Austin has the greatest concentration of truly excellent barbecue of any city in the world. The 78702 zip code alone features enough stellar barbecue—Franklin Barbecue, la Barbecue, Micklethwait Craft Meats, Freedmen’s Bar, Sam’s BBQ, and Kerlin BBQ—to make most other cities in Texas blush. Of course, there’s plenty of other great barbecue in the city as well, but sometimes it’s hard to navigate when and where to visit, or what to expect when you get there. If you’re traveling to Austin during SXSW (or really, any time), this guide to the city’s best barbecue will help be a cheat sheet to being sure you have the best possible barbecue and the best possible experience eating it. And don’t forget that within about an hour’s drive you can also reach the barbecue destinations of Taylor, Elgin, Lockhart, Luling, Llano, and Lexington (refer to our list of Texas’s Top 50 BBQ Joints for some leads). No car? No time? No worries. There’s more than enough to eat without ever leaving the city limits.
FROM THE TOP 50:
These are some of the best joints in the state, so be prepared for a bit of a wait. Barbecue lines in Austin have become somewhat of a sport. Some spots even have chairs for rent, while others provide free beer to those patiently waiting. You’ll need to allow some extra time to visit these joints, but they are worth the wait.
Franklin Barbecue (#2 in Texas) – Nobody waits longer for barbecue than a Franklin Barbecue customer. Lines have been known to stretch for four hours. The line starts forming here around 7:00 a.m. and if you wait until 9:00, you might miss your shot at eating any barbecue. Once you get inside, the fears of sunburn can dissipate, but you’ll get plenty of exposure before the doors open at 11:00. Your reward of fatty brisket on butcher paper will make it all seem worth it.
Freedmen’s Bar – On the northwest side of the UT campus, this bar and barbecue joint serves cocktails nearly as good as the brisket, beef ribs, and pulled pork. Seats within the bar are limited, but they are all cool and comfortable.
La Barbecue – You’ll probably wait more than an hour at the prime times here. Get in line early for beef ribs and hot guts that can sell out quickly. It’s hard to find a better brisket in Texas too. Everything is served out of a food trailer, but at least the outdoor seating is (mostly) covered.
Micklethwait Craft Meats (#8 in Texas) – Not too long ago, the fans of this joint used to laugh at customers who stood in line elsewhere. Now Micklethwait’s is the cool kid on Austin’s East Side, and the popularity is only going up. Homemade sides and desserts will go along great with Tom Micklethwait’s creative array of sausages. Prepare to enjoy your meal outside as well if you want to use one of the picnic tables on site.
Stiles Switch Brew & BBQ – Beef ribs, homemade sausage, and incredible fatty brisket make this a great spot to eat barbecue. The big screens, great desserts, and good local beers on tap will make you want to linger.
Terry Black’s Barbecue – Unlike most of the great barbecue in the city, this one is on the south side. The beef ribs and brisket are hard to beat, and a big bonus is that they’re open daily for lunch and dinner.
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ – The homemade tortillas are so good, that it’s hard to not order the tacos here, but the smoked brisket, beef ribs, and pulled pork are pretty incredible on their own. There are sandwiches too, but who needs a bun when those tortillas are an option? Open for breakfast everyday, but closed the first Monday of every month.
GREAT BBQ WITH SHORTER LINES:
You can get in and out of these places where lines aren’t a big problem. It’s not that the barbecue’s bad, but not all of these are quite as popular as some of the more familiar names. It’s good barbecue without the wait.
Brown’s BBQ – Come to this gem of a barbecue trailer for great smoked chicken, brisket, and shoulder clod. The smoked cabbage is also one of Texas’s best barbecue sides. Brown’s is parked in front of Corner Bar on South Lamar, and it’s worth seeking out.
Iron Works BBQ – More out-of-towners are probably introduced to Texas barbecue here than any of the bigger names. It’s a close walk from downtown and right next to the Convention Center. Thankful, it also serves great baby backs and big beef ribs. The sliced brisket is better than average, and so is the peach cobbler.
Kerlin BBQ – Come early for the smoked meat kolaches, but stick around for the great barbecue. The word is out that the brisket is worth waiting for, and the pork ribs are some of the best in the state. Don’t miss the smoked corn.
LeRoy & Lewis Barbecue – Evan LeRoy left Freedmen’s in search of his own place, so he teamed up with Sawyer Lewis for a barbecue food truck that advertises new school smoked meats. That means quail stuffed with mac & cheese or tender smoked beef cheeks topped with smoked beet barbecue sauce on a rotating menu. Stop in on Saturday or Sunday for the smoked brisket.
Schmidt Family Barbecue – So, it’s technically in Bee Cave, but it’s close enough. This is barbecue that hails from Lockhart, but has an Austin feel. The brisket, spare ribs, and chicken are all good bets, and remember to add a ring of the Kreuz sausage as well.
Texas Ranch BBQ – Along South Congress, just around the corner from LeRoy & Lewis, is some of Austin’s best new barbecue. Tender brisket, incredible sides, and as the name suggest, plenty of tender ribs.
OPEN ON MONDAY:
Your options start to dry up at the start of the week with many of the popular names taking the day off. Here are some that help make Mondays bearable.
Big Cat BBQ – It’s a bit of a haul up to Cedar Park, but they make some fine fatty brisket and spectacular smoked turkey in the steel pit they call Bocephus.
Cooper’s BBQ – The newest addition to the downtown Austin barbecue options is a transplant form the Hill Country. They have the same giant pork chops at the original in Llano. Try the beef and pork ribs too, and don;t forget the blackberry cobbler.
The Green Mesquite – See below.
House Park Bar-B-Que – It’s Austin’s oldest barbecue joint, and the original brick pit is still in use. Stop in Monday-Friday for lunch only and grab a brisket sandwich.
Iron Works BBQ – See above.
Lambert’s Downtown Barbecue – There’s much more to the menu here than barbecue, but the coffee-rubbed brisket and crispy wild boar ribs will keep you from straying. You may need reservations for a group, but a spot at the bar will usually open up if dining alone. Don’t leave without trying the banana pudding.
Rudy’s Country Store & Bar-B-Q – It’s the best statewide barbecue chain in Texas. The smoked meats won’t rival Franklin, but you probably won’t leave hungry either. With so few options on Monday, it’s hard to go wrong here with smoked turkey and creamed corn. The fatty brisket can also be a stunner at times.
Scotty’s BBQ – This food truck on the East Side serves up great pecan-smoked ribs and plenty of other smoked meats until late night, every night.
Terry Black’s Barbecue – See above.
Texas Ranch BBQ – See above.
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ – See above. Closed the first Monday of every month.
Vic’s BBQ – They’re open early if you want some smoked brisket on a breakfast taco. Go for the ribs and smoked turkey if you stick around for lunch.
LATE NIGHT SMOKING:
Texas barbecue is traditionally a lunch time food, but you can get your fix after the sun goes down at these spots.
The Green Mesquite – They serve their incredible smoked and fried chicken wings until 10:00 every night. Get them with a side of the hand cut fries and a slice of pecan pie.
Freedmen’s Bar – See above. Open until 10:00 or until sold out.
Sam’s BBQ – On Friday and Saturday night you can get mutton ribs until 3:00 in the morning. You’re better off getting the brisket chopped and sauced rather than sliced. Expect the sausage to be spicy.
Scotty’s BBQ – See above. Open way late until 2:00am every day.
Terry Black’s Barbecue – See above. Open until 9 or 9:30 every night.