AUSTIN | When it comes to narrowing down Austin’s wide range of BBQ joints to just a handful of the best, you’re always bound to have a few challenges. Talk to someone outside of the US about American BBQ and it’s most likely Texas BBQ that they’ll have tried. The reputation of Texas BBQ is strong, and it should come as no surprise that the quality of BBQ in Austin is high.

How does one decide what “the best” is though? While a lot of what makes something great is objective, and will help you narrow things down, there’s always a subjective element at play. Does the place have history and a good story behind it? Has the place been around seemingly forever? How much importance does atmosphere, and all of those things other than the food itself play?

We only had a few days in Austin when we recently visited, so had to make sure that all of the BBQ we ate while there was quality. We read countless articles, lists and interviews, cross referenced recommendations that we found and used all of this information to build our list of what looked likely to be the best BBQ in Austin. We’re not going to pretend that we’ve been to all of the BBQ joints in town, but we can assure you that if you eat at the places listed below, you won’t be disappointed.

Franklin Barbecue

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Franklin Barbecue needs no introduction. Look up where to find the best barbecue in Austin, or in fact the entire US if not the world, and Franklin Barbecue will either be at the top or very close to it. People come from far and wide to get a taste of Aaron Franklin’s famous beef brisket, with the only thing more famous than the brisket being the line itself.

Thankfully Franklin Barbecue lives up to the hype – the brisket here is the best I’ve ever tried. Slow cooked for twelve to eighteen hours over post oak in an indirect heat pit, the brisket barely holds together on the fork and melts the moment you put it into your mouth. Make sure you get a mixture of fatty and lean meats when you place your order – the fatty is moister but the lean is more tender. And definitely get some burnt ends, they’re beyond divine.

It’s not just the brisket that’s great at Franklin either. The pulled pork is full of flavour and pulls apart wonderfully, the pork ribs are salty, tender and fall of the bone, and the pork and beef sausages, while not made in house, have just the right juiciness and snap to them. There are three sauces on offer, but the best is the Espresso Barbecue sauce, which adds a noticeable coffee kick to the sticky sweet sauce.

Franklin Barbecue

900 E 11th Street
Austin
Texas 78702
United States

La Barbecue

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La Barbecue has its origins in the famous Mueller BBQ family and is one of the most highly regarded barbecue spots in Austin, if not all of Texas. Everything on the menu is great, but the USDA black Angus prime beef brisket is a particular highlight, with pitmaster John Lewis (ex Franklin Barbecue) cooking it for twelve to fifteen hours at about 275°F resulting in a fall-off-the-fork tender, succulent piece of meat. Make sure you go for a bit of lean and a bit of fatty – both are excellent. Another highlight is the pulled pork, which has a more succulent texture than most, and is coated with a dangerously addictive vinaigrette. For sides, try the pinto beans and chipotle slaw.

La Barbecue

1906 E Cesar Chavez Street
Austin
Texas 78702
United States

Micklethwait Craft Meats

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Of all the barbecue we’ve tried in Austin and elsewhere, Micklethwait comes the closest to nailing everything. This can be traced back to the fact that Micklethwait has a complete approach to the food that he serves – sides and dessert are given just as much attention as the meat, and everything is made from scratch, on site where possible, using the best possible ingredients.

Another thing that set Micklethwait apart from the crowd is the willingness to try different things. For example, depending on when you visit, you might find lamb or duck sausages or pulled goat on the menu. While all of the meats are good here, the standout for us are the sticky, peppery baby back pork ribs with meat that falls right off the bone and has the perfect succulent texture and rich flavour. The springy, juicy, rich sausages are another highlight here.

As for the sides, the jalapeño cheese grits which are hands down the best barbecue side we’ve had in a long time – tangy, light and full of flavour. The moon pie, a steal at $3.00 is sizeable and tasty too.

Micklethwait Craft Meats

1309 Rosewood Avenue
Austin
Texas 78702
United States

Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ

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Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ falls into that group of barbecue joints that like to do things that aren’t exactly traditional barbecue. In this case, it’s pitmaster Miguel Vidal and business partner Michael Lerner fusing barbecue and Tex Mex flavours and foods to create their own thing.

The food at Valentina’s is San Antonio influenced, which is also where the use of mesquite to smoke the meat comes from. The meats are available in a taco, on a sandwich, or by the pound, meaning you can have a more traditional barbecue offering if you want (you still get tortillas and salsa on the side). The hand rolled tortillas are made from scratch on site and are divine with just the right amount of stretch and thickness while the meat, well that’s a thing of beauty.

The award winning brisket is fantastic here, it’s not overly smoky, and melts in your mouth while the pulled pork is also a thing of wonder and works wonderfully with slaw and salsa in taco form.

Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ

7612 Brodie Lane
Austin
Texas 78745
United States

Freedmen’s Bar

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Freedmen’s Bar is a cocktail lounge, beer garden and smokehouse. Evan LeRoy is the head chef/pit master at Freedmen’s Bar and adopts the philosophy that anything can be smoked. The usual smoked meat suspects are on the menu, but to join them are things like smoked vegetables, cheeses and desserts. For the best introduction to what Freedmen’s has to offer, check out the the “Holy Trinity Plate” of traditional brisket, ribs and sausage. LeRoy’s brisket is thicker than many, but still super tender and pulls apart easily. When it hits your tonuge the well rendered fat melts in your mouth and balances wonderfully with the salty exterior.

For dessert, try the smoked chocolate mousse, which contains slightly smoked chocolate chips and salt flakes for an interesting twist on a classic that works well.

Freedmen’s Bar

2402 San Gabriel Street
Austin
Texas 78705
United States

Kerlin BBQ

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Bill Kerlin only set up his BBQ truck in 2014, and hadn’t even smoked brisket until he moved to Texas in 2011. These days those in the know head to Kerlin BBQ for the famous brisket, which is smoked in an open pit over post oak for about 12 hours at 400°F, as well as the sausages and pork ribs.

The space is basic – smoker, truck for sales and a big covered spot with communal tables. Depending on the day and time there might be yard games going on and live music being played. The sides can be hit and miss here, but that’s beside the point really as the focus is squarely where it should be – on the BBQ.

Kerlin BBQ

1700 E Cesar Chavez Street
Austin
Texas 78702
United States

The Best Of The Rest

You might notice that there are a few places missing from this list that come up on many other lists. The reason for this is that we really wanted the cream of the crop. These are places that came very close to being on our list of BBQ joints to try, but missed the cut for various reasons. By all accounts you’ll have a great feed at all of them, just not as good as at the places above. It should also be mentioned that John Mueller Meat Co, which appears on many lists, closed in August 2016.

The Salt Lick

Salt Lick BBQ is one of the more famous barbecue spots in town, and a lot of people know of it before they visit Austin. The atmosphere at the main location in Driftwood (just outside of Austin) is meant to be fantastic and a whole lot of fun. Dig a little further though and you’ll find that a lot of people say that The Salt Lick isn’t as good as it used to be, perhaps in part that it’s now in several locations, including Austin and Dallas’ International Airports. Can quality be maintained once you, in effect, become a chain? Sometimes. Go to Salt Lick and chances are you’ll have a great meal, but is it somewhere to go if you can only visit a handful of BBQ joints in town? Probably not.

The Salt Lick

18300 Farm to Market Rd 1826
Driftwood
Texas 78619
United States

Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew

Pitmaster Lance Kirkpatrick worked with Bobby Mueller at the Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor for almost 10 years, and his experience shows in the quality of the BBQ on offer at Stiles Switch. Highlights are the beef ribs, pork ribs, and three types of sausage. For sides, try the corn casserole. As a bonus, the beer selection here is fantastic too, with top craft breweries like Firestone Walker making an appearance on the list.

Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew

6610 N Lamar Boulevard
Austin
Texas 78757
United States

Black’s BBQ

The Austin branch of Lockhart’s fourth generation family run smoking operation sees Barrett Black serve up some damn fine BBQ. Most people agree that the highlight here is the beef ribs, which are smoked over local post oak. Also check out Terry Blacks, run by twin brothers Mike and Mark who are, as the name suggests, also part of the Black family.

Black’s BBQ

3110 Guadalupe Street
Austin
Texas 78705
United States