The holy grail of barbecue at Franklin Barbecue: brisket ribs.

City Guide / Austin

A Local’s Guide to the Best BBQ in Austin

By Veronica Meewes | Jul 19, 2022

Barbecue might just be the most sought-after food group in Austin. Many people plan visits to Texas just to tour its many BBQ joints, waiting in hours-long lines in the blazing heat to load up trays of brisket and ribs that have been cooked low and slow over post oak embers.

While there are plenty of incredible barbecue destinations throughout central Texas, there’s a high concentration of amazing barbecue spots right in Austin proper. In fact, there are so many places to discover that you really have to move to Austin for a period of time in order to try them all.

Headed to Austin? Be sure the following smoked-meat meccas are at the top of your list:

1. Franklin Barbecue

It goes without saying that Aaron Franklin has been considered the king of brisket since opening Franklin Barbecue in 2009. This Austin restaurant earned the first James Beard Award given to a barbecue joint, as well as an induction into the American Royal Barbecue Hall of Fame.

If you want to experience this world-famous, award-winning barbecue, you’ll need to get an early start (at least 8 a.m.) and plan on dedicating most of your day to waiting in line for the meaty goods at its East 11th Street smoke headquarters. You’ll meet people from all over the world who are on the same mission, and you’ll likely over-order when you finally get to the counter.

But don’t worry: Once you’re faced with that heaping tray of glistening brisket, snappy jalapeño-cheddar sauce, tender pulled pork, and pork ribs, you’ll have not a single regret. Be sure to also add on a Ruby’s Dang Pie, a pineapple coconut dessert made from a recipe passed down from the owners of the iconic (and now closed) Ruby’s BBQ.

2. la Barbecue

After years of turning out cult-status Texas barbecue from trailers—and then for a period of time inside of Quickie Pickie on Cesar Chavez—co-owners and pitmasters Leanne Mueller and Ali Clemm have recently moved la Barbecue into an eastside brick-and-mortar, which is almost always flanked by a line of carnivores eager for their thick, juicy cuts of brisket and mammoth beef ribs. They make their sausage (jalapeño, chipotle and regular) fresh in-house daily using brisket trimmings.

We recommend trying the Bobby Dog, named in honor of Leanne’s father Bobby (of Louie Mueller Barbecue fame). The Bobby Dog is made from a jalapeño sausage topped with your choice of brisket or pulled pork, beans, cheese, onions, jalapeños, and yellow mustard. And don’t sleep on their vibrant sides, like sweet pepper and cucumber kimchi and queso shells and cheese with spicy smoked veggies.

3. Interstellar BBQ

This Northwest Austin BBQ restaurant from industry veterans John Bates and Brandon Martinez (who originally opened Noble Sandwich Co. together) was recently named No. 2 on Texas Monthly’s prestigious statewide Best Barbecue list. This dynamic duo swears by sourcing not only the best-quality ingredients for their menu but also the highest-quality post oak wood for smoking.

Their breadth of culinary experience and knowledge shines through in items like peach tea-glazed pork belly, smoked scalloped potatoes, and “tipsy turkey” that’s marinated to juicy perfection in Live Oak hefeweizen. Another draw to Interstellar BBQ is daily specials like smoked lengua tacos with tomatillo salsa and lime, and brisket-kielbasa BBQ torta with salsa morita, avocado, and Oaxaca cheese.

4. Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ

At this far South Austin trailer, pitmaster Miguel Vidal combines the best of barbecue and Mexican cuisine for a mind-blowing flavor mash-up. Order his expertly smoked meats by the pound, or choose from a bilateral menu offering “Mex tacos” (like smoked carnitas with caramelized onions, fresh cilantro, and tomatillo-habanero salsa) and “Tex sandwiches” (like pulled pork topped with tangy slaw and mesquite BBQ sauce).

But best of all—and unlike most Texas BBQ joints—they offer a breakfast menu, served from 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., where you can get your hands on a massive Real Deal Holyfield, a taco heaped with fried eggs, potatoes, fried beans, bacon and your choice of brisket, pulled pork, or beef fajita. Valentina’s is set to relocate to Buda sometime this year, so visit the long-running Menchaca location while you still can.

Looking for more taco joints in Austin? Check out our blog post, “Where to Find the Best Tacos in Austin, Texas.”

5. Leroy & Lewis

This trailer by Evan LeRoy opened in 2017 to rave reviews for its adventurous “new-school barbecue.” Years later, Leroy & Lewis still going strong right outside Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden in South Austin. Choose from one or two meats and two sides, which span off-the-beaten-path offerings like beef cheeks, pulled whole hog, house kimchi, and braised cabbage, or opt for one of his entrees. The L and L burger is made from fresh-ground brisket trimmings, while the loaded pork hash over rice with crispy pork skins, scallions, and pickled smoked jalapeño is another favorite among patrons.

Each weekend brings specials like black garlic glazed chicken, jerk pork chop, and venison loin. Leroy & Lewis also features a monthly sausage club that comes with their citra hop pork sausage and an exclusive rotating flavor, along with garnishes, Martin’s potato rolls, and accompanying sauces such as their beet BBQ and mustard BBQ.

6. Micklethwait Craft Meats

In 2012, Tom Micklethwait decided to leave behind his baking career and turn his backyard barbecue experiments with friends into a DIY business after renovating a vintage Comet trailer. A decade later, Micklethwait Craft Meats is still drawing crowds and selling out of its pit-smoked proteins by the pound and scratch-made sides like jalapeño cheese grits, lemon poppy cole slaw, and beet salad. They also serve the best Frito pie in town, topped with sliced brisket, chile con carne, cheese, crema, and escabeche.

Micklethwait recently turned the on-site bungalow into an icehouse called Saddle Up, where customers can choose from a nice selection of craft beer, natural wine, and desserts like Twonkies and Ding Dangs, his nostalgic takes on snack cakes.

7. KGBBQ

A visit to Austin prompted Kareem El-Ghayesh to quit his finance career in Cairo and relocate to Texas to perfect the art of smoking meat. Not only did he perfect it, but he added his own spin on Texas-style BBQ by incorporating Egyptian influence with creations like za’atar and pomegranate pork ribs, lamb-bacon ribs with mint-serrano chimichurri, and brisket rice bowls sprinkled with pine nuts, pistachios, golden raisins, and a drizzle of tahini.

Until his food truck is ready to debut at Oddwood Ales, keep an eye on his website to stay up to date on the various pop-ups and special dinners he’s already been hosting at the eastside brewery.

8. Kerlin BBQ

Much like El-Ghayesh, husband-and-wife duo Bill and Amelis Kerlin fell in love with barbecue on a visit from Arizona and decided to dedicate themselves to learning how to smoke meats the central Texas way. After winning some competitions, they opened Kerlin BBQ in a humble eastside trailer in 2013, and it’s been in the same spot since.

Kerlin BBQ draws the masses for its “holy trinity” of house-made brisket, ribs, and sausage, as well as specials like beef ribs, pork belly, chicken, turkey, ham, and pork chops. It also has stellar sides, such as jalapeño bleu cheese slaw and dill potato salad.

Amelis also developed kolaches that have gotten so popular that they now sling the delicious meat- and cheese-filled pockets from a separate eastside trailer called Kerlaches.

9. Distant Relatives

After working for some of the city’s top restaurants, chef Damien Brockway opened Distant Relatives to pay homage to the flavors of the African diaspora through the lens of Texas barbecue using nose-to-tail cooking and preservation methods.

His trailer, which is on-site at Meanwhile Brewing in Southeast Austin, features a menu of intentionally designed barbecue items like pulled pork with tamarind molasses BBQ sauce and beef brisket with smoked mustard butter sauce. He also offers several sandwich options, sides like black-eyed peas with burnt ends and collards in BBQ broth with spring vegetables and benne seeds.

Just this spring, his creative and important interpretation of barbecue was nationally recognized with a well-deserved James Beard semifinalist award for Best Chef: Texas.

10. Black’s Barbecue

Opened in 1932, Black’s is one of the iconic barbecue joints that gave Lockhart the title of Barbecue Capital of Texas. In 2014, Kent Black decided to open an Austin outpost of his family’s restaurant. In order to stay completely true to his legacy, the meat is all smoked in the original brick pits in Lockhart and then delivered to the campus-area location.

They’re known for their must-try bark-laced brisket, made with Certified Angus Beef, as well as massive beef ribs, moist turkey, and snappy housemade sausage made from their family’s 80-year-old recipe. Their sides are pretty classic (except for the zippy Mexican street corn) but deliciously satiating—think melty mac and cheese, creamy mustard potato salad, and pinto beans passed down from matriarch Norma Jean.

11. Terry Black’s Barbecue

Two younger descendants from the Black’s Barbecue family, Mike and Mark Black, opened their own spin-off in Austin in 2014. Terry Black’s Barbecue, centrally located on Barton Springs Road in Bouldin Creek, immediately began attracting the masses for their smoked meats served by the pound or family style.

In 2019, they opened a Dallas location, and they have a third Lockhart restaurant coming soon. Though there are noticeable differences between the original Black’s, there are some similarities, particularly in the uber-moist turkey and juicy housemade jalapeño cheddar sausage. As for the sides, the indulgent creamed corn and crisp green beans are a nice match for their decadent fatty brisket. We dare you to save room for the peach cobbler!

12. Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew

This central Austin mainstay on North Lamar in Crestwood draws a loyal following for both its classic Texas ‘cue as well as menu items not seen as often at barbecue joints in this region, such as half-chickens with Alabama white sauce, St. Louis pork ribs, and oak-smoked wings smothered in one of their housemade sauces.

Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew is also known for its housemade sausages, which come in original (half beef and half pork), jalapeño cheddar, and one monthly special (currently andouille). They also offer daily specials like smoked chicken enchiladas, smoked prime rib, and smoked brisket green chili cheeseburgers, plus creative one-offs for special holidays.

Owner Shane Stiles and pitmaster Lance Fitzpatrick have now expanded their empire with a second location in Cedar Park, as well as a Cajun-focused collaboration with Austin chef Todd Duplechan called The Switch in Dripping Springs.

13. Moreno BBQ

Pitmaster Bo Moreno grew up smoking barbecue with his grandfather in Corpus Christi and went on to prepare barbecue feasts for his own family gatherings before opening Moreno BBQ in Menchaca’s Cherry Creek Plaza in 2019.

He uses high-quality Akaushi Wagyu for his ultra-tender brisket and Duroc pork for the house-rubbed pork belly he runs as a weekend special. You’ll also find both chicken and turkey on his menu, plus soulful Gouda shells and cheese, fluffy creamed corn, and boracho-style beans made with Crawford Bock beer, brisket, tomatoes, onions, and peppers.

Other fun creations you can order include brisket grilled cheese, pulled pork nachos, and a loaded baked potato with your choice of protein. Even if you’re too full for dessert, you must take home either the pecan pie, banana pudding, or chocolate chip cookies made by Bo’s wife, Nora.

14. Brown’s Bar-B-Que

Set in an unassuming red trailer outside Corner Bar on South Lamar, Brown’s Bar-B-Que specializes in old-school ‘cue smoked by pitmaster (and former mechanic) Daniel Brown in a mounted steel smoker using firewood from his South Austin property.

The salt-and-pepper-crusted brisket cooks slow and low for 21 hours and is a perfectly marbled favorite. Brown’s also has a fan following for the moist smoked chicken that sells out every day. In addition to colorful coleslaw and a traditional picnic-style potato salad, Brown offers a luxurious brisket mac and cheese and a tangy-sweet smoked cabbage.

Best of all, each Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m., patrons who spend at least $15 at the bar get a free plate with one meat and two sides. Score!

15. SLAB BBQ & Beer

Started in North Austin on Research Boulevard—but now with locations in Cedar Park and South Austin in Westgate Lanes—SLAB BBQ & Beer draws inspiration not only from Texas, but the Carolinas, Alabama, St. Louis, and Memphis.

You can order meat by the pound (including racks of St. Louis pork ribs with strawberry habanero glaze), but they specialize in over-the-top sandwiches with equally over-the-top names. The Notorious P.I.G. comes with pulled pork topped with mustard slaw and Backyard Red sauce, while the Brown Chicken Brown Cow comes with Angus Prime brisket, smoked chicken breast, pickles, onions, mustard slaw, Dank White, and Backyard Red sauce.

We also recommend trying The Donk, a one-pound sandwich stacked with every smoked meat imaginable and topped with pickles, onions, jalapeños, queso, Fritos, and all their homemade sauces.

Moving to Austin with Landing

Is your mouth watering yet? If you’re thinking of moving to Austin for a while to sample the best of the area’s barbecue, Landing offers fully furnished apartments in Austin, all with flexible leases that make it easy to stay in town on your terms. Learn more about what a Landing membership can do for you today!

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About the author

Veronica Meewes

Veronica studied creative writing and sociology at Sarah Lawrence College before moving to Austin, where she writes about food, beverage and travel for a number of media outlets. She's published two cookbooks, and her work has appeared in Forbes Travel Guide, Food & Wine, Texas Monthly, Tasting Table, GOOD, PUNCH, The Today Show, The Local Palate, Serious Eats, Austin Monthly, Fodor's, Vinepair, Texas Highways and more. She is also a member of the Austin branch of Les Dames d'Escoffier and she serves on the board of Slow Food Austin. Follow her on Instagram @wellfedlife and visit www.veronicameewes.com