Right now, Austin is the center of the barbecue universe. As Texas style cooking becomes more prevalent across the country, folks are looking toward Austin and Central Texas as the example for perfection.
Many chefs, connoisseurs and barbecue lovers flock to Austin to take barbecue tours. They arrive with a list in hand and adventure in their heart. The only problem is that they quickly realize that all inclusive lists are overwhelming. It’s quite difficult to have a plan for touring barbecue joints if you don’t know the area really well.
Here’s where this page comes in handy. I have made a number of suggested tours for the area. You’ll find map links and descriptions of each joint below.
- The Old Faithful
- The Austin Changeup
- East of Austin Loop
- Hill Country Drive
- Saturday Classics
- East Austin Crawl
- The Salt Lick Finish
- The Franklin Hail Mary
- New School/Old School
Tour 1 — The Old Faithful
Here’s The Old Faithful map link.
This is the tour I take visitors on (or at least what I typically suggest) if there is just one day to tour. You’ll be starting the tour just before 11am. It will take about 2 hours to get through the morning joints. I recommend getting to Freedmen’s around 7pm after you’ve had a nice rest. Valentina’s is open until 2am and is great as a post-bar snack!
- La Barbecue: The trick to La Barbecue is calling in your order. Call at or before 10am the day of to make sure your order gets held. In fact, I like calling a day ahead. Show up a little before 11am and walk straight to the cashier. No line! Be sure to pour yourself a free beer. If you’re in the mood for a beef rib, La Barbecue has an amazing one. A semi-recent switch to prime 3 bone short ribs means that each rib can weigh as much as 2lbs post cook. That’s a monster! Otherwise stick with their brisket and sausage and be prepared to weep tears of meaty joy.
- Micklethwait Craft Meats: Micklethwait is super hot right now. They have hit a perfect stride with their new-ish smoker and the switch to prime brisket. Get the three meat plate with brisket, pork rib and sausage. At only $14, it is the best deal in Austin. If you’re lucky enough to see a beef rib on the menu, get it right away. Micklethwait recently won a beef rib competition that included 10 other prestigious BBQ joints.
- Kerlin BBQ: Bill Kerlin, a former competition cook, is new to the BBQ scene in Austin. He has made a few tweaks since first opening, but has found his groove recently. I love the moist brisket and pork ribs. On Fridays Bill makes beef ribs that I have found to be always on point.
- Freedmen’s Bar: Evan LeRoy is the young pit boss here (also a friend and co-founder of Austin Barbecue Society) and he is absolutely killing it in this historic building turned smokehouse/cocktail bar. I adore the Brisket Plate, but if you want to try it all go with the Trinity Plate. If you like cocktails, have an Old Fashioned or an Ol’ Schmokey (Freedmen’s own recipe). If you’re interested in seeing the pit, Evan will gladly give you a tour.
- Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ: Situated behind Star Bar in the West Sixth bar district, Valentina’s is super convenient to some really fun night life. Go to Brew Exchange and have a beer then swing by Valentina’s for a brisket or smoked carnitas tacos. The flour tortillas are made in-house! Or maybe a sliced brisket sandwich is more your thing. Each time I’ve been to Valentina’s it gets better.
Tour 2 — The Austin Changeup
Here’s the The Austin Changeup map link.
This tour represents some amazing but sometimes less hyped joints.
- Brown’s Bar-B-Que: Situated in front of a car wash, Brown’s likely has one of the most odd locations you can imagine. Find a parking spot anywhere and just walk right up. Every item is delicious here, but I particularly love the brisket and chicken thigh. Go with a three meat plate with brisket, thigh and ribs.
- Blue Ox BBQ: This is the only BBQ joint I know of that is paired with a fantastic coffee house and beer bar. The noteworthy items here are definitely the brisket and pork tenderloin. I prefer to drink at a 2:1 beer to coffee ratio, so keep that in mind!
- Stiles Switch: Stiles is a fantastic joint in the Violet Crown Shopping Center, conveniently located beside a very entertaining Gentlemen’s club 🙂 My favorites here would be the moist brisket, beef ribs, jalapeño cheddar sausage and the pork ribs. I always make sure to grab one of their carefully selected draft beers.
- Lambert’s: Open until 10pm for dinner service (much later for live music and boozing), Lambert’s is a great evening option. I enjoy the crispy wild boar appetizer and the pulled pork is really quite outstanding. The brisket has been hit and miss with me as have the pork ribs. If you’d like to try an oak grilled item, the ribeye and pork t-bone are both dreamy even if a bit pricey.
- Goldis Sausage Company: Keenan Goldis is a sausage mad scientist. He makes products like a mac ‘n cheese sausage, banana sausage, red velvet sausage and of course some more traditional varieties all out of a small trailer near St Ed’s. I have never walked away with less than two sausages and a side. Goldis also makes some of the best sauces I’ve ever had including curry barbecue sauce and house made mustards. This is one of the best kept secrets in Austin that will surely explode as more folks discover it.
Tour 3 — East of Austin Loop
Here’s the “East of Austin Loop” map link.
If you decide to do the East of Austin Loop, congratulations! You are about to get a Central Texas Barbecue Education. This list is designed to hit some great joints just outside of Austin, but not too far. You’ll get to relax and see some beautiful parts of Central Texas, lots of cattle farms, bluebonnets and plenty of great barbecue.
- Curly’s Carolina, TX: This restaurant may be new to the scene but John Brotherton and Jay Yates, the co-pitbosees, are not. They’re cooking up some stellar brisket, incredible pork ribs and some Carolina style pork butt (aka the Carolina Texas Trinity). The wasabi coleslaw is one of my favorite side dishes at any barbecue joint in Texas so don’t miss out on that. Arrive at 11am.
- Louie Mueller Barbecue: If you’re going to be in Austin more than one day eating barbecue, you have to go to Louie Mueller. It is literally the cathedral of Texas barbecue. Aside from the legendary beef rib and award winning brisket, Wayne Mueller (pit boss and owner) cooks up some mean baby back ribs, a relatively uncommon meat down in Texas. Without question, the ultimate sensory experience is arriving early in the little town of Taylor to the smokey holy ground that is Louie Mueller.
- Southside Market: You’ll be headed right by Southside Market, so you may as well stop in the oldest BBQ joint in Texas. Get a small chunk of original sausage to taste and maybe one slice of brisket.
- Zimmerhanzel’s Bar-B-Que: This family owned joint has been in business since 1980. Bert Bunte is the pit boss and he is a barbecue machine. The reason Zimmerhanzel’s makes my list is because I believe they have some of the most classic Texas sausage there is. The other meats are all solid but the sausage is epic. I’ve seen folks come in and order 12lbs at a time.
- Kreuz: Kreuz has been described as the “Holy of Holies”. The inner chamber is a room filled with brick barbecue pits and smoke. There are large, ornate cutting tables and if you’re lucky pit boss Roy Perez will cut the meat himself. Go with a classic Holy Trinity (sausage, pork rib, brisket) but just get a little bit. One ring of sausge, one pork rib and one slice of fresh brisket is plenty.
- Hays Co. Bar-B-Que: Michael Hernandez, pit boss and owner, oversees this incredible operation that turns out stunning brisket, pork ribs and pork chops. However, my favorite items here is the jalapeño cheese sausage. I cannot impart to you how tasty this sausage is when it comes fresh off the pits. I can just taste the smooth, perfectly rendered beef fat and cheese. The lingering spice is just enough to warm the palate. Truly an awesome sausage experience.
Tour 4 — Hill Country Drive
Here’s the Hill Country Drive map link.
The Hill Country Drive is only 3 joints and a fair amount of driving, but the experience and sights will be awesome. You’ll need to leave Austin around 10am to make sure you arrive at each location on time.
- Opie’s Barbecue: After a quick drive through the suburbs you’ll start to hit the country and soon be upon Opie’s in Spicewood. This awesome barbecue joint has a great presentation method (no spoilers!) and cooks some damn good baby backs. Go with the brisket and aforementioned baby backs for a perfect meal.
- Cooper’s BBQ: Coopers is a more traditional barbecue joint in the sense they cook over coals instead of offset style cookers. I have found the lean brisket to be the best thing here. The ordering process is one of the most fun in all of barbecue.
- Cranky Frank’s: Cranky Frank’s is the only barbecue joint in Fredericksburg that can hang with the Austin big boys. They’re cranking out fantastic moist brisket and pork ribs. Pun intended.
Tour 5 — Saturday Classics
Here’s the Saturday Classics map link.
If you want to get out of the hustle of Austin, Saturday is a perfect day to do so. I like going to just a couple of joints earlier in the day. If you’ve already knocked out Tour 1 and 2, consider this very simple, early morning drive.
- Snows BBQ: There isn’t a joint in Texas that screams Classic Texas Barbecue like Snow’s. Right in the middle of a tiny, sleepy Texas town named Lexington, Snow’s is the epitome of old school ‘cue. The only issue with Snow’s is that it is open early (8am) so you’ll need to leave the Austin area by about 7:15am. Yeah, that’s early. Just get some coffee and suck it up! Be sure to get a trinity (brisket, pork rib and jalapeño sausage) and have a seat outside near the smokers. You will not regret it.
- Louie Mueller: Show description.
Tour 6 — East Austin Crawl
Here’s the East Austin Crawl map link.
The East Austin Crawl is walkable or bikeable tour that hits all the best joints in East Austin. On the way from Micklethwait to La Barbecue be sure to stop by Quickie Pickie and grab some local craft brews. Remember, most of these joints are BYOB!
- Micklethwait Craft Meats: Show description.
- La Barbecue: Show description.
- Kerlin BBQ: Show description.
- Live Oak Barbecue: Live Oak is a neat little place on E 2nd. I’d go with the moist brisket or sausage. If you’re here on a Saturday they typically do a great special that will likely be very delicious. Sit out on the back patio and enjoy the Austin sunshine!
- John Mueller Meat Co.: John Mueller is known for his legendary surliness and barbecue skills. Go with the moist brisket and pork rib. You’ll also need to get some cheesy squash. A lot of cheesy squash.
Tour 7 — The Salt Lick Finish
Here’s The Salt Lick Finish map link.
- Wilhite’s Bar-B-Que: A small, family owned joint in a gas station (I went in and father and daughter were working), Wilhite’s has some tasty brisket. I would get a slice of moist brisket just to whet my whistle a bit. Be sure to check out the unique pit they have.
- Kreuz: Show description.
- Hays Co. Bar-B-Que: Show description.
- The Salt Lick: The Salt Lick is part destination and part barbecue. One of my earliest and fondest memories is walking into The Salt Lick with my cousin and seeing that giant open pit with all the meat hanging in a glorious fashion. But, there’s a secret about The Salt Lick that I have to share. When the cutters trim the brisket they tend to cut off all the fat which ends up in a bucket. Resolution: go up to one of the cutters and politely ask for a plate of fresh brisket trimmings 🙂 You. Will. Be. Happy.
Tour 8 — The Franklin Hail Mary
Here’s The Franklin Hail Mary map link.
You’ve come to Austin with some friends and you really want to try Franklin Barbecue. You’re stubborn and don’t want to take my advice with experiencing Austin and Central Texas barbecue. No problem. So your plan is to show up at Franklin, wait in line and drink a couple of beers. Right? No. Total amateur hour. Well, at least partially.
Here’s the timeline for eating at Franklin.
- Night before: Get your beer and put it in a styrofoam cooler. I’d go with St Arnold Endeavor IPA, Austin Beerworks Fire Eagle, Hops and Grain Pale Dog, or Lakewood Brewing Temptress. All Texas beers and all amazing. At this point, you may want to consider some kind of sitting device. You’re going to be in line for many moons. It’s possible to rent a chair from a person at Franklin, but that’s not a sure thing.
- Day of — 0730: Get ice for your beer and put everything in the cooler. Take this opportunity to grab a couple of waters, too. Particularly if it’s hot outside.
- Day of — 0830: Get in line. Start thinking about your order. Two people will want about a pound of brisket and 1-2 pork ribs per. Skip the sausage. You could get some pulled pork if you really want to round out your order. Maybe a half pound for every two people.
- Day of — 1040: Here’s where we get tricky. One person leaves the line and walks down the street to Micklethwait. It’s barely a 10 minute walk. Get a three meat plate (brisket, sausage, pork rib) from Micklethwait for every two people in your group. Go with coleslaw and jalapeño cheese grits for the sides.
- Day of — 1130: The Micklethwait person(s) should be back by now unless they stopped at Quickie Pickie for more beer.
- Day of — Time Unkown: At some point you’ll have your Franklin food. Enjoy.
- Day of — 1900: Go to Freedmen’s Bar for dinner. Drink many cocktails. Show Freedmen’s description.
Tour 9 — New School/Old School
Here’s the New School/Old School map link.
Lockhart, Texas is the BBQ Capital of Texas…by Texas statute. Lockhart barbecue is like Austin barbecue’s grandfather, if he was Chuck Norris. Lockhart is the epitome of “Old School” Texas barbecue. You’ll find a lot of brick pits, and a more traditional tasting final product.
I’ve been asked many times what the difference between New and Old School barbecue is. I believe this tour will definitively answer that question.
- La Barbecue: Show description.
- Freedmen’s Bar: Show description.
- Kreuz: Show description.
- Black’s Barbecue: Some of my fondest memories of barbecue come from Black’s. It was the first joint in Lockhart I went to. It was the first beef rib I ate. The brisket and sausage are my favorites, both guaranteed to please. I would pass on the sides and focus on the meat. Also, note the original chopping block they still use. Not much time left on it before it has to retire.