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, 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 2017 TOP 50 BBQ LIST:
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.
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 with a new location in Smithville), 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 it’s 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 all day Tuesday.
FROM THE 2019 BEST NEW BBQ LIST:
Brotherton’s Black Iron BBQ – It started as a sandwich shop, so concoctions like the pastrami Reuben and brisket banh mi are great, but so is the rest of the barbecue menu.
LeRoy & Lewis Barbecue – Evan LeRoy left Freedmen’s Bar 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.
Loro – Described as an Asian smokehouse, the menu here is based on smoked meats treated with Asian-influenced sauces. Smoked bavette steak is a favorite, and you’ll have to wait until 5 p.m. for the smoked, sliced brisket.
The Switch – It’s almost out to Dripping Springs, so think of this as the southwest location of Stiles Switch, but with a Cajun flare. Try the smoked brisket gumbo and the house-made sausages.
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.
Alzer’s Barbeque – Smoked lamb chops, quail, and Cornish hen aren’t the average Austin barbecue menu items. At this halal-friendly joint, they do the unique cuts and the basics well.
Banger’s – Known more for beer and sausage, Banger’s has added on a smokehouse dedicated to the art of whole hog barbecue.
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.
Interstellar BBQ – The barbecue is great at this former location of Noble Sandwich Co., as are the homemade sausages. Beyond that, the star might just be the smoked scalloped potatoes.
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. Thankfully, 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 – Even if you’re here for smoked meat kolaches, 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.
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.
Whitfield’s – This trailer closed for a few months in early 2019, but it’s back with the same menu of juicy brisket, tender ribs, and vast array of pickles that made it notable to start with.
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.
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.
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.
Loro – See above.
Kemuri Tatsu-Ya – If there’s a fatty brisket of the sea, it’s Kemuri’s smoked fish collar, a welcome addition to the Texas barbecue pantheon. The restaurant offers plenty of other great smoked items as well, including the slices of brisket that bolster the bowls of ramen.
SLAB BBQ – Stop in for the famous McDowell’s sandwich with boneless ribs and Soul-Glo sauce. Do yourself a favor and order a banana pudding too.
Terry Black’s Barbecue – See above.
Texas Ranch BBQ – See above.
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ – See above.
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.
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.
SLAB BBQ – See above. Open until 9 every day but Sunday.
Terry Black’s Barbecue – See above. Open until 9 or 9:30 every night.