There are many barbecue styles around the country, but most Austin barbecue purveyors keep it simple. Some even hold the view that if your barbecue needs sauce, it’s just not cooked right. Whether you’re a fan of slow-smoked brisket or spicy sausage, these central Texas eateries can satisfy just about any carnivorous craving.
This place has received so much hype that it even earned a visit from President Obama in 2014. Open only for lunch, the restaurant serves until it runs out of meat. The wait is sometimes as long as three hours. Some people bring beer and have a little fiesta as they wait. Is it really that good? Yes, it is — particularly the pulled pork and brisket. Be sure to leave room for pecan pie.
With recipes inspired by the late pitmaster Bobby Mueller, La Barbecue is known for its huge beef ribs and fatty brisket. You may also occasionally have to wait in a line here, but the wait is more like 30 minutes instead of three hours. Other standouts include the smoky macaroni and cheese, chipotle sausage, house-made spicy pickles and pork ribs. La Barbecue also serves a traditional Texas favorite: Frito pies.
Although it’s known more as a music venue than as a restaurant, Stubb’s has some of the best chicken and pulled pork in town. If you like a little extra spice with your barbecue try the jalapeno brisket. Sides such as mashed sweet potatoes and grits take this joint to the next level in my book. The Gospel Brunch on Sundays is a great way to sample everything great about Stubb’s — including the music. Nationally prominent bands often play on the outdoor stage, while local and regional acts usually perform on the more intimate indoor stage.
A casual, cafeteria-style restaurant, Terry Black’s Barbecue is an excellent spot to refuel after a swim at the nearby Barton Springs Pool. Crusty, juicy brisket is the star of the show here, with beef ribs coming in at a close second. Pork ribs and mac and cheese earn an honorable mention. If you like barbecue with a kick, try the jalapeno cheese sausage.
Situated in the beautiful Texas hill country in Driftwood, The Salt Lick has the feel of a laid-back ranch house — with an excellent cook! The pork ribs and sausage are the most popular meats. The wait may be an hour or more on weekends, but buy a bucket of beer, hang out under the trees and listen to a live band. The restaurant is cash-only, so make sure you have enough cash on hand for all the food you're sure to eat. The family-style option is great for groups. The waiters bring out heaps of meat and side dishes, and you pass it around just like at home.
Named after a historic railroad stop, Stiles Switch serves up brisket with a peppery crust surrounding tender meat. If you’re having a hard time deciding, you can even get meat samples. Like many eateries around town, the most popular dishes are brisket and beef ribs, but don’t forget the fowl. The smoked turkey and chicken are remarkably tender and juicy. Finish off your meal with their mildly sweet peach cobbler.
Although it looks a bit like a roadside tourist trap, Rudy’s Country Store & BBQ is serious about its meat. The restaurant serves some of the juiciest brisket around. The baby-back ribs are fork-tender with just enough spice. The creamed corn, cole slaw and potato salad are also not to be missed.
A popular food trailer on the east side, Micklethwait Craft Meats has surprising variety for such a small operation. In addition to top-notch brisket and ribs, Micklethwait serves lamb, pork shoulder and Frito BBQ pie. They also don’t scrimp on the sides, such as mac and cheese, jalapeno cheese grits and crunchy poppy-seed coleslaw. When there’s a line, the staff often hands out free beer to enjoy while you wait.
This smoky barbecue palace in Lockhart is so confident about its meat that the restaurant doesn’t have barbecue sauce. The tender brisket — available in fat or no-fat (which is really just less fat) — is easily eaten with your fingers. Which is good because the establishment also doesn’t offer forks. It’s a messy, wonderful meal on butcher paper, and kids really love the hands-on style.
For a slightly fancier barbecue experience, head to Lamberts in downtown Austin. With cozy booths, high ceilings and hardwood floors, the space is a cut above your average BBQ joint. You can’t go wrong with brisket and cheese grits, but there are also non-barbecue items on the menu, such as a Cuban sandwich and chicken-fried oysters. The restaurant also presents live music almost every night and at brunch on the weekends.
Located in north Austin, Slab BBQ & Beer cooks up some of the best pork ribs in town. Their signature sandwich is the Notorious P.I.G., made with pulled pork and mustard coleslaw on a jalapeno cheddar bun. The restaurant prides itself on reflecting the whole country’s barbecue traditions, not just Texas. They serve St. Louis-style pork ribs with a strawberry habanero glaze, and other dishes include recipes based on South Carolina and Alabama barbecue styles.
Housed in a rustic building with exposed-brick walls, Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que sells meats by the pound or in sandwich form. It’s hard to beat the combo of brisket, mac and cheese, and peach cobbler, but there are a few out-of-the-ordinary choices too, such as goat/cabrito, pork loin and pork chops. Other must-have side dishes include the grilled corn on the cob, mildly spicy pinto beans and tangy coleslaw.
If you have a hankerin’ for a huge beef rib or two, look no further than Black’s Barbecue. You order at the counter, and the line occasionally stretches out the front door, but you can usually get your food within about 30 minutes. More than a few patrons have described the tenderness of the beef rib meat as “like butter.” The pork spare ribs are also fantastic. If you have room for dessert, try the peach or pecan cobbler.