certified Angus brisket for a whopping 20 hours, achieving the perfect crust and smoke ring. He also smokes a mean (and huge!) pork rib, incredibly juicy chicken thighs, and sides including his famous bacon-laced sautéed cabbage. Brown’s Bar-B-Que is proving that great food doesn’t have to come with hype or a huge price tag and the staff here creates a friendly convivial atmosphere radiating come-as-you-are vibes that invite patrons to dine as comfortably as if they were in a friend’s backyard.
12. Franklin Barbecue
A heavyweight in Austin’s barbecue scene, Franklin draws lines that are as epic as their world-renowned brisket. The brisket has received accolades from Anthony Bourdain and the James Beard Foundation, though every cut of slow-cooked meat here is memorable—and not only because of the hours in line required to get them. The fatty cuts are tender enough to cut with a spoon and the lean cuts aren’t far behind. On a lean cut of Franklin brisket, a line of soft, yielding fat gilds the edge, carrying with it the vanilla-tinged flavor of oak smoke and a black-pepper bite that holds together until the first luscious mouthful. Needless to say, the quality extends across the menu. Every die-hard barbecue lover must make the pilgrimage to Franklin’s at least once in their meat-eating lives, just be sure you come early, and be patient. You won’t regret it.