Our Guide to Central Texas Barbecue
You can’t go home and tell your friends that you came to Central Texas and never ate any barbecue. It would be like going to SXSW and not listening to any music. But there are so many briskets and so little time! How do you sort it all out? No worries, here is our opinionated guide to the best of the best.
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If you have some free time and access to a car, consider an outing to these joints, all within an hour’s drive, or maybe a little more: Snow’s BBQ in Lexington (note: open Sat morning only); Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor; Kreuz Market in Lockhart; Smitty’s Market in Lockhart; Cooper’s Old-Time Pit Bar-B-Que in New Braunfels; Cooper’s Old-Time Pit Bar-B-Que in Llano; Zimmerhanzel’s BBQ in Smithville; Opie’s BBQ in Spicewood; and Hays Co. Bar-B-Que in San Marcos.
But if you’re planning to stick around Austin, these are the places you should check out:
You may have already heard: The worst-kept secret in Austin is serving up such perfect brisket that folks stand in line for two hours or more to try it (count on “more” during SXSW). Young pit master Aaron Franklin has mastered the Central Texas style of barbecued brisket, almost invariably producing a high-quality, beautifully marbled piece of meat with a thick, liberally peppered thick (crust), smoked over oak to a melting tenderness. After waiting for an order of this, or maybe some pulled pork, ribs, or sausage, most customers swear—usually in between groans of pleasure and posing for Tweetable pictures—that they’d do it again.
Small dining room. Located 1 mile east of downtown Austin. 900 E. 11th St, 512-653-1187. Tue-Sun 11 till sold out (often by 1).
John Mueller’s big trailer and pit have rumbled over to Austin’s east side, where his sizeable fan base lines up as early as 9 a.m. to get his Flintstone-esque beef ribs and signature brisket, oak-smoked and looking like it’s been dredged in coarse-ground black pepper. The fatty brisket and the pork loin have been exceptional. Look for a small vacant city lot enclosed by a black-wrapped chain-link fence. Order to go or eat at a covered picnic table. (And in case you’re wondering, John is one of the Mueller clan but not affiliated with them. It’s a long, but juicy, story.)
2500 E. 6th St, no phone. Located 1.8 miles east of downtown Austin. SXSW special schedule: Open Tue Mar 12–Sat Mar 17. Closed Mon & Tue, Mar 18 & 19. Open Wed Mar 20–Sun Mar 24. Closed Mon Mar 25. Open Tue Mar 26–Sun Mar 31. Opens at 10:30, closes when sold out (usually early afternoon).
Named for owner LeAnn Mueller, granddaughter of the founder of Taylor’s famous joint Louie Mueller Barbecue, this little trailer has a Central Texas pedigree and amazing ‘cue to back it up. Pitmaster John Lewis, formerly a pit man at Franklin Barbecue, knows his way around meat, and serves up some of the most delicious Central Texas-style brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs, and in-house sausage in town.
Located 1.5 miles south of downtown Austin. 1502 S. 1st St, 512-605-9696. Wed–Sun 11 till sold out (usually early afternoon).
If they’re not too busy, the friendly counterman will hand you some of those fantastically greasy, crunchy brisket burnt ends to nibble while he cuts your order. The vibe is great here, not utilitarian, with vintage pictures and beer signs on the walls and plenty of tables and chairs (you order in a cafeteria line). Nice touch: local craft beer is a liquid specialty. The sign on the way out says “Thank ya kindly.”
Located 5 miles north of downtown Austin. 6610 N. Lamar Blvd, 512-380-9199. Sun 11–8, Tue–Thur 1–8:30, Fri & Sat 11–9 or 9:30.
You’ll think, this place is way too nice and kinda pricey for a barbecue joint (a three-meat plate is $17), and you’ll be suspicious that they use commercial smokers instead of a decades-old pit. But the ‘cue is all first rate, with mild but ample smoke. The house-made sausage and the sides are exceptional. This is where you go if you’ve got a vegetarian friend or your boss in tow, because Lamberts has a full menu and table service. It occupies a nicely revamped historic building with the original brick walls and rustic wood tables.
Located in downtown Austin. 401 W. 2nd St, 512-494-1500. Lunch Mon–Fri 11–2:30. Dinner Sun–Wed 5:30-10, Thur–Sat 5:30–10:30. Brunch Sat & Sun 11-2. Reservations recommended. Bar open all day.
Ruby’s is that humble little place you love to love. Located north of the UT campus, it’s been around for 25 years. You order at the counter of the low-ceilinged main room, which is practically wallpapered with music posters. On a recent visit, the brisket was phenomenal, perhaps because the beef is hormone- and steroid-free and smoked from 12 to 24 hours over oak in the old brick pits out back. Sadly, the pork ribs and sausage seemed to be having a bad day. Oh, be advised that this ‘cue is not cheap (a three-meat plate is $17.99).
Eat indoors or out, in the funky courtyard. Located 2 miles north of downtown Austin. 512 W. 29th, 512-477-1651. Sun–Thur 11–11, Fri & Sat 11–midnight.
This place is only a few weeks old and can be a little hard to find. Park in the lot for the Buzz Mill coffeehouse, go inside, and walk out the side door and around back, where you’ll find a food truck and a bunch of tables—most of which have been pleasantly available so far this week. After tasking owner and pitmaster Chase Palmer’s moist brisket, pulled pork, spare ribs and espresso-rubbed pork tenderloin, we predict this place will get busy in the next few weeks, so check it out while it still has a mellow vibe. Bonus: It’s open late, but there’s a slight risk that Palmer will have sold out of the brisket.
Located 2.5 miles southeast of downtown Austin. 1505 Town Creek Dr, 512-537-2047. Tue–Thur 11–10, Fri & Sat 11–2, Sun 10–6.
While this little vintage trailer is still relatively new, Tom Micklethwait has quickly gained a reputation for a great food and a menu that leans fancy (pork belly andouille sausage, anyone?). Pork ribs and pork shoulder are moist and delicious, and the brisket is good when it’s available. (This weekend, for SXSW, they’ll be serving brisket at every shift.) Amazing sides include a minty cucumber salad.
Located 1.5 miles east of downtown Austin. 1309 Rosewood Ave, 512-791-5961. SXSW special hours: Wed-Sun 11-4.