The Best Barbecue Spots In Austin guide image


The Best Barbecue Spots In Austin

Where to get the finest smoked meats, from classic joints to notable newcomers.

Math can be hard, but when it comes to barbecue, the “best” is often determined by a complicated formula that involves meat quality, consistency, wait time, general availability, how far it is for everyone to drive there, the parking situation, how traditional it is, and how creative it is without going too weird. Bonus points for a solid dessert beyond a simple banana pudding (although we like a good banana pudding, too). Austin is bursting with incredible places to get barbecue, from old-school traditional takes to more creative interpretations. Here is our definitive guide to the best barbecue in Austin.


Franklin Barbecue

You’ve heard about Franklin Barbecue. Your neighbor has heard about Franklin Barbecue. Your aunt’s cousin’s best friend who lives in Wisconsin has heard about Franklin Barbecue. Aaron Franklin has built a name for himself by making some of the best brisket in Texas (and possibly the world), which in turn has created something called “the Franklin Barbecue experience”—a term that refers to tailgating the 4+ hour line with beers, breakfast tacos, and camp chairs. Is it worth the wait? You can get brisket that’s almost as good at a few other places in town, but what sets Franklin apart is how consistent they are—there’s never an off day. It’s the best of the best, with perfectly smoked meats that you’ll continue talking about for days to come.

While everyone in town is competing for the coveted Brisket Belt™, at LeRoy and Lewis they’re doing things a little differently. That means smoked beef cheeks, barbacoa, and pork sausage with citra hops, and sides like kimchi and pork hash. And while barbecue trailers are generally not the most vegan-friendly spots out there, here you can get cauliflower burnt ends—a tasty play on their popular brisket counterpart. OK, and if you really just want some brisket, you can get it on the weekends here (and it’s excellent).

Valentina’s is the ultimate in Tex-Mex, combining expertly smoked barbecue with housemade tortillas, salsas, guac, and queso. It’s a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure situation here—you can get meats by the pound, or order from the “Tex” or the “Mex” sides of the menu, for sandwiches and tacos, respectively. The smoked meats are great on their own here, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice to leave without trying a smoked brisket or carnitas taco. And if you find yourself braving the line in the morning, the breakfast tacos with brisket are some of the best in town.

Interstellar BBQ has quickly established itself as one of the best new options for barbecue in Austin. It’s not central, but it’s very much worth the drive up to far northwest Austin (it’s almost in Cedar Park). They serve classic Texas barbecue staples like brisket, pork ribs, and turkey—but they also have pretty unique options like savory peach tea-glazed pork belly burnt ends and tremendous jalapeño popper sausages. Be on the lookout for specials like mole-spiced baby back ribs, pastrami beef ribs, or brisket tacos. Also of note are the vegetarian sides, including the very delicious smoked scalloped potatoes.

When people visit from out of town in the middle of the summer, we take them to Stiles Switch, because they offer a few things: beer on tap, an indoor air conditioned space (there’s also a patio), and most importantly, their always consistently solid traditional Central Texas barbecue. Expect fantastic brisket, gigantic peppery beef ribs, chunky pulled pork, and sausages with a good snap. We’re also big fans of their smoked chicken wings and their rich but airy corn casserole.

The barbecue (and sides) at Distant Relatives aims to highlight the flavors and textures of the African diaspora in America. That means strong spice profiles, classic preservation methods, and a nose-to-tail approach that puts everything from spare ribs to hog jowl side-by-side on the menu. It’s creative and so consistently great that you’ll probably forget you just ordered from a trailer. Some of the sides and toppings change seasonally, but you can generally expect to see some menu staples like pulled pork sandwiches and brisket in some form or another. They also make a smoked chicken leg quarter with chili vinegar dip that just might be some of the best chicken we’ve ever had.

KG BBQ adds an Egyptian twist to classic Central Texas-style barbecue. That means dishes like sticky pomegranate glazed pork ribs, smoked chicken kabob shawarmas with sumac-pickled onions, and tender, savory lamb chops with za’atar. The brisket, on the other hand, is about as classic as it gets—seasoned with salt and pepper, and slow-smoked over oak—but it gets a distinctive KG BBQ treatment after it takes a plunge into tangy pomegranate barbecue sauce. The trailer is parked at Oddwood Brewing, so you can get some excellent beers to pair with it all.

Micklethwait is quietly serving up some of the best barbecue in Austin. The meats and seasonings here generally lean classic, but with an execution that rivals the best anywhere. The sides are where things really get fun. Classic coleslaw gets a glow up in the form of lemon poppy slaw, and the citrus beet salad tastes like something we’d get at some New American restaurant with tiny shared plates and an ampersand in the name. They even bake their own bread. There are a lot of standouts here, but the brisket and sausage are not to be missed. They also operate Taco Bronco in the evenings, where you can enjoy their excellent smoked meats in taco form. Find them in the literal shadow of Franklin Barbecue (it’s right down the street).

Moreno Barbecue in South Austin is a relative newcomer on the barbecue scene, having transitioned from a trailer that opened in 2019 to a brick-and-mortar that finally opened in late 2021. Standouts here are the classic, snappy sausages and the juicy smoked chicken. The tender brisket has a peppery bite, and it’s easily some of the best in town. The thickly-sliced smoked pork belly, something you don’t see at barbecue spots too often, is rich without being excessively fatty, and it has an incredible bark.

You can (and should) show up to Rollin Smoke and get the classic staples—like brisket, ribs, and sausage. But it’s when they start to experiment a little and introduce some low-and-slow smoke flavor into otherwise familiar dishes that we’ll consider making a detour, especially for the smoked carne guisada burritos and al pastor tacos. Rollin Smoke is located in the Arbor Food Park in East Austin right between Sammataro and Cuantos Tacos, making this one of the strongest 20 yard lineups in the food trailer scene. And the best part is that while most barbecue joints in Austin close up long before dinner, Rollin Smoke is open late, in case you want to soak up some drinks with a pile of brisket or just find yourself with a craving after dark.

Satisfying both the needs of Pflugerville residents and Austinites on their way to Ikea is Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue, a strip mall barbecue joint that’s way bigger than its unassuming exterior would lead you to believe. It’s a bit minimalist inside, without a lot of the almost-kitschy character of old school barbecue joints, which just means they’re focused on good meat. The brisket and sausage here are worth a short detour (wherever you’re headed), but the sandwiches are worth a trip of their own. Grab the reuben that’s made with house-smoked pastrami, the Texas bánh mì to try Brotherton’s smoky (and brisket-filled) take on a classic, or get the loaded grilled cheese and see just how well smoked meats and cheese pair together. 

Don’t expect any wildcards at JNL. Instead, you will find classic Texas barbecue by the book. The menu at this East Austin joint is pretty straightforward, offering most of the standard cuts, with a level of technical precision you’d find at some of the biggest names in town. Most of the meats are seasoned with salt and pepper, though the al pastor pork ribs get a blend of ground chiles and spices. And the crushed chicharrones mixed in with the pulled pork provide excellent texture. OK, maybe you can expect a few wildcards. Find them inside of a convenience store on East Cesar Chavez, where you can also grab beer and wine.

If the Black family name rings a bell, it’s not just your mind playing tricks on you. To summarize it briefly—way back when, there was a feud in the Black family that resulted in two different restaurant lines forming, Black’s BBQ and Terry Black’s BBQ. Both sides claim to be following the traditions they grew up with, with the end results being some very classic (and ultimately similar) barbecue. All of the meat here is smoked on-site, with a sprawling, rustic-styled dining room that feels like it belongs out in the country rather than busy Barton Springs Rd. And they’re one of the few barbecue spots in town that stays open well into dinner hours. Despite that, it’s always packed, with lines generally snaking out of the building into an all-too-small parking lot. They have all of the classics here, but the standouts are the brisket and the beef ribs.

Hungover college students will never understand just how good they have it. What used to require a 45-minute drive out to Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart is now just a short drive to the UT area. As a result of their location, the lines here don’t tend to be too bad. The barbecue is still smoked at their location in Lockhart, but driven in daily. If you’re worried about the freshness factor, keep in mind that most of what you’re typically eating was cooked overnight, and smoked meats travel and hold up surprisingly well. We’d recommend getting some brisket, and if you come with friends, make sure to get a massive beef rib to share.

It’s almost impossible to mention barbecue in Austin without La Barbecue’s name coming into the mix. That’s because they’ve been at it since 2011 (with a family history that goes back way, way longer), amassing a large, dedicated following in that time. The seasoning here leans heavy on the pepper—a make or break for some people—in both the barbecue and some of the sides. But once you make it through the inevitable line, you’d be hard pressed to find a more beautiful piece of brisket.

B. Cooper Barbecue does a solid job with the basics—brisket, ribs, and sausage—but you have to get the lamb breast. It’s not a cut we see often, and even rarer that we see it done this well. It will leave your fingers smelling like lamb for hours to follow, with rich, gamey flavor that will linger in your mind for even longer. And if you’ve ever gotten into a debate about vinegar vs cream-based coleslaws, you’ll be happy to know that they offer both here.

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photo credit: Mackenzie Smith Kelley

The Best Barbecue Spots In Austin guide image

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