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, John Mueller Meat Co., Live Oak 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.
* Denotes a Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ Joint
FOR THE SUNBURN TOLERANT:
Waiting in line for barbecue in Austin has become 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* – 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 7:30 a.m. and you better be there by 9:00 a.m. to get a shot at meat. 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 close to 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 – 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.
John Mueller Meat Co.* – See below. Long lines and outdoor (covered) seating only.
Sometimes all you want is a comfortable seat on something other than a picnic table. A roof over your head, a thermostat-controlled environment, and indoor plumbing are also nice amenities. You’ll be comfortable from start to finish at these joints.
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.
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.
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.
OPEN ON MONDAY:
Your options start to dry up at the start of the week with many of the big names taking the day off. Here are some that help make Mondays bearable.
Blue Ox Barbecue - Tucked into the courtyard of a coffee shop, this barbecue trailer provides a huge menu of smoked meats, and sometimes even pancakes. Get the peppery pork tenderloin and the pulled pork heavy with smoke and bark.
John Mueller Meat Co.* - After a recent change in hours, John Mueller has taken advantage of the void in Monday barbecue service. It’s open for lunch only, but come get beef ribs and some Central Texas hot guts.
Live Oak Barbecue - This little concrete block building on the east side of Austin puts out some solid barbecue daily, but check out the Saturday Special to get something new and different every week.
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.
Ruby’s BBQ – See below.
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.
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 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 until midnight on Wednesdays and 2:00 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Blue Ox Barbecue - See above. Open until 2:00am or until sold out.
Freedmen’s Bar - See above. Open until midnight or until sold out.
Ruby’s BBQ - Open until 11:00 during the week and midnight during the weekends, you can get smoky brisket and a good St. Louis pork rib at this spot near the UT campus.
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.
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 big boys. It’s good barbecue without the wait.
Mann’s Smokehouse - For great pulled pork, cornbread, and even Brunswick stew are served up in this classic Texas barbecue joint on the north side of town. Homemade brownies are a good way to end the meal.
Brown’s BBQ – For great smoked chicken and brisket that doesn’t get acclaim it deserves, this barbecue trailer parked along South Lamar in front of Corner Bar is worth seeking out.
Kerlin BBQ – This joint is right on the cusp of getting overrun. The word is out that the brisket and ribs are worth waiting for, but you won’t need to. At least, not for now.