The word “ambitious” is seldom a compliment to a creative endeavor, usually describing a swing and a miss. But not for the aptly named InterStellar BBQ. Pit boss John Bates acquired a fine-dining pedigree at Austin institutions Wink and Asti, and he brings that experience and, yes, ambition to bear in everything he offers, which is why InterStellar has quickly risen to destination status. The tidy, agreeable joint is located in a massive strip mall, so just circle the parking lot until you see the two smokers. The larger one is where Bates cooks his most popular meats. The secret to his brisket is simple: salt, pepper, garlic, and obsessive heat management. For his pork ribs, he eschews the usual glaze but, knowing diners expect a little sweetness, adds brown sugar to the rub. He also smokes what he calls the Tipsy Turkey Breast, which marinates overnight in hefeweizen. The smaller smoker is reserved for experiments such as pork belly doused with a peach-tea glaze and an onion stuffed with chopped brisket, a hat tip to Bates’s dad, who threw an onion on the campfire every time he cooked outdoors. As for sides, the usual trio is rounded out with striking additions such as a tomato-and-zucchini salad and scalloped potatoes with a toasted-Parmesan crust. Our nominee for must-try dessert? The Mexican-hot-chocolate rice pudding.
Method: Post oak; offset smoker
Pitmaster: John Bates, 46; Carlos Cruz, 43; Warren McDonald, 53
Pro-tip: Wednesday is Riblets Day, when Bates pairs bite-size chunks from a pork-rib rack with a sauce dreamed up that morning to match his mood.
The original Noble Sandwich Co. in northwest Austin has been transformed into a great barbecue joint.