Mr Porter Eats
The Best Barbecue Restaurants In Austin, Texas
It’s hard to pick a favourite joint, so we picked nine
Louie Mueller Barbecue. Photograph by Mr Robert Jacob Lerma
Who does the best barbecue food in Austin? There is no debate in here, no controversy to be stirred by declaring that, for instance, the rightly renowned Franklin Barbecue in Austin is better than, say, Mickelthwait Craft Meats a couple of blocks away. Barbecue here doesn’t work that way. There really isn’t a good, better, best. Every one of the spots below is absolutely perfect in its own way – making this less of a best-of list than a list that we stopped when we ran out of space.
Even where to begin is a bit of a conundrum, what with the wide spectrum of barbecue and barbecue-ish food on offer in Austin. Like, was the Ssam-style brisket we had at The Peached Tortilla barbecue? Probably. But will you find it in this list? No. For the simple reason that in a bid to narrow the field, we have limited ourselves to traditional BBQ joints – though we have attempted to be inclusive of all manner of vibes, menus, service levels and what have you.
Left: Franklin Barbecue. Photograph by Mr Robert Jacob Lerma, courtesy of Franklin Barbecue. Right: Sliced meats by the pound with sides at Franklin Barbecue. Photograph by Mr Wyatt McSpadden, courtesy of Franklin Barbecue
So well-known, so well-regarded – Bon Appétit named Franklin’s the best barbecue joint in the US – and so widely-recommended, Mr Aaron Franklin’s Franklin Barbecue is so exemplary of the city’s style that most websites and magazines have to recommend the best BBQ spots in Austin “that aren’t Franklin”. For some context, when we think of Texas barbecue – at least by comparison to its Carolina cousin, or nearby neighbour in the bayou – we talk about it being “dry”. But all that means is that the meat is seasoned primarily with a rub and what sauce (if any) there is to be found is something of an afterthought. In fact, on a recent visit (more like binge), we didn’t think about condiments at all. If you are planning a stop here, may we suggest ordering ahead, so that you needn’t wait in the sometimes excessively long line that forms from 11.00am onwards? If you order more than 5lbs of meat, you can call ahead, scoop and skate.
900 East 11th
Left: Brisket at Loro Austin. Photograph by Logan Crable, courtesy of Loro Austin Right: Exterior of Loro Austin. Photograph by Casey Dunn, courtesy of Loro Austin.
Newer on the scene, Loro, from Mr Franklin and his fellow award winner, Mr Tyson Cole of the great Austin Japanese restaurants Uchi and Uchiko, is not to be missed. Here, the mysterious and super-secret rubs that make Texas barbecue sing are Asian-inflected – yes, on the smoked brisket, Chicken Bo Ssam, and even Pork Katsu. While, for the sauce heads, there is a hoisin-based house BBQ sauce, a shishito salsa verde, and even a chutney. (Not long ago, we went absolutely insane over the bavette – a steak simmered in brisket fat – and the fried chicken and corn fritters.) The vibe here, too, whether in the smokehouse or the garden under the Texas live oaks, is pure Austin.
2115 South Lamar Boulevard
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
Left: Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ. Right: The Real Deal Holyfield breakfast taco at Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ. Photographs by Mr Robert Jacob Lerma
If you’ve been reading along, you know that we’re full-on evangelists for the contemporary incarnation of Tex-Mex cuisine, and Valentina’s is not your grandpa’s queso joint – way, way better, it is a Tex-Mex BBQ joint with all that it entails: smoked brisket tacos with serrano salsa; pulled chicken with guacamole; even carnitas. Another crucial thing: at Valentina’s you’ll also get everything you know and love from a trad Texas BBQ – incredible, almost candy-coated chars, densely flavoured meats – as well as a picture of the wider Austin food culture with its commitment to local and organic meat. In Valentina’s case, owner and pitmaster Mr Miguel Vidal uses only grass-fed Angus beef and Berkridge pork. With just one meal here, you’ll really get why this town has the best BBQ around.
11500 Manchaca Road
Micklethwait Craft Meats
Left: A selection of smoked meats at Micklethwait Craft Meats. Photograph by Mr Nicolai McCrary, courtesy of Micklethwait Craft Meats. Right: Micklethwait Craft Meats. Photograph courtesy of Micklethwait Craft Meats
Mr Tom Micklethwait started his career as a baker, and he has certainly applied the precision and fastidiousness required for first-rate dough to his extraordinary daily menu of sausages, which are a big draw at Craft Meats’ trailer in East Austin. But then so are the lemon poppy slaw, jalapeño cheese grits, and ranch-style beans. Earlier this year, Mr Micklethwait opened a market-style restaurant in nearby Smithville, where you can pick up his beloved barbacoa and, only on Saturdays, a pit-roasted prime rib.
1309 Rosewood Avenue
LeRoy and Lewis
Left: LeRoy and Lewis. Photograph by Mr Logan Crable, courtesy of Lindsey LeRoy PR. Right: Beef cheek plate at LeRoy and Lewis. Photograph by Mr Robert Jacob Lerma, courtesy of Lindsey LeRoy PR
Smoked beef cheeks, whole pulled hog, and the storied brisket made from Akaushi beef – Akaushi being one of the four native Japanese cattle breeds known as wagyu – are some of the highlights of LeRoy and Lewis, a barbecue joint in a royal blue food truck on South Congress. Run by Mr Evan LeRoy and Ms Sawyer Lewis, this joint is famed for its, let’s say, alternative cuts and treatments of locally sourced meats. All of them are sublime, but the half avocado stuffed with barbacoa is beyond belief.
121 Pickle Road
Left: Carolina Style Whole Hog sandwich at Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden. Right: Beer garden and Smokehouse at Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden. Photographs by Mr Robert Jacob Lerma, courtesy of Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden
On most days, Banger’s is a sausage house and beer hall (and they have a mad variety of both: some 30 home-made sausages and more than 200 brews on tap). But Thursdays through Sundays, from 1.00pm-until it’s gone, Banger’s offers a little bit of counterprogramming for the Texan BBQ fan: full-on, Carolina-style whole hog. And it is a sight to behold. As our friend, Mr Andrew Knowlton, a former Bon Appétit restaurant editor who’s since taken over the Carpenter Hotel’s food and beverage offer, says, “Some locals consider pork BBQ blasphemy – I consider it a way of deciding who my real friends are.”
79 Rainey Street
Left: Mum Foods. Right: Pastrami sandwich at Mum Foods. Photographs by Mr Richard Casteel, courtesy of Mum Foods
Mum Foods describe themselves as a farm-to-table BBQ and delicatessen, and every bit of that comes together in the outrageous pastrami sandwiches they put together (made, of course, from local Akaushi beef). Besides their wonderful shop, Mum’s brisket, whole chicken, sausages and house-made mustard are available at the Barton Creek, Cedar Park, and Mueller farmers’ markets.
2113 Manor Road
Left: Beef ribs at Louie Mueller Barbecue. Photograph courtesy of Louie Mueller Barbecue. Right: Louie Mueller Barbecue. Photograph by Mr Robert Jacob Lerma
As far as central Texas BBQ goes, Louie Mueller, which opened its doors in 1949, is the holy of holies. In 1974, Mr Mueller handed pitmaster duties over to his son, Bobby, who handed them down to his son, Wayne, in 2007 – and the accolades have just kept on coming, much like the devotees. And that’s really what makes Mueller’s special: the sentimental place it occupies in the cultural consciousness, for those to whom it was that first, sweet, introduction to Texas-style smokehouse BBQ. It’s fair to say, this spot serves as wise, old grandpa to the foodie generations that followed.
206 West 2nd Street, Taylor
Left: la Barbecue. Photograph by Mr Nicolai McCrary. Right: A selection of smoked meats at la Barbecue. Photograph by Ms LeAnn Mueller, courtesy of La Barbecue
Speaking of generations that followed: La Barbecue is the very special joint from Mr Bobby Mueller’s daughter, LeAnn, and her wife Ms Alison Clem, with all the heritage know-how you might expect from a BBQ legacy, plus the flavour profiles and sourcing savvy from a Generation Xer. In other words, you will certainly find the luscious, falling apart ribs and brisket for which Texas BBQ is adored. Still, Ms Mueller’s recipes skew away from the almost teriyaki sweetness of trad BBQ. As their website has it, Ms Mueller “hates the sweet stuff, so you’ll find special blends of salty and savoury rubs, absolutely no sugar added to our coleslaw, and throwback dishes honouring LeAnn’s German relatives. Don’t forget the pickles!” Words to live by.
2027 East Cesar Chavez Street