The past 3 years, I've published an Austin-area BBQ guide (2010, 2011, & 2012) in honor of Austin's annual South by Southwest (SXSW) interactive/film/music gathering. Might as well publish a 4th. Would you go to The Vatican and skip the Sistine Chapel? Would you go to a bull fight and not yell "Ole!"? Would you go to Harlem and not do the shake? Of course not. So, don't come to Austin and eschew Central Texas BBQ. To help you navigate the bookoos of smoked-meat options, I've updated last year's guide. I'm not recommending one over another. Just giving you a sampling of what we have to offer. Austin BBQ joints listed first, alphabetically. Then, joints outside of town listed by distance from Austin.
Blue Ribbon Barbecue: Located on the ground floor of downtown's Frost Bank building, BRB is the most central BBQ joint in Austin. If you're downtown, you're within striking distance. They start the day with breakfast tacos and then move on to BBQ for lunch. Save room for banana pudding. Recommended orders: pork ribs & turkey
Franklin Barbecue: Arguably the most well-known BBQ joint in the country these days. Get there early, or you're out of luck. Our pick & our Readers' Choice pick for Best Brisket of 2010, 2011, & 2012 and Best Overall of 2011 and 2012. Recommended orders: brisket - lots of it - pork ribs, & pulled pork
John Mueller Meat Co.: Having opened just a couple of weekends ago, pitmaster John Mueller is making waves from his BBQ trailer on E. 6th St. Recommended orders: brisket, beef rib, turkey, & baked squash
LA Barbecue: The former home of John Mueller, LA Barbecue is a popular BBQ trailer on South 1st St., just a tad South of downtown. LA's pitmaster, John Lewis, came to them after his stint at Franklin Barbecue. Every time I drive by, they have a crowd. Recommended order: brisket, beef ribs, & pork ribs
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue: An order-off-the-menu spot right by Austin City Hall, Lamberts has an awesome Happy Hour, a killer Sunday brunch, and the best Frito pit around. Live music upstairs. Recommended orders: Frito pie, brisket, pulled pork
PoK-e-Jo's: With 5 locations in the Austin area, you're not far from the joint whose BBQ is the BBQ you'll find at UT football games. Hit up the Brodie Oaks location for their new "straight-cut" brisket. Hopefully, the location you visit will have their broccoli-rice-cheese casserole. Recommended orders: brisket, turkey, pork ribs, and BCR casserole
Rudy's "Country Store" & Bar-B-Q: With a diverse menu, a staff that takes it time serving samples to "rookies' to help them with their orders, and the option of ordering as much or as little of any meat you want, Rudy's is a great way to ease into Texas BBQ. Recommended order: extra-moist brisket, turkey, & creamed corn (unless you don't like creamed corn that is so rich & sweet that it's suitable for dessert)
Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew: The newest Austin BBQ joint, Stiles Switch is a market-style joint whose owner and pitmaster hail from nearby Taylor, TX. Great for a big group, it's a welcome addition to North Lamar. Recommended order: brisket, beef ribs, creamed corn, and lemon-juice slaw
Sugar Shack BBQ: A trailer on UT's campus, Sugar Shack is the place to go if you want BBQ wraps. Don't miss the Alabama White sauce. Roll Tide.
Curly's Perfect Pig (Pflugerville, 20 miles N of Austin): If you're craving Carolina-style pulled pork, this is your spot. Carolina-man Jay set up his pink trailer near UT's campus, before landing a great spot at the food-trailer park on Mays St. in Pflugerville. Recommended order: pulled pork, cucumber salad, & skillet cornbread. - Note: I haven't had the pleasure to go, but Jay and others highly recommend Hall of Flame BBQ, on West Pecan St. in Pflugerville
Cele Store (Manor, 21 miles NE of Austin): A watering hole for farmers during the week, Cele Store serves family-style BBQ Thu-Sat. Live music on Friday, March 8. Call ahead to reserve a table. You might recognize the place from scenes in Secondhand Lions, A Perfect World and Texas Chainsaw Massacre I, II and III. Recommended order: Just go family style, & be sure to make a chopped-beef sandwich with your white bread, cheese, onions, pickles, & sauce
Milt's Pit BBQ (Kyle, 21 miles from Austin straight down I-35, Exit 213): Milt, born in Fort Worth but California resident by age 3, knows how to cook brisket. If you're wanna start your meal with a bang, get the Haystack: sausage, brisket, jalapenos, onions, beans, and cheese, all atop a bed of Fritos. Recommended order: brisket
The Salt Lick (Driftwood, 24 miles SW of Austin): With a rustic ambiance and a picture-perfect pit behind the cash register, TSL is a great spot to enjoy smoked meat away from the sounds of the city. BYOB. Cash only (but ATM on site). Recommended order: all-you-can-eat family style
Hyatt Lost Pines Resort & Spa (25 miles E of Austin, straight out Hwy. 71): Believe it or not, the lush HLPR&S deep in the pine trees serves pecan-smoked BBQ. St. Louis-style ribs. Pork-belly and pulled-pork sliders on homemade brioche buns. Sliced brisket on Texas toast. Grilled sausage and homemade sauerkraut on a pretzel roll. And the unique sides are paired so well with the entrees. Recommended order: Any of the above
Meyer's Elgin Smokehouse & Southside Market (Elgin, 25 miles East-ish of Austin): Famous for its sausage, Elgin is an easy drive from A-town. These two joints are a stone's throw from each other, so stop into both. Recommended orders: brisket, sausage, & beef ribs (Meyer's)
Smitty's Market/Kreuz Market/Black's Barbecue (Lockhart, 29 miles South of Austin): Lockhart, dubbed by the Texas Legislature as "The Barbecue Capital of Texas," attracts Central Texas tourists like Lebron draws Cleveland vitriol, but it's a worthwhile Texas BBQ rite of passage. They were our Best Pork Ribs, Best Sausage, & Best Service of 2010, respectively. Recommended orders: pork ribs and sausage (Smitty's), pork ribs and ham (Kreuz), beef ribs and turkey (Black's)
Opie's Barbecue (Spicewood, 34 miles West of Austin): An easy drive West out Hwy. 71. Their sides and desserts are the best we've had (taking our top honors in each for 2010 - they won Best Pork of 2010, too). Recommended orders: sweet-and-spicy ribs, pulled pork (weekends), spicy corn, tater-tot casserole, and banana pudding
Louie Mueller Barbecue (Taylor, 39 miles NE of Austin): Get ready for the unmistakable smell of BBQ-pit smoke as you walk in - and check out what the smoke has done to the walls of this school-gymnasium-turned-restaurant. Recommended orders: brisket, beef ribs, and turkey
Snow's BBQ (Lexington, 52 miles ENE of Austin) & City Meat Market (Giddings, 55 miles East of Austin): Only open on Saturday from 8 AM until they run out there's no better bet for BBQ for breakfast than Snow's. Be sure to eat outside by the pits. Recommended order: pork shoulder, brisket, & chicken. When you're done, head 17 miles down Highway 77 to the sleep town of Giddings for a no-frills meal at City Meat Market, our Readers' Choice pick for Best Overall of 2010. Recommended order: pork shoulder
Miscellaneous recommendations: Chicken-thigh sandwich at Buster's (Lakeway); pork chop and half chicken at Cooper's (New Braunfels); chicken at Live Oak (Austin); BBQ trailers: Depending on what part of town you're in, you might find any number of BBQ trailers, such as BBQ Heaven, Hog Wild, Rolling Smoke, & Valentina's.